It’s only been on display in Fort Hays State University’s Forsyth Library since Monday, and already many lives have been touched by the faces of fallen Kansas soldiers, their stories and their sacrifices.
“Remembering Our Fallen” is a traveling photo memorial created through Patriotic Productions, a non-profit organization with headquarters in Omaha, Neb.
The organization aspires to create a memorial for every state, honoring local heroes who gave their lives for their country.
Exhibits are made up of photos with names and information, notes from family members, keepsakes, flowers and various other momentos to help each face tell its story.
Debbie Austin of Spring Hill — a Gold Star Mother whose son was killed on the battlefield — has taken on the task of traveling through Kansas with the exhibit, which honorably displays her son.
“I jumped at the chance,” she said.
Austin lost her son, Shane, on Oct. 8, 2006. He was 19.
“He called me on Oct. 7 and told me he was patrolling a city in Ramadi, Iraq, and then the next day at about 4 p.m., I got a knock on my door,” she said. “There were two faces and five words, ‘We regret to inform you.’ It totally changed my life.”
Austin said she feels grief is the price that is paid for love.
“Even though it’s painful, I don’t want that pain to go away, because that means Shane is forgotten,” she said.
Chuck Lutters, Goodland, spent his birthday honoring his son as he volunteered to help Austin set up the photo memorial Monday morning.
“It’s very touching,” he said. “You have a lot of memories and feelings, not only for my son, but for everyone who has lost someone.”
Lutters’ son, Derrick, was 24 when he died in Iraq after only serving for four months in 2005.
“He left here on Jan. 1 and was killed on May 1,” Lutters said.
Lutters took a moment to write a note to place upon his son’s memorial which said, “Remember our soldiers whose feet will never again feel their homeland.”
FHSU senior Tera Mills stopped by the memorial to honor her first cousin, Jerry Mills, who she remembers died three days before her 13th birthday.
“He was and always will be my biggest hero,” she said.
Seth Kastle, FHSU faculty member in the department of leadership studies and a retired Army first sergeant, said his friend, Bryan Nichols, Hays, is part of the memorial. The two were deployed together to Afghanistan in 2002, and to Iraq in 2003 and 2004.
“My best friend is on that wall,” Kastle said.
Though many will stare upon the memorial, only a few will truly grasp the pain and heartache behind each photo, Kastle said.
“It’s easy to come by, look at this wall, say ‘thank you’ to families and then go about your day,” he said. “But what people don’t understand is that there are families now without someone they used to have.
“That’s not something that goes away when this exhibit goes away. That’s something these families have to live with every single day.”
“Remembering Our Fallen” will remain on display on the main floor of FHSU’s Forsyth Library through Friday. It is advised to visit during afternoon and evening hours, as parking is limited during morning hours.
“I absolutely encourage everyone to go take a look at this and put faces with names,” Kastle said. “These heroes have paid the ultimate sacrifice.”