Ron White spent nights during his eight-month tour in Afghanistan in 2007 holed up in his bunk with his laptop, poring over lists of words and numbers until they were committed to memory. It struck his Navy comrades as unusual, but memory is what White does. He founded a memory training business after dropping out of the University of North Texas and, just three months after returning stateside, would compete in the 2008 USA Memory Championship.
He came in fourth that year, but doubled down on his training -- as we wrote in a 2009 profile, he'd hired a Navy SEAL to coach him on mental toughness and taken to memorizing decks of cards underwater -- and won back-to-back titles over the next two years.
But all that is child's play compared with what he has planned. On February 28 in downtown Fort Worth, he will write out the name and rank of each of the 2,200 members of the U.S. military who have died in Afghanistan.
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"We're gonna have a huge wall," he explains in a video on his website. "It's gonna look like the Vietnam wall, except it's got nothing but blanks. And at 8 o'clock in the morning, I'm gonna walk up to that wall and I'm gonna write out all 2,000 names from memory, and the message will be 'You are not forgotten.'"
That portion of the video was filmed in November. Since then, the start time has changed to 7:30 a.m. (it will take until 5 p.m.) and White has grown a pretty righteous beard, shaving having taken a back seat to White's attempt to cram 7,000 words into his brain. He goes on to explain how he did it, holding up a binder full of page after page of the names of fallen soldiers.
"I've carried this book around with me for six months memorizing it," he says. "I've taken it to bars. I've taken it to baseball games. Fenway Park in Boston. On a train ride through Italy. To the Brandenberg Gate, the Berlin Wall. I was memorizing the entire time. I went to Africa, I memorized there. Everywhere I went, I have been memorizing this book."
And now he's ready to show that the service members who have died really are still remembered. "When I say they are not forgotten, I really, really, really mean it."