They came from Walker Basin, a speck of a community at the edge of the Sequoia National Forest. From the farm town of Reedley, where a barber gives boys joining the military free haircuts before they ship out.
They came from San Francisco. Los Angeles. San Diego.
When they died, photos went up on post office walls in their hometowns. On Veterans Day, there are parades and charity golf tournaments. Buddies gather at graves to drink to the ones who are gone.
Many died young — 41% were not yet 22. Sixty-three were still teenagers.
They were fun-loving singles. Forty-seven were engaged. They were married, leaving behind 307 wives and husbands. They had children — 432 sons and daughters.
Forty of their obituaries noted that the Sept. 11 attacks spurred them to join up. Some were in elementary school when they watched the Twin Towers fall.
The scope of their loss can’t be measured at one point in time. Life moves on, the wars are winding down. But towns, families and individual lives continue to be shaped by their absence.
Lately, 9-year-old Naomi Izabella Johnson has been asking a lot of questions about her father, Allen Johnson, a Special Forces medical sergeant from Los Molinos who was killed on foot-combat patrol in Khanaqin, Afghanistan, in 2005.