Two Nebraskans who created a series of traveling veterans memorials are on the road this week. The display at the Iowa State Fair is 40-by-10 feet and includes pictures of Iowa veterans killed in the line of duty since the Nine Eleven attacks.
There are also images provided by the families, memorabilia, red roses and handwritten letters. The memorial was created by Omaha resident Bill Williams and his wife.
“We had read a story about a father who had lost his son and his concern was that he would be forgotten,” Williams says. “That’s when we came up with the idea to create an exhibit of the pictures of the fallen, not to sit in a museum but to travel from town to town.”
In 2011, Williams and his wife made the first memorial, called “Remembering Our Fallen,” as a tribute to lost Nebraska veterans. After officials from Bellevue University saw it, they sponsored exhibits for more states, including Iowa. Williams wants to create memorials for all 50 states.
“We have ten exhibits now and we’ve been notified of four new deaths in those ten states just in the last week and a half,” Williams says. “As soon as we hear about the latest fallen, we’ll find the photo online and we’ll run a picture of it, 8-by-10 or 5-by-7, and then we’ll put it in a frame and it travels with the exhibit.”
Williams only includes veterans killed in action since September 11th, 2001. He says he’ll continue adding soldiers until the United States ceases military operations in Afghanistan.
Bob King, executive director of the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs, says unlike most memorials, this one allows the public see the faces of veterans.
“You go to the cemetery and there are no faces, but you walk down through here and there’s Paul Fischer’s face and there’s Bruce Smith’s face and there’s David Kirchoff and Michael Deutch and David Resisnski,” King says. “It brings the remembrance a lot, lot closer to home.”
Retired Navy veteran Dean Kluss of Clarion, Iowa, says the memorial may help people who haven’t served in the military understand the sacrifice soldiers make.
Kluss says, “Today, while we’re here at the fair having a good time, there are people that are in harm’s way that potentially may give their life today for us to be able to enjoy these kind of freedoms.”