Not wanting to wait the minimum of 10 years for the government to create a memorial to honor military members lost to fighting in Afghanistan an Iraq, Sam Nicoara decided to take action, creating a GoldStar Tribute Wall to honor the fallen soldiers. After three years of construction, the memorial began touring veterans’ remembrance ceremonies. Sam and his family established the Tribute to America’s Fallen Foundation Inc. to support the Tribute Wall’s public outreach and mission of promoting the sacrifices made of servicemembers lost. This year marks the 10-year anniversary of the memorial’s construction and public service.
The wall includes the names and service branches of more than 7,400 soldiers on 16 panels with 2.5-inch 4k gold brushed stars. The assembled structure is 91-feet long and nine feet high. Sam uses a 42-foot trailer and truck to transport the Tribute Wall across the country. The most recent names added were the 13 soldiers killed during the U.S. exit from Afghanistan.
This Veterans Day, Sam will have the memorial on display at Battery Park in Atlanta, Georgia. He’s also planning to participate in a Veterans Day parade in Atlanta. A Georgia resident, Sam says it’s logistically easier for him to participate in events in his home or surrounding states since he uses personal time off to travel and bring the memorial to others.
“When someone sees the name of their family member or a friend on the wall, it’s common for them to have an emotional reaction,” said Sam, who works as a field service representative at GILLIG. “People are grateful that we’re honoring their memories and service in this way. Those who died in these wars gave so much to defend our freedom. We can’t ever forget that. If we reach at least one person or family member at an event, then I view our being there as valuable.”
This year, Sam has participated in remembrance events in Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Texas and New Mexico.
The inspiration to create the memorial came to Sam more than a decade ago. A Marine Corps veteran, Sam says the military service of prior generations and how long it took for them to receive recognition with a government-sponsored tribute led him to take action.
Pictured is a Marine lieutenant colonel unveiling the recently added 13 stars for those servicemembers killed in Kabul, Afghanistan, during the U.S. withdraw from the country.
“Even after Congress authorizes a commemorative monument or memorial to be built, there’s the actual contracting and building which can take years,” said Sam. “Many veterans who fought in World War II or Korea passed away before those memorials were erected in Washington, D.C. I didn’t want to see the same happen for our Iraq and Afghanistan heroes.”
As a point of reference, Sam notes that it took 62 years after World War II to build a memorial to those who served, and 103 years for a World War I memorial.
Sam’s Tribute to America’s Fallen Foundation Inc. has no corporate sponsorships and relies solely on contributions from supporters. When he began the project, Sam says he turned down sponsorships because he didn’t want the organization’s mission to be influenced by anything other than honoring the memories of those who served. Funds are raised to support the organization through sale of commemorative items such as t-shirts, military challenge coins, service patches and other small items on the website www.tributewall.org. The foundation also accepts donations.
Pictured is Sam and his wife, Jolita, assembling the Tribute Wall.
“We’d love to have more volunteers, as the setup and transportation does take a commitment,” said Sam. “I know we’ve reached many families since we began traveling with the memorial. I plan to keep our outreach going for the foreseeable future.”