On a Sunday morning in 2006, Bill and Evonne Williams found themselves weeping over their coffee as they read about a grieving father whose son died in Iraq; he feared his son’s sacrifice would be forgotten.
The father’s words haunted the Williams — an Omaha, Neb., couple whose four sons serve or have served in the military.
“Everyone cried all morning,” said Bill Williams, “We just wanted to do something for that family.”
The family’s grief led to a determination to put faces and histories to the men and women who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. The result is a traveling war memorial titled ‘Remembering Our Fallen’.
The displays feature photos — many of them personal pictures — of more than 4,500 U.S. soldiers who died in the years following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The memorial has visited 19 states since it hit the road seven years ago.
The first photographic exhibit, however, wasn’t sturdy enough to endure the great outdoors. It also wasn’t big enough to include all the photos and information the couple continued to accumulate about the fallen soldiers.
Bill and Evonne Williams: Creators of the Remembering Our Fallen war memorial.
This summer, the Williams will get a bigger and sturdier traveling exhibit, including a new 10-foot-tall Tribute Towers that will stand at state fairs, art festivals and state capitals across the country.
“My goal is to never have it sit in the garage,” said Bob Williams.
He was so appreciative of TransCanada’s $5,000 contribution to the cause that he gave the company the title of chief sponsor at its grand opening in Lincoln, Neb., on July 22.
The Williams family is well known in the veteran community in Nebraska and Iowa. The couple also spearheaded the ‘Honor Flights’ that started in 2008, which saw about 2,000 World War II and Korean War veterans fly to Washington, D.C., to see the monuments and memorials. They also raised money to send more than 1,100 Vietnam veterans to Washington to see the Vietnam Wall over the past year.
Overall, the Williams have raised more than $3 million to fund these honor flights.
In addition to money, the Williams have spent countless hours scouring newspaper articles and government news releases to identify fallen soldiers. Evonne and several volunteers then reached out to the families, asking if they would contribute by sending photos of their loved ones.
In addition to a grand opening in Nebraska, the traveling memorial will have a national opening in Washington, D.C., on September 7 at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial.
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