Schuyler residents will soon have the opportunity to view the acclaimed "Remembering our Fallen" war memorial when it comes to the nearby area late next week.
"I have support from Schuyler (that) you won't believe," said Jim Jakub, of the Nebraska Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Columbus chapter, who helped organize the upcoming memorial visit and noted he gets support from members of Schuyler's Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) group and the Schuyler American Legion. "The veteran organizations in that community have stepped up and said, 'What do you need?' They gave me donations, they have people involved in the organizations (and) some of them belong to the DAV. We've had support from the Schuyler community (that) was unbelievable."
The display, created by Omaha-based Patriotic Productions, will commemorate more than 5,000 service members who sacrificed their lives in the War on Terror. The project is considered the only one of its kind in the country, and those involved have taken the project to places in Nebraska and throughout the United States. It will be on display at Columbus' National Guard Armory, 2018 Armory Drive, between July 5-10.
“It’s been booked every week since 2011 all over the state and seen by thousands,” said Bill Williams, a co-founder of Patriotic Productions. “We created 19 of these state-specific exhibits, and then we decided to turn our attention to a national (exhibit). It’s the only memorial like it honoring the fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The national exhibit has been on display since 2017, traveling across the country to places like the Lincoln Memorial, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, the Rose Bowl, Wrigley Field, the Universities of Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee, the Army-Navy Game and the National Museum of the Marine Corps, just to name a few. It’s an exciting experience for Williams to see people interact with the exhibit and pay tribute to those who paid the ultimate price for their country.
“It’s gotten a lot of national exposure, that’s for sure,” Williams said. “We’re very pleased with the way it’s been received around the country.”
The state-specific exhibit has been to Columbus three times before, but the national exhibit has never been in this area. Jakub said he decided to bring the event to Columbus after attending a reunion with some of his fellow Vietnam War veterans. With money left over from that particular event, he decided to call Williams and express his interest.
“I contacted Bill and Evonne (Williams, Bill’s wife) to get it to Columbus and most graciously, they worked with me very closely on bringing it here to Columbus,” Jakub said. “To me, anything you do with the veterans, especially those who have died since 9/11, we need to remember them. If you’re going to do it, you have to do it the right way and I think Bill and Evonne do a fantastic job of the way it is set up.”
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The set up consists of 32 free-standing towers, displaying the names of more than 5,000 people from across the country who were killed either in Iraq or Afghanistan. Every state is represented, and Patriotic Productions goes above and beyond to make sure that all displayed information is correct and that every fallen service member is honored.
“There are more than 7,000 fallen in the War on Terror since 9/11,” Williams said. “We have 5,100 right now (on display). So we’re constantly contacting the remaining 2,000 to ask the families to send us photos so we can add them.”
Williams credits his wife with providing such a wide array of photos. The number of people remembered in the exhibit is so vast, that some people believe that the government is giving him the photos. Williams says that instead, one very important person fills that duty.
“She’s spent hundreds and hundreds of hours researching, finding (and) tracking down the families, asking them for the photos,” Williams said. “That’s all Evonne’s work.”
As for Jakub, he said he is willing to spend whatever it costs to promote and operate the event. He intends to have an empty bank account by the time the event ends. However, he hopes that people attending the memorial leave with a fulfilled sense of the American spirit and with a reminder of the cost of war.
“We need to make sure we understand that these soldiers, we always remember them,” Jakub said. “Also, remembering those who have come home wounded, who sacrificed limbs. We want to make sure people understand that this is what our country is doing (and) we need to stand with them, beside them (and be) encouraging them. That’s what we need to do.”
Zach Roth is a reporter for the Schuyler Sun. Reach him via email at email@example.com.