Walking down North 11th Street near Wilson High School in Tacoma, the Sanbecks’ yard — with its extensive rock work and elaborate water feature — is hard to miss.
The plaque at the base of a large flagpole, with an American flag waving in the breeze atop it, specifically catches the eye.
Which is exactly the point.
“People walk by it constantly. And you’ll see people stop in their car, and they’ll get out,” 56-year-old David Sanbeck tells me of the monument he built.
It bears the names of six Marines who might otherwise have been forgotten.
Etched under the words “Never Forget,” and a Bible verse — John 15:13, about laying down one’s life for a friend — are the names of Cpl. Joshua Ware, Lt. Donald McGlothlin, Lance Cpl. John Lucente, Lance Cpl. Jeffry Rogers, Lance Cpl. Roger Deeds and Lance Cpl. Joshua Mooi.
All served with David’s son Benjamin. And all but Mooi were killed in action.
“I wanted the boys to get attention,” says Sanbeck, who owns a local concrete company. “I know their names by heart. … That’s the whole purpose, to make sure people understand that we’re very lucky to live in this country, to have what we have.”
I know their names by heart. … That’s the whole purpose, to make sure people understand that we’re very lucky to live in this country, to have what we have.
Grief and gratitude define David Sanbeck’s front yard memorial and a nearly identical memorial he built in his backyard. Conversations about the monuments eventually come back to both themes.
Talking with Sanbeck, he says repeatedly, “I got the phone call, I didn’t get the knock on the door like the other parents did.”
That’s because Benjamin, a Wilson High grad who is now 30, was one of the fortunate ones and the Sanbecks a fortunate family. On Nov. 16, 2005, as part of Operation Steel Curtain near the Syrian border, Benjamin — who enlisted in the Marines when he was 17, shortly after 9/11 — was wounded by a hand grenade that exploded as he entered a farmhouse in Ubaydi.
Five Marines lost their lives in the firefight that day, which included the rescue maneuver that saved Benjamin — who endured multiple surgeries after shrapnel tore through his legs. Sanbeck credits Mooi with helping to drag Benjamin to safety and the other five boys whose names are included on his memorials with giving their lives for him.
“It dropped me to my knees,” Sanbeck says of getting the call about Benjamin’s injuries. “I couldn’t understand the sergeant. He did say Ben was alive, but he was going to have some surgery and possibly lose his legs. I was just blown away, and I couldn’t handle it. That was a tough one. It just knocks the wind out of you.
“You go through all of that, and then you’ve got to remember that we were the lucky ones.”
It’s a reality the father lives with every day and the reason he’s so intent on keeping their names fresh in his mind and on the mind of anyone who comes across his concrete handiwork.
“Every day is a bonus, a blessing that we have (Ben) in our lives,” Sanbeck tells me from his kitchen, looking out a window at one of the two memorials on his property.
The placement, which can be viewed from where David Sanbeck makes his morning coffee, was intentional.
“I wanted to be able to see the boys’ names on the plaque every time I made my coffee and realize how lucky we are to have Ben with us,” Sanbeck says, the pain still welling up in his eyes.
It was a decade ago, on Memorial Day 2006, when David unveiled to Benjamin the first monument. Benjamin had been back from Iraq for less than a year, and his father enlisted his help to build what the son thought was merely a flagpole.
It turned out to be much more.
“I thought a few things through and came up with some words (for the plaque), and then Memorial Day was approaching, so I got it all done and we invited Ben over,” Sanbeck recalls. “We had a sheet over it, and he knew something was up. He lifted it, and that toasted his day pretty much. It was still an open wound for him.
“He sobbed, along with the rest of us.”
You go through all of that, and then you’ve got to remember that we were the lucky ones.
These days, Ben works alongside his father at the family concrete business, which he’ll eventually take over — just as Sanbeck took it over from his father. Someday, the father and son hope to build similar memorials for each of the families that lost sons on the day David nearly lost his.
But first, on Monday, a decade after the Sanbecks’ first memorial was finished, David will do what he does on Memorial Day every year.
“I’m not one to go visit grave sites. I don’t get too involved with community events of that nature. But I get up early, and I lower my flags … and it means a ton to me,” Sanbeck tells me. “It’s not a day off. It’s not time to vacation. It’s time to remember.
“I just do what I do. I don’t camp. I’m not faulting anyone for that, don’t get me wrong. It’s just what I choose,” the father continues.
“I do think that America forgets, and I’m not going to forget.”
Nor will anyone who walks by his house.