“Not my son,” the 67-year-old Las Vegas woman recalls her mother saying.
But it was her son. After having volunteered for the Army at age 17, Raymond Bernal Jr. was killed in Vietnam on Nov. 30, 1966, two weeks before he was scheduled to return home.
Nearly 46 years later, Anita and her husband, Bernie Laguna, have discovered a new, high-tech way to preserve memories and soothe the old heartbreak they say is still fresh. They’ve customized an online profile for Raymond on Together We Served, a social network for current and former service members, with photos and details of his military career.
“Before we all pass on, we can recapture the stories and pass on the word,” Bernie Laguna said.
Together We Served was established in 2003 and is closed to those outside the military community. But the site’s latest initiative — launched late last year — allows the public to access the previously-private profiles of more than 100,000 people who have died in modern American wars.
Called the “Roll of Honor,” the site uses public military records to create basic profiles of the fallen. Family members can contact site administrators to claim and customize the information about their loved one for free.
“My hope is to try to capture the stories of as many veterans as we can before it’s too late,” said Together We Served founder Brian Foster.
Bernie Laguna never met his brother-in-law — he married Anita after Raymond’s death. But as a former Marine who trained at the same paratrooper school, he says he feels a spiritual connection to him and wanted to set up the tribute.
“Once you’re on there, you’re on there for posterity,” Bernie Laguna said.
The site is an online home for information that might seem out of place on other social networks.
“You’re talking about some serious events you can’t talk about (on Facebook),” Anita Laguna said.
For the Lagunas, it’s also a belated honor for veterans, like Raymond, who served and died in an unpopular war. Anita Laguna says she wants people to remember her 19-year-old brother as an accomplished saxophonist, “the glue that held the family together,” and someone who laid down his life for a higher cause.
“I think we’ve come to understand that all wars are ugly,” she said. “But you love this country enough to fight for it.”