Exhibit outside Costa Mesa Anduril site makes mission of ‘Remembering Our Fallen’

"Remembering Our Fallen," a traveling photo exhibition at Anduril on Wednesday in Costa Mesa.
“Remembering Our Fallen,” a traveling photo exhibition, is on display outside the Anduril campus in Costa Mesa, at 1375 Sunflower Ave., through July 5.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The sidewalks outside the Costa Mesa headquarters of defense contractor Anduril have been temporarily transformed into a museum designed to honor the thousands of U.S. service members who made the ultimate sacrifice during the country’s war on terror.

“Remembering Our Fallen” is a traveling photographic exhibition that includes the names and military portraits of more than 5,200 men and women who died serving in Iraq and Afghanistan between the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the U.S. withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan on Aug. 30.

Installed Monday, the outdoor exhibit is a project of Nebraska-based nonprofit Patriotic Productions, which honors service members and veterans through memorials, speaking events and Flights of Honor tours. The tribute will remain on display at 1375 Sunflower Ave., through July 5.

Tom Williams — an operations lead for Anduril and the son of Patriotic Production founders Bill and Evonne Williams — said “Remembering Our Fallen” also features personal photographs of honorees.

Tom Williams, operations lead for Anduril, poses Wednesday in front of a traveling photo exhibition created by his parents.
Tom Williams, operations lead for U.S. defense contractor Anduril, poses Wednesday near a traveling photo exhibit created by his parents, founders of Nebraska-based Patriotic Productions.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“Everyone assumes there’s a database somewhere, and it’s just not the case,” Williams said, describing how his mom spent 10 years seeking tributes from Gold Star families, who’d lost loved ones, to add to the display. “That’s one thing that’s different about this memorial from others — it’s much more personal.”

Today, the 240-foot exhibit exists as two identical displays that tour locations east and west of the Mississippi River. “Remembering Our Fallen” has appeared in Pasadena’s Rose Parade, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota and outside the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

But its beginning was much humbler, says Bill Williams, who recalled being inspired by a 2010 article in the Omaha World-Herald about a father who lost his son in Iraq in 2006 and was afraid his sacrifice would not be remembered.

"Remembering Our Fallen," a traveling photo exhibition at Anduril on Wednesday, June 29, 2022 in Costa Mesa, CA.
“Remembering Our Fallen,” a traveling photo exhibition on display outside the Anduril campus in Costa Mesa, honors the sacrifices of thousands of military members who died during the war on terror.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The Williamses, whose four sons all served in the Armed Forces, created a memorial to Nebraska’s fallen service members. They later built similar tributes for display in Iowa, Kansas and California, the last of which debuted in 2015 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.

“It was hard to find space indoors,” Bill Williams said of the exhibit’s size. “That’s when we decided, let’s make it a national memorial.”

For Tom Williams, who served in the Marines from 2011 to 2016 and was deployed to Eastern Europe to Afghanistan, bringing the tribute to Anduril for the first time last year seemed like a good fit, given 20% of the start-up company’s employees are veterans.

“We did it last year, and I hope it will be here again in the future,” he said. “It’s totally in line with our mission as a company.”

For Bill Williams, “Remembering Our Fallen” is a way to honor more recent wartime sacrifices.

“It’s really about the Gold Star Families,” he said. “Their fear is their loved ones are going to be forgotten. The least the rest of us can do is, when the memorial comes to their town, walk through it and think about these people. It’s pretty emotional when you see those young people’s faces.”

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