The Omaha couple who organized a traveling photo exhibit of 98 fallen Nebraskans and western Iowans in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars hope to put together similar displays across the country.
Bill and Evonne Williams have formed a corporation, Patriotic Productions Inc., to create and display “Remembering Our Fallen” exhibits in other states. The exhibits will feature photos and biographical information on each fallen service member.
“We need to remember their names,” Evonne said. “We saw how much the families went through.”
The Nebraska-western Iowa exhibit opened in November at the Strategic Air & Space Museum near Ashland, Neb., and has been booked in 39 communities across the state.
A Patriotic Productions exhibit featuring 65 Iowans in uniform who died from wounds suffered in Afghanistan and Iraq is scheduled to open May 1 in Adel, Iowa, then travel the state.
Bellevue University plans to co-sponsor the exhibit in several states, Bill Williams said.
“We hope to do five states a year,” he said. “We'll see how it goes.”
The Williamses were moved by The World-Herald's coverage of the wars, especially about the families of those killed. The newspaper provided photos and content for the initial exhibit.
In order to devote more time to the project, Evonne Williams resigned Friday as interim director of the Strategic Air & Space Museum. She joined the cash-strapped museum as deputy director in 2008 and was named interim director in October 2009.
The museum has hosted several events that honor veterans from World War II to the present. The gatherings included paratroopers from the “Band of Brothers,” the Iwo Jima flag-raising Marines, Marines featured in the HBO series “The Pacific,” a Bataan Death March survivor, Korean War veterans and Medal of Honor recipients.
Museum attendance climbed to about 135,000 last year, and the facility ended the year in the black.
“The team and I are proud of the accomplishments we made,” Williams said. “We were able to keep it exciting and alive.''
Williams credited about three dozen volunteers for the museum's success. The volunteers originally gathered to help 1,500 area WWII veterans see the war memorial in Washington, D.C. The Williamses raised about $1.2 million for the Honor Flights to the nation's capital.
The Williamses have a natural appreciation for the military. Their sons serve or have served.
Ben, 26, is in law school at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln after completing two tours of duty with the Army Reserve in Iraq. Tom, 24, graduated from Marine Corps Officer Candidate School and is working on his master's degree at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Sam, 21, is a Creighton University senior in ROTC who will owe the Army four years after he graduates.
Max, the youngest at 19, is a Marine Corps air traffic controller in Japan.
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