On a quiet block in Port Angeles, ‘tribute towers” will display photos of those who died in the post 9/11 wars. The mobile memorial is being brought to the community by a mother who lost her only son in Afghanistan.
The military men and women who died in post-9/11 wars came from all over America. Beginning Friday, most of their faces can be seen on a quiet block in Port Angeles, where “tribute towers” bearing photographs of more than 4,800 fallen service members will be on display through Dec. 11.
The 30 tribute towers each stand 10 feet tall. They were developed by Bill and Evonne Williams, a Nebraska couple who fashioned this mobile memorial of the war dead through a nonprofit called Patriotic Productions.
The towers are a still-evolving effort by the Williamses, who have four sons who have served in the military. They began putting together photo memorials in 2011, inspired by a newspaper story about the grief of a Nebraska father who lost his son in Iraq in 2006.
IF YOU GO
The Tribute Towers, a mobile memorial of those who died in post 9/11 wars, will be in Port Angeles from Dec. 8 to Dec. 11.
They will be set up in front of Capt. Joseph House at 1108 South Oak Street.
Opening ceremonies will be held at 1 p.m. on Friday
“A lot of folks think we went to the government and got a list of names and pictures, but that isn’t the case,” said Bill Williams. “It’s been one family, one fallen after another.”
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The mother of one of those war dead arranged for the towers to make the long journey to Port Angeles.
Her name is Betsy Schultz. She lost her only son, Green Beret Army Capt. Joseph Schultz, to a 2011 bomb attack in Afghanistan. Amid her grief, she found solace with other families who lost loved ones. This prompted her to launch a nonprofit — Captain Joseph House Foundation — to turn her Port Angeles bed-and-breakfast into a retreat for families who lost loved ones in the post 9/11 wars.
Last summer, when Schultz learned about the towers, she sent photos to the Williamses and invited them to Port Angeles to set the towers up beside the Tudor-style house.
“As families, we worry that our fallen will be forgotten,” Schultz said. “What this brings us — in a very personal way — is the number of men and women who sacrificed their lives.”
Through the course of the four-day memorial exhibit, visitors can take in the towers that display both uniformed photos and more casual images of the fallen service members.
Initially for the exhibit the couple constructed picture walls for indoor display. More recently, they have shifted to the outdoor towers, which had their national unveiling in September on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Through mailings and other outreach efforts, the Williamses continue to gain more of the photos of the nearly 7,000 service members that the Defense Department lists as having died in military operations since 2001.
The exhibits include a photo tower set aside for those who died in training accidents.
They also have a tower for service members who deployed and later took their own lives. Evonne Williams says that families who provided those photos were grateful for the opportunity for their losses to be recognized.
“We have 150 names, and have a long way to go,” Evonne Williams said of that tower. “I am surprised how many families have reached out to us.”
During the four-day exhibit, Captain Joseph House also will be open for visitors.
When completed, the house will be able to host up to three families in what is planned as a week of respite. The grounds will have landscaped gardens, and recreation options will include hiking and sailing.
Schultz has been fundraising for more than four years .
So far, some $365,000 in dollars and other donations have been contributed for renovations. The state capital budget, which failed to pass the Legislature earlier this year, also includes funds for Captain Joseph House.
Once finished, the foundation also will need money to finance the flights, housing and other costs associated with the family stays in Port Angeles.
Schultz said her son, Joseph, once told her that if he died, he did not want her to curl up in a ball and hide from the world. So she has persevered in her efforts to open Captain Joseph House.
“Maybe it takes one of those of us who have lost someone to keep the candle burning,” Schultz said.