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Fallen, but definitely not forgotten

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

NESS CITY -- Lynette Stenzel saw a story about the Remembering Our Fallen memorial photo exhibition on TV while she was in Wichita during the summer.

Stenzel saw a familiar face on the TV screen among the soldiers who died in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

"I happened to see the photo of Derrick Lutters, who is buried at Ransom," she said. "I wear a bracelet of him ever since he died."

Stenzel told her husband, Loren, they should try to bring the exhibit to Ness City. A quick check on the Internet was a start, then a committee was formed, letters asking for donations were sent out, and anybody and everybody seemingly was ready to help out in some way.

Just a few months later, the traveling exhibit made a stop in Ness City, believed to be the farthest west it has traveled in the state.

"It came together very quickly," Stenzel said. "My husband's a planner, and he didn't think we'd get anything done this fast.

"We both believe very strongly in supporting our veterans. We just think it's very important that our community does not forget the sacrifices that have been made for our freedoms. There's someone every day that's missing their solider, their hero."

The exhibition, which contains photos of more than 70 soldiers from Kansas who were killed in action since 9/11 in Iraq and Afghanistan, or were non-combat casualties, was in town starting Thursday. On Sunday, the Ness City American Legion and Auxiliary had a program at the Ness City Memorial Community Building. After the program, there was a balloon release at the memorial across the street. A fallen soldier's name was announced, followed by a balloon sent to the heavens.

Chuck Lutters, Goodland, was present Sunday with his wife, Jeannine. His son, Derrick, 24, died May 1, 2005, while serving with the Kansas Army National Guard. Sgt. Lutters volunteered to go out on patrol that day, as a gunner in a Humvee. A suicide bomber set off an improvised explosive device in a car near Derrick's Humvee while a bridge was being checked for explosives.

"Derrick was a pretty giving kid," Chuck Lutters said. "He volunteered to go to Iraq."

The photo exhibition helps remind people of the fallen soldiers such as Derrick Lutters.

"It's breathtaking," Chuck Lutters said. "You think everybody's kind of forgotten a lot about our fallen soldiers. Being a parent, it's kind of special for you, for the one you have lost."

Lutters, in talking with family members of other fallen soldiers, has found a common denominator.

"There's so many untold stories about these kids," he said. "The thing I found out, visiting with some of the parents of the fallen, they're all the same type of person. They're gutty and gritty -- and tenacious."

Also at the exhibition were Doug and Cindy Nichols, Palco, parents of Army Chief Warrant Officer Bryan Nichols, Hays, who died Aug. 6, 2011, when his helicopter was shot down over Afghanistan.

"We decided we needed to participate for sure, to honor our son," Doug Nichols said. "My wife and I are very honored to be here.

"It's very special. There are quite a few soldiers from this part of the state that have made this sacrifice. It's just an overwhelming honor for us to have Bryan honored, and the other soldiers, too. Very grateful."

The lesson of the traveling exhibit is to never forget.

"We'll never forget him," Doug Nichols said of his son, who was 31. "These memorials allow the public to be more aware of the sacrifices these soldiers have made."