Omaha-based Patriotic Productions will be bringing its “Remembering our Fallen” war memorial to Columbus' Nebraska Army National Guard post, 2018 Armory Drive.
The display, being shown July 5-10, 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’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 football 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, but the national exhibit has never been to town. Jim Jakub, commander of the Nebraska Disabled American Veterans (DAV), said he chose 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.”
The set-up provides for 32 free-standing towers, displaying the names of more than 5,000 men and women 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 everything is correct and that every fallen service member is honored.
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“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 said 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.”
Jakub has been busy during the months leading up to the event promoting it to anyone who will listen. Flyers have been distributed just about everywhere, he has made radio appearances and has gotten support from Columbus area businesses.
Jakub is willing to spend whatever it costs to promote and operate the event. Indeed, he intends to have an empty bank account by the time the event ends. However, he hopes that people attending the free event leave with a fulfilled sense of the American spirit and a reminder of the costs 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) encouraging them. That’s what we need to do.”
Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.