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Freedom has a Face to feature fallen soldiers’ stories

Joseph Lachnit’s devotion to honoring those who gave their lives in service to the country began long before the Spokane-born Army Ranger’s epiphany in October.

Before breaking bread each night, Lachnit’s 6-year-old daughter calls up a website listing the names of U.S. soldiers killed overseas. The family, including Lachnit’s wife and 2-year-old son, prays for the fallen and their families.

“It’s very important to me that my kids grow up understanding the sacrifice that’s been made for them,” said Lachnit, 33.

That desire prompted the creation of Freedom has a Face, a collaborative digital project by Lachnit, his father, Joe, and several friends and family members. The website functions as a virtual memorial to those killed in combat, with plans to include the visages of fallen heroes from conflicts reaching back to the Civil War.

When the website launches fully this fall, visitors will be able to log in and share memories alongside the service photos of those who paid the ultimate price in service to America. They’ll also be able to receive notifications of new names added to the memorial and search fallen veterans by hometown, conflict and other parameters.

The elder Joe Lachnit said there are plenty of destinations on the Web cataloging soldiers’ deaths. The goal of Freedom has a Face is to personalize those sacrifices and foster appreciation among a new generation, he said.

The words of an Army Ranger’s grieving sister inspired the moniker. While recovering from a foot injury sustained in combat, the younger Lachnit was watching a webcast of the funeral for Sgt. Thomas MacPherson, who was killed by small arms fire a couple of days after Lachnit arrived home to convalesce. Lachnit and MacPherson were members of the same battalion.

MacPherson’s sister, Jess, read from a statement during the ceremony. Visibly affected by her grief, Jess MacPherson asserted that because of her brother’s death, she saw the freedom she enjoyed in the faces of all men and women killed in service.

The statement moved Lachnit. He walked straight into his father’s bedroom, where Joe Lachnit was playing with his grandchildren, and outlined a plan.

“It was one of those moments in life,” Joe Lachnit said. “Without saying much, we just nodded our heads.”

Since that October day, the Lachnit clan has been working to launch their idea, enlisting the help and financial support of fellow service members to fuel the project that’s run out of a basement office in Joe’s northwest Spokane home. Much of the work has taken place with the younger Lachnit serving overseas; he returned from a deployment this week to find the website launched, complete with a promotional music video featuring his stepsister, Naomi Spezza, and stepmother, Kelly Lachnit.

“I think a picture brings it home a lot better than just the printed word,” said Matt Crotty, a Spokane attorney and former Army Ranger who joined the project after meeting the Lachnits for the first time earlier this year. Impressed with the concept and with the Lachnits’ passion, Crotty reached out to colleagues in the Rangers and his current service with the Washington Army National Guard.

“I wanted to do what I could,” Crotty said.

The Lachnits said response to the idea has been overwhelmingly positive. Once the site goes fully live, efforts will focus on parsing through records compiled by software that crawls the Web, piecing together accounts of fallen soldiers from news outlets, public records and social media. The team tentatively has plans to reach “as far back in history as we could possibly go,” according to the website. Most importantly, Lachnit said, the site is not about furthering any agenda.

“We have this set out, where it cannot be about religion, it cannot be about politics, it cannot be about social action,” Joe Lachnit said. “It’s about freedom, the pillar behind all those things.”

The younger Lachnit hopes the website will promote widespread traditions similar to his family’s nightly prayers.

“I hope every family takes a little bit of time to say, this man, this woman, died for the country on this day, and takes some time to thank them,” Joseph Lachnit said.

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