The men and women of the armed forces give their all fighting for their country, with many making the ultimate sacrifice in defence of freedom.
One man, David Larson, is taking an unusual step in honouring his fallen heroes to ensure their sacrifice lives on in the memories of everyone he meets.
A veteran himself, Larson had one of his legs amputated in 2010 after being injured while serving with the US Navy.
But after a visit to Arlington Cemetery in 2011, fate swept in and provided him with inspiration to dedicate his body to his fallen comrades through tattoos.
“It had been raining and I was on my crutches and hit a puddle and I fell straight down onto my stump and head,” he says. “About 80-100 people went silent as they turned to me; I was helped quickly by fellow Vets or active duty guys that were there. I got to my car and cried for a while; I was so embarrassed for taking the attention away from the heroes that had died.
“During my trip back home I decided I was going to do something so that no matter where I was, people would be reminded of those that have fallen.”
Larson hatched a plan to breathe life into the memory of his brothers-in-arms, sought the services of tattoo artist Kyle Harvey and started getting the names of fallen veterans tattooed into his skin.
“The first 30 were in a Chinook that was shot down by an RPG,” he says. “I had met a few of them briefly several years prior. Then I added some art and some names of guys I knew very well.
“Then my wife and I were just pulling names off of some internet pages, no real criteria. Then I shared a picture on Facebook and it went nuts.”
Since then, Larson has gone under the needle hundreds of times and has the names of almost three hundred soldiers inked onto his body.
“I was getting requests from everywhere,” he says. “People found comfort in knowing that someone they didn’t even know was going to honour their hero.
“They would share with me and I would double check information and then we would add about 12 names at a time.”
A lifelong bond
Larson’s commitment to honouring the memories of those who have died in battle has put him in touch with many bereaved families, and this has led to the formation of deep bonds that will last a lifetime.
“I am in touch with a lot of the families still, on birthdays, anniversaries and such,” he says. “Since I started the Facebook page I’ve become a confidant to a lot of people from the page. Either [for people] having trouble with the loss of their family member or veterans who are having trouble fitting back into society.”
And this has led to Larson making a real impact in the lives of those families left behind, and even saving lives of veterans fighting with guilt and depression.
“Since I started it I have spent countless hours on the phone with suicidal people that I don’t know,” he says. Some have “adopted” me and are in contact with me constantly. I hope [I have been of some help to them].
“I joke around with a lot of the widows and I was asked one time how come I treat them in a normal fashion. I guess they are treated with kid gloves because of their loss. You can have a loss but your life needs to carry on so I treat them like I would normally.”
An American hero
And in his selfless act of kindness, Larson has also found some relief and a sense of worth following the loss of his leg after some difficult years.
“[My leg] was amputated 16 February 2010,” he says. “Once things settled down a bit I felt useless and the tattoos seemed to give me a purpose.
“I have my wife and 2 daughters and you are absolutely right that it has helped me still feel like I have a purpose to help honour our fallen and more importantly help the families with their grief.”
And Harvey said that he has seen the benefits that the project has had for Larson.
“It’s a very selfless project and yet at the same time I believe it to be cathartic for him,” he said. “I really feel that this project is helping the healing process for everyone involved. It may help the families of the soldiers lost in action find some solace in knowing that their loved one is memorialised in this amazing living tribute.”
This is just reward for a man who describes himself as “no hero” yet has done so much for so many people suffering with the loss of loved ones.
Surely this alone makes him a man who is worthy of being called a true American hero.
And what plans does he have for the future?
“I’m going to keep going until I am out of skin,” he says.