Photos of war dead move teens - Omaha.com
Published Friday, April 13, 2012 at 1:00 am / Updated at 2:15 pm
Photos of war dead move teens

Morgan Enerson and two friends burst through the front doors and rushed into Elkhorn High School on a recent morning.

They sped into the front lobby, into the din of hundreds of teenagers all talking at once. They hurried to stake out their own conversation spot for five minutes of precious free time before the bell jangled and another school day began.

Then Morgan glanced to her left. She glanced again.

She stopped.

She, Sarah Chadwell and Yasmin Medina wordlessly stared at 81 photos that filled one of the lobby walls.

They walked from one end of the photo exhibit to the other, slowly and silently studying the faces, names and ages. The 81 Nebraskans honored in the traveling exhibit, "Remembering Our Fallen," were either killed in Iraq or Afghanistan or died during or after a deployment.

Morgan and her two friends looked at these faces, and they forgot all about the noise. They forgot all about their five free minutes.

"They are really young," Morgan said after viewing the exhibit for several minutes. "A few are older ... but most are young. Almost our age."

This sort of reaction is exactly what the co-founders of "Remembering Our Fallen" had in mind when they started it on a tour of Omaha-area schools this week.

The photo exhibit has traveled to big-city museums and small-town courthouses all over the state for the past 18 months.

It has been booked solid every week since November 2010, said Bill and Evonne Williams, the exhibit's caretakers. It likely has been seen by more than 100,000 Nebraskans, they estimate, including thousands who passed through Omaha's First National Tower and Eppley Airfield.

It has proven so successful that Bellevue University has funded similar projects in eight other states, including Iowa.

But the Williamses — best known for organizing the Honor Flights that took hundreds of World War II veterans to see the Washington, D.C., war memorials — have been left with the nagging feeling that a crop of important Nebraskans wasn't seeing the exhibit.

Teenagers.

Teenagers who don't necessarily pay much attention to the wars.

Teenagers who may well join the military in a year or two.

"Sometimes students are pretty self-absorbed," Bill Williams said. "We think it's a good experience for them to spend a couple minutes thinking about this."

So now "Remembering Our Fallen" is on a tour of 13 high schools in Nebraska, with stops planned at Elkhorn South, Omaha Burke and Omaha Westside. It has already visited Logan-View in Hooper and Lincoln Northeast. The tour is financially backed by Lincoln Benefit Life Co.

Students at four Council Bluffs high schools will see the Iowa version of the exhibit, a tour sponsored by Cutler-O'Neill Meyer-Woodring Funeral Home.

At an opening ceremony Monday evening at Elkhorn High, the Williamses introduced several Omaha-area residents who have more than a passing interest in the photo wall.

The parents of Cpl. Matthew Alexander of Gretna, who would have turned 26 this week.

The father of Pfc. Edwin "Eddie" Wood, an 18-year-old Omahan killed in Afghanistan on July 5, 2010, a day after he returned to the battlefield from leave.

A sister of Sgt. Nicholas Nolte of Falls City, who died, as so many have, after his Humvee rolled over a roadside bomb.

Vice Principal Luke Ford told the crowd that among the Elkhorn High students who would see the exhibit would be many who have no friends or family members who have deployed.

"We are going to have 662 students walking by that memorial," Ford said.

Tuesday morning, hundreds of Elkhorn High students did walk past that memorial and didn't even notice. Many others gave it a passing glance and continued on to find their friends or go to class.

But nearly 100 teenagers looked left and slowed down to look at the faces of Nebraska's war dead.

Nearly every one of them did so quietly, creating a silent oasis in the middle of the loud and energetic lobby and cafeteria.

Jason Meyer, a freshman, charged through the front doors and immediately halted to look at the exhibit.

He said his grandfather and several uncles served in the military. He doesn't have any close friends or relatives who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Still, the exhibit resonated with him, Jason said. He could imagine being a family member of one of those young men and women on the "Remembering Our Fallen" wall. He could imagine, just a little bit, what that felt like.

"It's hard to lose family members," he said. "It has got to be so hard."

Contact the writer:

402-444-1064, matthew.hansen@owh.com

Contact the writer: Matthew Hansen

matthew.hansen@owh.com    |   402-444-1064    |  

Matthew Hansen is a metro columnist who writes roughly three columns a week focusing on all things Omaha.

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