Always Lost: A Meditation on War

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Always Lost: A Meditation on War

The Beginning

In fall 2008, Western Nevada College sociology professor Don Carlson was stopped in his tracks by The New York Times' Roster of the Dead. "Four thousand faces of American military who had perished in Iraq stared at me," he said, "and I realized that this war has been perhaps one of the most impersonal wars ever fought."

He approached English professor Marilee Swirczek and they envisioned an art/humanities exhibition that would personalize the wars--Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom--through poems, prose and photographs. English instructor and retired Marine Major Kevin Burns selected the name for the exhibition from an observation by American writer Gertrude Stein: "War is never fatal but always lost. Always lost."

The Components

The heart of Always Lost is the Wall of the Dead: individual photographs with names of the more than 6,500 U.S. military war casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001. The Always Lost project team is committed to keeping the Wall of the Dead current in honor of those who gave their lives and those who made it home.

Always Lost includes the 2004 Pulitzer Prize-winning Iraq War combat photographs by David Leeson and Cheryl Diaz Meyer (courtesy of The Dallas Morning News) with literary work by Professor Swirczek's creative writing classes, veterans and their families, the Lone Mountain Writers group, and other Northern Nevada writers. Three Western Nevada College student-veterans are profiled through photographs and interviews to represent the thousands of men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The story and poetry of SPC Noah Pierce, who took his own life after serving two tours in Iraq, represent the thousands of veteran suicides.

The Journey

Installed at Western Nevada College, Carson City in spring 2009, the original exhibition generated an overwhelming response. One guest book comment read, "A national treasure." By word-of-mouth, the story of Always Lost began to spread, and inquiries came from across the country. The Nevada Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts, awarded WNC a grant to support the project and reformat it as a traveling exhibition. Always Lost made its national debut at the University of Wisconsin, Marinette in the fall of 2010 and continues to tour colleges, universities, and veterans organizations throughout the United States.

In spring 2011, U.S. Senators Harry Reid and Dean Heller jointly expressed support of the project and their hope that the exhibition might one day travel to Washington D.C. A generous donation by the Carson Nugget/Community First initiative made it possible to create a second copy of Always Lost, which is also traveling throughout our nation.

In 2012, Always Lost was recognized by the Daughters of the American Revolution, John C. Fremont Chapter, with their Medal of Honor.

The Nevada Department of Veterans Services is sponsoring a 2-year Nevada tour (2014-2016) of Always Lost as part of the official Nevada Sesquicentennial celebrating 150 years of statehood. The exhibition is also on a 15-month tour of Minnesota (concluding in September 2015) sponsored by the Minnesota Humanities Center as part of their statewide Veterans' Voices initiative.

By summer 2015, Always Lost will have been displayed in 39 communities across the nation. Always Lost organizers anticipate that the exhibition will be installed at nearly 50 venues by the end of 2016.

Always Lost has evolved into a powerful meditation on the effect of war on each of us. It has become a sacred space in which to contemplate the personal costs and collective sacrifice of these particular conflicts, and consequently, of all wars. In the meantime, casualties continue to mount, and the Wall of the Dead continues to grow.

Always Lost on display in Michigan

Always Lost: A Meditation on War is funded and maintained in part by grants and donations. To make a financial contribution, contact the Western Nevada College Foundation at 775.445.3240 or

For more information or to request the exhibition, please contact Project Manager Amy Roby at 775.445.4243 or

Friends of the Project: Always Lost Sponsors

View photos and poetry from the Always Lost exhibition

Musical score plays with the booklet and brochure. Turn speakers on for optimal experience.

Recent News
Latest News
June 4, 2015 “Always Lost: A Meditation on War”
WNC’s Acclaimed Exhibition on War Finishing Tour
Wall of the Dead - Always Lost Exhibit
October 2, 2014 Mayor Delivers Proclamation of Appreciation and Honor
City Supervisors Recognize 'Always Lost'
August 22, 2014 Showing at Historic Minden Inn Aug. 25-Sept. 12
WNC’s ‘Always Lost’ Exhibition on War Returns to Area
Always Lost, A Meditation on War- Shows in Minden 8.2014
Additional News
June 26, 2014 Always Lost Continues to Touch America
June 12, 2014 WNC's Tribute to Iraq and Afghanistan War Dead
"Always Lost" Exhibition Draws Interest from San Francisco Area Media
April 3, 2014 'Always Lost' Adds California to Tour
January 23, 2014 "Always Lost" Exhibit Makes 18th Tour
September 4, 2013 'Always Lost' Completes its 16th Tour
April 17, 2013 Always Lost Legislature dedication
April 17, 2013 Mayor comments on dedication
March 1, 2013 Project Impresses Veterans Groups
‘ALWAYS LOST’ Exhibition
January 31, 2013 The Tribute Will Continue to Tour
Tribute to War Casualties Continues Tour
January 15, 2013 Milwaukee Media Covers the Exhibit
Mount Mary College Hosts Always Lost
For additional information, please contact:
Always Lost: A Meditation on War
Western Nevada College
Aspen Building 222
2201 West College Parkway
Carson City, NV 89703
Phone: 775-445-4243

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