Memorial wall travels to Atlanta

A solemn exhibit, a panorama of loss, opens Monday in a downtown government building.

Called “Remembering the Fallen,” the portable wall, 80 feet long and eight feet high, bears the face of every Georgia soldier killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The first soldier in the display is Army Specialist Jamaal R. Addison, of Lithonia, who died on March 23, 2003 in Iraq, killed by small-arms fire during an ambush.

The latest addition is Sgt. First Class Omar W. Forde of Marietta, who died in December in an Afghanistan helicopter crash that took five other men just before Christmas.

In between are portraits of almost 200 Georgians. We see them in their official photographs, many of them stern and unsmiling, wearing the uniforms of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Guard.

We also see them in other, less-formal snapshots, looking younger and more vulnerable, playing with their friends, smiling, hugging their parents.

And we see those they left behind.

One of the photos accompanying the “Remembering Our Fallen” memorial wall is of two-year-old Maddison Buras, of Fitzgerald.

In the picture she embraces the gravestone where her father, Senior Airman Michael J. Buras, was put to rest. Her grandmother, Joy Buras, took the photo. In that moment Maddie told her grandmother, “I’m hugging my daddy.”

The memorial wall has been traveling around Georgia since October, and arrives in Atlanta for the first time Monday. It will be assembled in the lobby of the James H. “Sloppy” Floyd building, across from the Capitol.

When Joy Buras visited the wall in Columbus last fall to see her son’s photos, it was a painful but cathartic experience. “It represents what everybody should see — that freedom is not free,” she said. “I love to see (Michael) and all the other ones remembered.”

Remembrance was the chief goal for Bill Williams of Omaha, Neb. The former schoolteacher is among those who helped organize “Honor Flights” that gave aging 1940s-era veterans a chance to see the World War II memorial in Washington D.C. while they could still travel.

Then Williams realized he had forgotten some other soldiers. The father of a young Nebraska soldier killed in Iraq reminded Williams that amid our celebration of “The Greatest Generation,” we shouldn’t ignore what the current generation is doing for us. In 2010 Williams and his wife Evonne brainstormed a traveling display created to honor the men and women who gave their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are now similar displays traveling in 11 states, researched painstakingly by Evonne and mounted with the financial assistance of Bellevue University, outside Omaha.

Williams’ brother Dan Williams, a resident of Savannah, has helped coordinate the travels of the Georgia memorial wall. As he has shepherded it from Columbus, to Macon, to Savannah to Douglas he has often been accompanied by a phalanx of motorcyclists with the Patriot Guard Riders and other honor guards.

Family and friends of the fallen leave mementos at the wall, he said — including dog tags, a cigar, a can of beer. “It’s mostly written notes,” said Dan Williams. “Children will put a little drawing on there; it’s heartbreaking.”

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