Story by Kristina Hoti
The NYS Remember Our Fallen Memorial Wall is currently on display at the Arthur Finnegan American Legion Post 1443 in Greenwood Lake until Sun., Nov. 11, thanks to Gold Star Sister Laurene Sandstrom. The Memorial was created by Patriotic Productions, an organization whose mission is to honor the service men and women who have fought and died in service to the U.S. from the War on Terror, back to World War II.
The Memorial Wall features photos of the men and women from New York State who have died in service to the country in Iraq and Afghanistan since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Sandstrom has been traveling with the Wall since March of this year, when she contacted Patriotic Productions to inquire about getting access to the Wall for Gold Star Mother’s Day, which falls on the last Sunday in September. Sandstrom’s brother, 1st Lt. Louis Allen, is among the many who are honored on the Memorial.
Along with her boyfriend, Michael Flower, she has since visited eight different New York locations to display the wall, and already has scheduled presentations of the Wall next year, including the Albany Run for the Towers. Sandstrom assembles the wall herself at each location.
“Every time I put it up I either cry, or else have to just completely shut it out,” Sandstrom reflected.
In her initial conversation with Patriotic Productions, Sandstrom said a representative of the organization informed her that the wall had been in storage in Brooklyn since its initial 2016 unveiling at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York, NY.
“They asked me, ‘do you want to take it over?’ and I said, ‘well, what would that entail?’” said Sandstrom.
Despite the time and expense of about $1,200 per year, plus insurance costs, there wasn’t a doubt for Sandstrom.
“My brother, 1st Lt. Louis Allen, is on the wall, so I couldn’t say no,” she said.
In its current display area at Post 1443, the wall stretches around the perimeter of more than half of the large main room at the Legion. Each service member’s formal photo, name, rank, and both date and cause of death are displayed, along with additional photos and inspirational quotes.
Yellow roses, donated by Maggie’s Cottage in Monroe NY, currently adorn the entire length of the top border. In addition to the more formal representations of each service member, what makes the wall even more poignant is the added small personal photos of the fallen, and the small hand-written notes provided by family and friends, many on post-it notes clipped to the display. While looking at her brother’s space on the wall, Sandstrom indicated the photo of Allen, juggling potatoes with laughter on his face.
“This was my brother – being silly, juggling potatoes,” she said.
Among the recent locations Sandstrom and Flower have displayed the wall, are the County Building, the Elks Lodge, and the Monroe-Woodbury Middle School library. In particular, the two were touched by the reaction of the Monroe students, some of whom were brought to tears as they looked at the memorial.
“There was a counselor on hand; kids would look at it and cry. It was everything they’ve been learning about, right there in front of them,” Sandstrom said.
Many children were so touched, they added their own spare change to the donation jar, which in small part off-sets the expense of maintaining and traveling with the wall.
“A lot of kids donated their lunch money,” Flower said. “Altogether, they gave us about $48 in loose change.”
Traveling New York State to share this touching memorial seems to be just the start of Sandstrom’s dedication to honoring the fallen. She described meeting the parents of Army National Guard, Sgt. Kristie A. Roberts, while displaying the wall near Lake George, NY.
Sgt. Roberts was a medic, and died by suicide just one week after returning home. Not having died in combat, Sgt. Roberts could not be commemorated on the memorial wall. With an estimated 22 veterans dying by suicide each day, Sandstrom’s next goal is to create a memorial for those like Roberts, who lose their struggle with PTSD and depression after returning, or while on active duty.
Holding a medallion in the palm of her hand, of Sgt. Roberts’ picture, encircled by her name, birth date, and date of her death, Sandstrom said, “Right now, for me, it’s about her. She is my inspiration for the new wall.”
The NYS Remember Our Fallen Memorial Wall will be on display at the Greenwood Lake American Legion Post 1443, located at 40 Mountain Lakes Ln. in Greenwood Lake NY, until Veterans Day. The Legion opens during the week for visitors at 4 p.m., Sat. at 2 p.m., and Sun. at 12 noon. Any organization interested in providing space to display the wall can contact Laurene Sandstrom at 238-4723.