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Eagle Scout's project: Dog tags of the fallen

Jun. 13, 2012 - 12:08PM   |   Last Updated: Jun. 13, 2012 - 12:08PM  |  
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GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Matt Valenti chose a service project to win Eagle Scout status that will honor the country's fallen service members in a graphic way.

Valenti, 17 and a junior next fall at Davies High School in Fargo, was busy recently in the National Guard armory in Grand Forks typing in the last of the names of the approximately 1,960 U.S. military personnel who have died in Operation Enduring Freedom, the 10-year war in and near Afghanistan.

He was helped by fellow Life Scout Sean Ahlness.

Valenti was given the use of the Guard's computerized dog tag stamping machine: as he typed in the name and address of the slain soldier or Marine, the machine produced a bright dog tag.

"They are shinier than real dog tags," he said.

Such an Eagle Scout project requires at least 100 hours of work and a benefit to a nonprofit, he said.

"I've put in about 400 hours," he said with a smile, knowing he still had an hour or more to go.

On Flag Day on Thursday the special dog tags will be hung on a wall in the Fargo Air Museum, completing an effort to honor all the U.S. military dead since 9/11.

He, with the help of his family, shelled out about $1,000 to buy the blank tags and chains from a private company. Valenti is talking with the museum about possible reimbursement for the cost.

He has a family tradition of military service that inspires him, he said.

His older brother, Justin, recently completed a six-year stint in the North Dakota Army National Guard's military police unit.

His grandfather, Evo Louis Valenti, hit the beach at Normandy on June 6, 1944, and fought across Europe, including in the Battle of the Bulge, leaving the Army as a sergeant to return to Minneapolis.

His father, Steve Valenti, grew up in the same south Minneapolis house and got the idea for Matt's project from his friend, Dave Moen, a volunteer at the Fargo Air Museum who knew how much effort was needed to get the memorial wall finished by the planned Flag Day ceremony.

Matt and Sean — who is organizing a 5k race to benefit Great Plains Foodshelf in the fall in Fargo for his Eagle Scout project — got it done. A big part of the project was simply tallying up the losses and the names and the hometowns and checking it twice, they said.

He first finished the last 280 or so of the 4,400 who died in the war in Iraq before turning to the Afghanistan theater. Valenti also cataloged all the names of the fallen, so visitors can find any certain name.

Eagle Scout Andrew Nelson started the project.

Unfortunately, the counting isn't complete and there is room for more tags on the wall, Steve Valenti said.

But he can't keep the pride out of his voice when he speaks of his son's project.

"When you go and look at it, you really see the scope," Steve Valenti said. "It makes people take a deep breath."

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