Kansas honors veterans with 'Remembering our Fallen' display

Alice Mannette
The Hutchinson News
Debbie Austin holds her hand like her son, PFC Shane Austin, at the Remembering Our Fallen from Kansas display in the Pride of Kansas building Friday morning. The traveling pictorial State memorial is displayed in honor of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

For Gold Star mother, Debbie Austin, freedom comes at a cost. She remembers her son, Shane Austin, smiling and telling jokes, putting his fingers in a certain way to show he was happy. And then one day, he was gone.

"He lived life to the fullest," she said. "He died living his dream."

Shane Austin, who grew up in Edgerton, was killed in Iraq at age 19. Like him, dozens of other young men and women's smiling faces are a part of the Remembering our Fallen Soldiers display at the Kansas State Fair.

Each bright and smiling Kansas face has a story to tell. Each uniformed member of the U.S. military had a dream and a mission to fulfill. Each one's life was cut short by a bullet, an IED, a bomb or in the case of Ronald Hemenway of Shawnee, an electronics technician first class of the U.S. Navy, the impact of American Airlines Flight 77 that hit the Pentagon on 9/11 two decades ago. 

Mike McElwain from McPherson looks at the Remembering Our Fallen from Kansas exhibit in the Pride of Kansas building Friday morning at the Kansas State Fair.

"My heart goes out to these families who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom," said Paula Landoll-Smith of Marysville. 

Bobby Sturchio, who raised his son Nathan in Harper, came to honor his son, who made it home from Kuwait and Iraq, and his son's friend who did not.

"Those are our heroes," he said. 

Many photos held messages of thanks, "We miss you," "Godspeed" and "Thank you for your service." Some had pictures of wives or fiancés mounted beside them; others had pictures of children tacked on. 

There was William Mulvihill, 20, of Leavenworth; Travis Bachman, 30, of Garden City; Ronald Schmidt, 18, of Newton; Derrick Lutters, 24, of Goodland and Brian Excalante, 25, of Dodge City.

The exhibit, "Remembering our Fallen," travels around the state. It was scheduled for the fair last year, but came this year, as the fair was closed.

Personal notes are attached to Peter Wagler's memorial photo in the Remembering Our Fallen from Kansas exhibit in the Pride of Kansas building at the Kansas State Fair.

The Lankers made a special trip to see a young man from Partridge whom they had watched grow up - Peter Wagler, 18.

"It's an honor to have this here," Greg Lanker of Hutchinson said. "These people made a sacrifice so we could be doing what we are doing. They should be remembered, not forgotten."

Wagler's portrait is on display just a few photos away from Christopher Perez, 30, of Hutchinson and Matthew Huston, 24, of Haven.

"We don't want people to forget," Austin said. "We don't want sympathy; we want you to live your days honoring these men and women."