Orcutt resident Ron Zell said he and his wife were on vacation in Oceanside last year when they came across an exhibit with memorials of all the servicemen and women from California who had died in combat since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“After 45 minutes to an hour in there, you can’t help but be aware of so many things, but one of the things I couldn’t help but notice was that so many people in this exhibit were from Santa Barbara County,” Zell said Wednesday.
It wasn’t long after that initial viewing that Zell, a past president of the Santa Barbara Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR), decided to try to help bring the exhibit closer to home.
Thanks to his and the SAR’s efforts, the traveling “Remembering Our Fallen” exhibit was shown in Santa Barbara before spending a week in Lompoc starting Sunday and then going to Santa Maria the week after.
“My main motivation for getting this here was three things: To recognize, to remember and to honor these people who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we can be free,” Zell said.
The exhibit, which is free to view, will be on display in Lompoc all next week at the Lompoc Veterans Memorial Building, 100 E. Locust Ave. There will be a special opening ceremony, which will feature the Vandenberg Air Force Base Color Guard, at 2 p.m. Sunday and the exhibit will remain open at the building from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
From there, the exhibit will move to Santa Maria, where it will be on display at the Town Center mall from Jan. 24 through 30. The opening ceremony at that location will be 2 p.m. Jan. 24.
The mobile memorial, which was produced by Patriotic Productions, will feature names, photos and other mementos from the 721 Californians who have died in combat since 2001. Eighteen of the memorials are for former Santa Barbara County residents.
Noting that the number of casualties from California is the highest of any state, Lompoc resident Frank Campo said he was hopeful that the memorials could provide a cathartic effect for visitors who may have lost a loved one in recent wars.
Campo, who is a member of the SAR and helped secure the locations for the exhibit, likened it to the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall.
“For a lot of Vietnam War guys, seeing that wall and actually touching the name of their buddy who was killed in Vietnam actually helps them with the healing process,” he said. “Part of our thoughts here is that Lompoc and Santa Maria have large military communities … and a lot of those folks have lost friends or family members in Afghanistan and Iraq. We’re thinking if the Vietnam memorial helps those guys heal, then maybe this will help today’s military (people) heal.”
One local resident who is looking forward to visiting the exhibit is Laurie Lane, whose son, Mitchell Lane, died in Afghanistan in 2003.
Lane was invited, along with other family members of veterans who were killed in combat, to view the display in January 2015 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.
“It was so beautiful,” Lane said. “I was crying going into the pavilion, and it wasn’t because of Mitchell. It was because of the military and the honor they were giving to people who had lost somebody.
“It is overwhelming,” she added. “It’s such a big deal that this is coming (to Lompoc).”
Lane is a member of the Lompoc Valley Fallen Warrior Memorial Project committee, which is raising funds in an effort to build a memorial at Beattie Park to honor veterans from the Lompoc Valley who were killed in combat throughout U.S. history.
She said the committee will have a table with information on the project set up at the Lompoc Vets Building next week during the hours of the exhibit.
Like Zell, Lane said she is hopeful that everyone in the community will visit the exhibit and take advantage of the opportunity to reflect and pay respects to those who have died in service.
“These are the real heroes,” Zell said.
Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.
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