ALEX CHADWICK, host:
I'm Alex Chadwick. This is DAY TO DAY on Memorial Day. In suburban northern Virginia, an Iranian immigrant is working on a memorial to honor American service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's a big block of black granite. It's at least temporarily located next to a busy four lane road. NPR's Paul Heltzel reports.
PAUL HELTZEL reporting:
On a windy spring day, outside a stone-cutting workshop in Manassas, Virginia, about 50 people sit on metal benches.
(Soundbite of music)
HELTZEL: They're attending a prayer service for a privately built war memorial. Reverend Brian Edwards is leading the service, and he's dedicating a 30-foot-long monument.
Reverend BRIAN EDWARDS: It's tough being a soldier, because they are put in places and into situations that are contrary. They are put in places and situations that are unpopular and sometimes deadly.
HELTZEL: Kevin Roustazad is the man who organized the ceremony, and he's carving the memorial.
Mr. KEVIN ROUSTAZAD (Carving War Memorial): The black wall is going to have all the names, ranks, dates, place of birth, branch of service, and the last place they served.
HELTZEL: And above the names, Roustazad says he'll affix a porcelain portrait of each person killed in service since the invasion of Afghanistan. While his monument prompts obvious comparisons to the Vietnam Memorial, it's on a much smaller scale. The names will be a quarter inch tall, and the rounded photos will be just an inch and a quarter. He's left enough space for 5,600 names.
Roustazad says he got the idea after he and his business partner met a young soldier who was badly wounded in Iraq. At an airport bar, they talked about the war and bought the soldier a beer before he flew home. Later, the two partners talked about a monument, a politically neutral way to honor military men and women who died for their country. So they went to the bank and they borrowed $50,000 to build it.
Mr. ROUSTAZAD: It has all been borrowed money to finance it. As a small company, we don't have any money lingering around that we can just do it and we mortgaged what we had.
HELTZEL: Roustazad, who moved to the United States when he was 15, talks to anyone he can pin down about his project. He says that he has great admiration for the American men and women who volunteer to serve overseas. The monument, Roustazad says, was also inspired by a former client - a World War II vet, who felt ignored because the memorial for his war wasn't complete in his lifetime.
Mr. ROUSTAZAD: He always talked about his bitter feelings toward the people who had delayed the construction of it.
HELTZEL: After he carves the names and applies the pictures of nearly 3,000 men and women, he'll need to find the memorial a permanent home. The stone slab sits awkwardly between a hands-free auto wash and a used car lot. He's hoping to find a quiet setting.
Mr. ROUSTAZAD: So, yes, I'd like to see it in a park-like place away from the everyday rush of the traffic and the noises.
HELTZEL: Soon after he heard about the project, Joseph Brazino(ph) stopped by to volunteer his help. Brazino is a veteran of the first Iraq war, and his son Jay was badly injured in the second. His son was shot point-blank in Baghdad, which left him paralyzed from the neck down.
Mr. JOSEPH BRAZINO: I hope you come see him tomorrow.
Mr. ROUSTAZAD: I'm looking forward to seeing him. I've really been thinking about you and your family a lot more then you can ever imagine.
HELTZEL: To make sure that he gets it right, Kevin Roustazad is calling the family of each service member from a list provided by the military. He's eager to make sure that the picture he has is the one they want on the monument. For NPR News, I'm Paul Heltzel.
CHADWICK: And you can see pictures of Kevin Roustazad's tribute to those killed in current wars. The photos are at our website, npr.org.