America Supports You: Californians Show Respect for Fallen Troops
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 20, 2005 Californians Grant Bjorn and Robert C. Pfeiler are reaching out to America. They're working to bring the country together in support of fallen servicemembers and the families they've left behind.
The 3-feet-by-8-feet banners being placed on light poles around San Clemente, Calif., on April 24 include a picture of a servicemember who was killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, the persons name, rank, hometown, when and where the individual was killed, and a few words about the person. Photo courtesy of American Heroes Tribute
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The two men embarked on their quest in January, when they formed "American Heroes Tribute," a nonprofit corporation aimed at showing respect and support as a country to fallen servicemembers who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families.
To honor the fallen and their families, the pair envision placing large, tribute banners for each fallen warrior on light poles in cities and counties across the country by Memorial Day 2006.
They're kicking off the tribute on April 24 in San Clemente, Calif., by hanging 24 3-feet-by-8-feet banners on light poles throughout the city. The banners feature photographs of servicemembers from the local area who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We contacted some of the families here in Orange County, Calif., and asked them to e-mail us a picture of their lost loved one," Bjorn said, adding that the city of San Clemente and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton helped them get the names of the fallen troops in that area. "Underneath the picture, we put the servicemember's name, rank, hometown, and when and where he or she was killed."
Family members were then asked to say something about their lost loved one, like, "He loved fishing," or, "He loved to fly, and after getting out of the service he wanted to become a commercial pilot," said Bjorn, who does the artwork and design of the banners.
"We ask for comments like that so each banner is different," Bjorn said. "We're letting the families tell us what they would like because it's a tribute to them, not anything about pro-war or anti-war. It's plain and simple a tribute to the men and women who lost their lives."
The reverse side of each banner features an image of an American flag. Initially, the banners will be placed on light poles on streets and highways throughout participating cities and counties in Southern California, according to Pfeiler.
American Heroes Tribute, based in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., hopes to erect more than 1,500 banners on light poles in San Diego, this Memorial Day. "From there, this banner tribute will systematically move up the coast of California and continue its journey across our country, weaving a ribbon of unity in community after community," Pfeiler said. "On Memorial Day 2006, the banner tribute will complete its journey in Washington, D.C., in a grand and glorious event."
Pfeiler said Grant thought of the concept in December 2004. "One day after church he was talking to a couple of veterans and the idea just popped into his mind. When he told me about it, immediately, I was hooked," Pfeiler said. "I've never been so irresistibly compelled to make something happen like I am this. It's quite phenomenal -- the creative force and energy behind it."
Bjorn, who owns a sign business, said his guys are using his company's cherry-picker truck to post the banners in his local area.
He said he hopes that the American Heroes Tribute catches on like branches of a tree. "We're hoping that one branch will grow into other branches and people will say, 'Let's do one for our hometown,'" he said. "If we get this working, let's show other people how they can do tributes for their fallen, whether it's a car wash or something like ours."
Eventually, American Heroes Tribute wants to raise money to help children and spouses of fallen servicemembers.
American Heroes Tribute also wants to honor foreign allies and non-American citizens who serve in the U.S. military, Bjorn noted. "Here in Southern California people from South America and Mexico come here to join the Army or the Marines. We're going to place a small flag from their country on their banners."
By Memorial Day 2006, Pfeiler would like to see more than 1,600 military families "happily embraced by their country," he said. "They and the country (would be) better and healthier for it. I would like our allies to see how the great American spirit has reached across the borders and acknowledged and touched them in the special way Americans can."