Off beat: School project of a decade ago is still keeping tabs on cost of freedom

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About 1.3 million American military personnel have been killed since the United States declared independence from Great Britain in 1776. One of them was Sgt. John Kyle Daggett.

Daggett’s memory is being honored in a fireworks stand at 2711 N.E. Andresen Road, which also is where Carl Loomis is representing all American war fatalities since the Revolutionary War.

Loomis has assembled a memorial — “The High Cost of Freedom” — that consists of more than a million tabs from aluminum beverage cans.

It’s been on display in Vancouver during the Fourth of July weekend because of a chain of events that include America’s last surviving World War I veteran and two adjoining airline seats.

Colleen Czaplicki, Daggett’s mother, has turned the fireworks stand into an annual friends-and-family event to raise money for wounded soldiers. Daggett was 21 when he died on May 15, 2008, from wounds he received in Iraq.

Loomis was attending Milwaukie (Ore.) High School 10 years ago, when one of his teachers — Ken Buckles — came up with the idea for the pop-tab memorial.

“It was a way to put that number in perspective,” Loomis said, referring to 1.3 million war dead.

Loomis said several students collected the tabs with the help of a veterans group, Campfire members and Boy Scouts.

His teacher happened to be a distant cousin of Frank Buckles, who was America’s last WWI veteran; he lied about his age to join the Army when he was 16 and died four months ago at the age of 110.

Ken Buckles and Czaplicki both had business in Washington D.C. a while back. They wound up sitting next to each other on the flight back, and discovered they had something in common with soldiers in the family.

“I met Carl through Ken,” Czaplicki said.

Since their meeting, Loomis said he’s found one particular colored tab to designate Sgt. Daggett among the other troops who’ve died since 2001.

So far, all the tabs represent people who died in a war — either as a result of combat, disease or some other cause.

Loomis said he’s going to make an exception for Frank Buckles. He lived 94 years past the end of WWI, so obviously was not a war fatality. But Loomis said he’ll find a special tab for Buckles, too.

“He deserves some distinction,” Loomis said.

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.