LEMOORE — Many tear-filled eyes could be seen and heavy hearts felt during the opening ceremony for the “Remembering Our Fallen” traveling photo memorial on Monday morning at West Hills College Lemoore.
The memorial exhibit, which includes military and personal photos of each of California’s fallen who served in the U.S. armed forces after 9/11, is traveling throughout the state and has made its stop inside the college’s student union.
“Remembering Our Fallen” is free and open to the public until Friday, May 17.
This memorial, along with 17 other state memorials representing half of our country’s fallen since 9/11, have been created by Patriotic Productions, a non-profit organization headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska.
Callie Branan, who works at WHCL as the coordinator of Veterans Upward Bound, — a program designed to help veterans succeed in college — helped bring the exhibit to the area.
Branan said through the various community outreach efforts she is involved in, she hears about all of the activity going on in surrounding counties concerning veterans and the veteran community and really wanted to bring something to Kings County.
Through her research, Branan came across “Remembering Our Fallen” in California and felt it was important to bring it to the area, especially because Naval Air Station Lemoore is a big part of the community.
A Navy veteran and the wife of a sailor currently deployed, Branan is a part of AMVETS and said she reached out to Post 1893, which serves the Kings County area, and asked the post to help fund the memorial.
She said AMVETS paid for the majority of the cost to bring the exhibit, while the college paid for the rest.
The memorial honors those from all branches of service who died after 9/11, from overseas in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, to those who came home and suffered from, and succumbed to, post-traumatic stress disorder.
There are 755 California veterans pictured in the memorial. Nearly 60 were from the Valley, including some from Kings County.
Attached to the boards are notes from family members and friends of the fallen, and even some from strangers. Some of the notes are as simple as “I miss you” to “Thank you for your service”, while others are heartbreakingly more personal and intimate.
“There’s a lot of people that paid the ultimate sacrifice for us to be ab le to do what we’re doing today and they should never be forgotten,” Branan said.
An opening ceremony for the exhibit took place Monday morning and was attended by Gold Star families — parents or relatives who have lost a child or loved one in military service.
The ceremony also featured speakers like CDR Chris Fisher, NASL Executive Officer, who talked about the importance of remembering those who have fallen, and Jeff Lukens, AMVETS Post 1893 commander.
Lukens reminded those in attendance that the price of freedom has never been free, and those in the memorial are the ones who paid that price. He also talked about veteran suicide awareness.
“I don’t want to add any more to this wall,” Lukens said.