On the third floor of Hinesville City Hall, in a room just next to the stairs, is a room full of faces.
Some smiling, some serious, many young and proud, they stare out at the visitors who enter the room.
More than 200 service members from Georgia who have died since 9/11, are memorialized in the traveling “Remembering Our Fallen” exhibit, which is visiting Hinesville until Sept. 11.
Three service members memorialized in the exhibit are from Hinesville.
The Georgia exhibit is one of more than 20 state exhibits started by Bill and Evonne Williams of Nebraska. They started the project in 2010 because they didn’t want those killed in the wars to be forgotten, according to the project’s website and Dan Williams, “Remembering Our Fallen” representative for Georgia and Bill’s brother.
When the couple saw the effect their first exhibit, in Nebraska, had on the fallen’s family members and the public, they decided to expand it to other states, according to Dan Williams and the exhibit’s website. They hope to have it in all 50 states by Veterans Day 2016 and then take it on a national tour.
“Well, we hope they’ll come out and look at the exhibit,” Dan Williams said. “Beside the military picture and the personal picture, we hope they will read the notes from the families, friends, (and) relatives. There’s notes on here that travel with the exhibit. If they’ll look at those notes and just see how the families are going to be affected the rest of their lives.”
Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said during the exhibit’s opening night Thursday that it “means a lot” to see soldiers remembered in this way and that it was very moving.
Robert and Petra Brooks of Hinesville are a military family. Robert Brooks is retired and served in the Georgia National Guard, their son is in the Army and their daughter served in the Air Force.
“Well, I think it’s important that we honor these guys,” he said. “I mean, they paid the ultimate sacrifice, and I think it’s important to tell the public and show the public what they gave up.”
“Keep their memory alive,” Petra Brooks added. “Our son was deployed twice. (Robert Brooks) was deployed when he was active. And our son had a very close call with an IED (improvised explosive device). So when you see this exhibit, it really hits home. Makes you realize what you almost lost. Yeah, it’s important.”
“It’s real emotional,” Robert Brooks said about the exhibit.
Then he paused and looked up at the pictures.
“You see the stickers on the posters from the families. It makes you think about them.”
“It does,” Petra Brooks said, blinking back tears. “Sorry. I’m trying to keep it together.”
For her, it was hard to see the photos with the service members and their children.
“Some of the pictures where they have their babies in their arm. That’s hard to look at,” Petra Brooks said.
Col. Townley Hedrick, the Fort Stewart garrison commander, said the exhibit is sobering.
“I mean, it’s sometimes hard to make yourself go back and remember because you compartmentalize, I guess, over time,” he said. “And so when you come back to an exhibit like this, you’re sort of reopening some boxes that you have packaged in a safe place.”
Hedrick said it is important to see these service members remembered in this way.
“It’s very important because, listen, that’s — I think — if you were to ask any family member, their biggest fear after the loss of their loved one, and their biggest fear is that their loved one would be forgotten,” he said.
“So that’s why we do what we do to assure them. Because any of us who has lost one of our best friends, you will never forget them. I mean, they’ve left an indelible mark, and so it is nice to see memorials like this set up, and it really assures the families, hey, we will never forget your soldier.”
The exhibit will be on display at Hinesville City Hall, 115 E. M.L. King Jr. Drive, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday through Sept. 11.