War memorial brings visitors to tears
The Remembering Our Fallen memorial at the Dodge County Fair stirred up some deep emotions for VaLane Tyler of Dodge Center as she walked through the towers with her husband Ray and their great-grandson on Saturday.
“It’s sad,” VaLane said. “It brings a person to tears. I don’t know how you can explain your
feelings about it. It’s so moving.” Added Ray, “I hate war. They had their
whole life ahead of them and it’s gone.”
The Tylers feel everyone needs to remember all those who have fallen. “All give some and
some give all. They gave all and it’s sad,” VaLane said. For the Tylers, the memorial was the main reason they came to the fair. “I’m glad they have this to let other people know and understand,” Ray said. VaLane added, “People who are not in the military do not know how or understand why we have our freedom.” She hopes memorials like the Remembering Our Fallen will help them gain a better understanding and appreciation for freedom.
Since the War of Terror began on 9/11 in 2001, more than 7,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed in action. The memorial features 5,000 of those soldiers, including 167 women, and organizers hope to add the remaining ones in the future.
Nancy Tobiason-Kramer of Mantorville is a member of the Gold Star family as she lost her brother, John J. Tobiason, in the Iraq conflict. “When a soldier dies, it’s so different than dying from anything else,” Tobiason-Kramer said. “It’s so different when there is a death of a solider. They gave their lives for our freedoms.” She shared two photographs of her brother for the memorial. One of them was a military photo with a weapon strapped to his body and the other was a fun one of him making spaghetti. In the cooking photo, she said her brother “cooked it so much that it turned to paste.” He had been a cook in the army, and he always “made massive amounts of food,” she added.
Tobiason-Kramer said her brother “loved his country, he loved God, his family and friends, and military brothers and sisters.” Each one of the photos in the memorial shows soldiers who “gave selfishly of themselves for our freedoms, for how we live here in America,” she added.
Gold Star mother Noala Fritz of Verdon, Neb., has been traveling with the national exhibit for the past year. This is the second time the memorial has been in Minnesota. The only other time was last summer at the Benton County Fair.
Even though the soldiers are buried at their homes across the country, Fritz says the memorial brings them together. “I feel they are traveling together,” she said. “Their spirit is here, and they are thanking you for remembering them. They are at peace and no longer fighting.”
Fritz’s son, Jacob, was one of four in an American convoy abducted in Iraq in 2007. The goal of the terrorists was to torture him and use him for bargaining, Fritz said. As the Shiite militias traveled through “rat trails,” they eventually realized their plan wasn’t going to work so they executed Fritz’s son and the other Americans.
Facing the reality that her son was gone and never to return, Fritz reluctantly became one of America’s Gold Star families. She still remembers the day back in January 2017 when two soldiers in Class A uniforms stood at her back door to deliver the horrifying news. “We didn’t want to go through that door,” she said. But in the days that followed, Fritz counted her as one of the lucky Gold Star families. Fritz got to see her son in one piece when his body was transported back home. She said many others had loved ones buried in a mass grave. “I’m thankful I was able to have all of Jacob,” she added.
Fritz said the memorial has heightened awareness to the tragedy of war and the true loss suffered by families. “When you look at the pictures, it really brings that loss home,” she said. “When you think these are all volunteers, and they gave with no hesitation… that you take the time to thank them.”
She doesn’t ever want the memorial to turn into a debate about war. “You have to look at the big picture—they are part of the military, and they keep us a part of the land of the free,” Fritz said. “I want people to remember them and educate them about the wars,” she noted. In a country that seems to be becoming more divided, Fritz hopes the memorial will bring Americans together. “They are us, united in giving their lives for us,” she said. Fritz becomes disgusted with people who suggest that all soldiers want to kill. “No they don’t,” she quipped. “Look at these kids, do they want to kill?” she asked pointing to the memorial photos.
All of the fallen soldiers featured on the memorial have become Fritz’s extended family. “They are my kids,” she said. “These are my sons and daughters and former students,” said Fritz, who is a retired educator.
She admits she did not want see the memorial when it was first unveiled last summer. “It was like the knock at the door happened again,” Fritz said as she described the time when she was notified of her son’s death.
“You want your son on a wall of fame. This is not where you want him,” Fritz said. Fritz’s national tour of the memorial has taken her away from home for as long as 68 days straight. “I love bringing the memorial to people,” she says. “It’s an educational exhibit for a lot of people.”
Specifically the photos on the memorial teach people, especially kids, what types of weapons are used by the military as well as different reasons for war-time deaths.
“I can’t imagine towns not wanting this memorial,” Fritz said. “Everybody should want to see this.”
She isn’t exactly sure how long she will continue with the tour. “We’re going to do it until it becomes a job,” Fritz said.
In the years since her son’s death, Fritz has embraced the reality of what took place. “I’m very proud to be a Gold Star mom,” she said. “I’m very proud of the military, and I’m glad my son was in it. I know we have a guardian angel with us.”
Other Gold Star families paid tribute to the memorial at last week’s fair. Robert Hallberg traveled from North Mankato to see his son on the memorial for the first time. After two tours in Iraq, Hallberg’s son, Matthew Lee Hallberg, 32, took his own life back in America. “The sadness of this…” Hallberg said staring at his son’s photograph. “There really isn’t words.”
Hallberg said his son tried to get into a PTSD support group, but it didn’t take place. He shot himself in the head right on the patio of his home while his wife and kids were home. “We know there are military members struggling,” Hallberg said. “We as a society should be able to save them.”