Remembering an Honorary Nevadan

One of the most difficult assignments is the writing of a “Notice of Death.” And what makes this one even harder is it’s being written nearly a decade to late.

Five years ago, while working for the Sparks Tribune, I started to write this article, but it was tabled for a current and active news story. Now, after such a long delay I could simply run down a list of achievements and career highlights, but that wouldn’t enough as there are often deeper strands that need securing when it comes to death.

It’s a delicate balancing act — to touch the memory of a person without making them sound like a footnote at the end of a chapter. But the brief life of U.S. Army Lt. Col. Karen Wagner needs to be told in respect to the history of Nevada.

Lt. Col. Wagner was killed when American Flight 77 became a jet-fuel laden missile that slammed into the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2001. While she was raised in San Antonio, Texas, she was a 1984 graduate of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas where she excelled on the basketball court and in the university’s ROTC program.

It was as a student-athlete at UNLV that she decided on a career path in the military and in medicine. She had been in the U.S. Army for 21 years before her death at the age of 40.

And it’s because of this seemingly tenuous connection, Lt. Col. Karen Wagner will always be Nevadan, one of the first lost in the Global War on Terror. It is after all, no coincidence that Nevada’s state flag bears the phrase “Battleborn.”

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