An organization that plans to honor fallen veterans who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan has a lofty goal in mind that would result in a daunting display when completed.
Remembering Our Fallen, a veterans memorial organization based in Omaha, Neb. hopes to acquire a military and personal photograph of each soldier killed on a state-by-state basis since 9/11 when the war on terror began so they can be displayed during veterans and community events to honor them.
So far, Remembering Our Fallen has completed exhibits for five states - Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Colorado and, most recently, Arizona.
Last week, 40,000 people attended an event at Century Link Arena in Omaha that displayed the exhibits from all five states, and during the Arizona Baseball Charities Game at Scottsdale Stadium Sunday - an event attended by 8,000 - the Arizona portion of the exhibit was unveiled for the public.
The exhibit was removed from Scottsdale Stadium Tuesday and beginning Thursday until Feb. 9, the exhibit will be inside Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Library in Prescott. From there, it will move on to Kingman. The exhibit is likely to make its way to the East Valley again in the future - it will stay housed in Arizona with a volunteer representative from Remembering Our Fallen - although a future schedule is yet to be determined.
Included are the names of 135 fallen soldiers from Arizona, with 17 from from the East Valley. Most recently, Jonathan McCain, 38, of Chandler, was killed in Afghanistan on Nov. 13, 2011.
"Many of the parents and family members are concerned their loved ones will be forgotten when the war is over," said Bill Williams, executive director of the nonprofit Remembering Our Fallen, which he and his wife, Evonne, formed in 2009. "It's heartbreaking to us to see so many soldiers on it, but it means so much to the families. Unless someone has a family member or knows someone who has died in the military, these deaths don't affect most people. They may hear of the deaths of the fallen, but often, it just doesn't register, we believe. When you see all these people, the personal pictures especially, you realize the sacrifices these people are making and it hits home."
Williams and his wife have four sons serving in the military including three on active duty and one who has served two tours in Iraq.
"Our goal is to get a military picture and a personal picture of each soldier killed from every state, and be able to be able to complete traveling exhibits for all 50 states so people can see them and realize the service these young men and women have done for our country. We want these exhibits to travel to different places and not be sitting in a museum or in someone's garage because there's no interest."
Among a handful of the personal images on the exhibit that stand out among many:
• A photo of a soldier with his wife at the Grand Canyon.
• An image of another soldier sitting on his motorcycle with mountains in the background.
• And, a photo of Army PFC Barbara Vieyra, the 22-year-old Mesa mother with her then 3-year-old daughter Evelyn.
Vieyra, an expert marksman, with the 720th Military Police Battalion, 89th Military Police Brigade, was believed to be the first woman soldier from the East Valley killed in action on Sept. 18, 2010 in Afghanistan after insurgents in the violent Kunar Province attacked her unit using an improvised explosive device and rocket-propelled grenades, according to the Department of Defense.
Williams said his wife, Evonne, has the hard part of the job.
Usually beginning with the state's Office of Veterans Affairs, Evonne Williams, a former director of the Strategic Air and Space Museum in Nebraska, determines the home state for the soldiers, locates a family member and contacts them to inform them of the project so they can receive a picture.
It took Remembering Our Fallen two months to complete the Arizona exhibit.
"After determining which home state the soldier is from and locating a family member, we send them a letter," Bill Williams said. "Some of the letters get returned as undeliverable, some people don't respond because they don't know if it's a scam. They're living in Arizona but getting a letter from Nebraska, so we put ourselves in their shoes.
"This has given us a lot of satisfaction," Williams added. "You see what it means to the families. We would like to get pictures of the soldiers from all 50 states, but whether or not that will happen, we'll see."
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