Not forgetting the sacrifices
By GAYLE WEBER
NESS CITY -- Honoring fallen soldiers is nothing new for Lynette Stenzel. So the work that went into bringing the Remembering Our Fallen memorial photo exhibition here this week was nothing in Stenzel's mind.
"(It) is nothing compared to the families that lost their loved ones," she said.
Remembering Our Fallen contains more than 70 photographs of soldiers from Kansas who have been killed in action since 9/11 during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. That includes nine men from western Kansas. Ness City is the farthest west the exhibit has traveled.
"We've been doing research on soldiers that are buried in western Kansas," Stenzel said of herself and a committee of American Legion and Auxiliary members who worked to bring the exhibit here. "Since this is the first time it's been out here, we're focusing on those soldiers."
The exhibition will arrive at the Ness City American Legion tonight, with a procession starting in Hays that includes Gold Star mother Debbie Austin of Olathe accompanying the exhibit. A group of American Legion Riders and Patriot Guard members will escort the exhibit and Austin to Ness City, with the exhibition opening from 5 to 8 p.m. today.
The exhibit will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday and is free of charge. The exhibit can be viewed by appointment Monday and Tuesday by calling (785) 798-5044.
On Sunday, the Ness City American Legion and Auxiliary will take the exhibit a step further, putting on a remembrance program for the 11 western Kansas soldiers who have died since 9/11 -- nine in action and two in non-combat incidents. That program begins at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Ness City Memorial Community Building, with special music from Christina Haselhorst, Dodge City, and Ron Eckels, Ness City, a message from Lt. Col. Eric Ford of Jetmore, and a salute to the fallen outside the veterans memorial in Ness City including a balloon release, folded flag presentation and firing squad.
Families and friends of Kansas soldiers killed since 9/11 are expected to be in attendance, and they are encouraged to share memories of their fallen soldiers.
Ahead of the program, two memorial rides will take place -- one originating in Garden City with additional riders honoring Dodge City and Liberal area soldiers, and one originating in Hays and visiting the graves of CW2 Bryan J. Nichols, who was killed in a helicopter crash in August 2011 in Afghanistan, and Sgt. Derrick Lutters, who was killed in a suicide bomb attack in May 2005 in Iraq.
"I've spent 35 years in the military, and I knew both of the soldiers," said Ray Palmer, now retired from the U.S. Army. "I just feel it's my patriotic duty to lead this ride in their memory."
Anyone wishing to join the ride can meet at 10:15 a.m. Sunday at Hays American Legion, 13th and Canterbury, to head to Pleasantview Cemetery to visit Nichols' grave.
The riders will be in WaKeeney at 1 p.m. before leaving for the Ransom Cemetery to visit Lutters' grave. The ride concludes in Ness City, just before the start of the remembrance program.
For more information, visit rememberingourfallen.org or find "Ness City is Remembering Our Fallen" on Facebook.
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Western Kansas soldiers who will be honored: Army Sgt. Derrick Lutters, Goodland, died May 1, 2005.
Army Sgt. Benjamin Morton, Wright, died May 22, 2005.
Army Spc. Clinton Upchurch, Garden City, died Jan. 7, 2006.
Army Sgt. Jessie Davila, Greensburg, died Feb. 20, 2006.
Marine Lance Cpl. Jose Marin-Dominguez, Liberal, died May 14, 2006.
Marine Lance Cpl. Brian Escalante, Dodge City, died Feb. 17, 2007.
Army 1st Class Travis Bachman, Garden City, died Aug. 1, 2007.
Army Sgt. Christopher Kruse, Dodge City, died Nov. 13, 2007.
Army Chief Warrant Officer Bryan Nichols, Hays, died Aug. 6. 2011.
Air Force 1st Lt. Nathaniel Buckley, Minneola, died Aug. 7, 2002.
Marine Sgt. Seth Algrim, Garden City, died Oct. 30, 2006.