SPRING VALLEY — Every year around the Memorial Day holiday, people strolling along St. Paul Street in Spring Valley stop to glance at the hundreds of veteran photos on display in the storefront windows at Valley Photo.
The display, which fills the span of four large windows, is very moving in the sense that these represent just some of the area servicemen and women who dedicated their lives to protect American rights and freedom.
About 15 years ago, business owners Sheila and Mike Campbell set-up a small window display of about a dozen photos as a way to pay tribute to the soldiers around the holiday.
Through the years, the display rapidly expanded to hundreds of photos — veterans from all wars including World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War and those currently serving now.
As the collection gained more awareness, it drew more and more people to the shop asking to have their photo or a family member’s photo added to the display.
“It makes you proud that we can remember them, and it’s more of a little thank you for what they did,” Sheila explained.
Along with the photos today, war memorabilia has been added for ambience including a rocket launcher, war knives, soldier uniforms and helmets, which were all loaned from a DePue resident willing to help with the display.
The popular storefront display has become a well known tribute in which the community takes pride.
“They just seem to really enjoy it,” Sheila said. “Even in the evenings when the store is closed, people will be in the windows looking at all the photos. I think most are happy because some of these photos are of their fathers or spouses or other relatives that are being remembered, and they’re very thankful of that.”
The display is usually set up in mid-May and stays until mid-June.
The stories some of the veterans bring in along with their photos are very special and unforgettable pieces of the project — whether it’s about a buddy who died in the arms of a veteran or two brother veterans who just coincidentally ended up on the same train in another country, but didn’t know it until they were back home sharing their stories.
“Some of the stories told are those that veterans haven’t talked about for 50 years, or this is the first time even looking at their photo since their time in the service,” Sheila said. “They were just so young, and I don’t think a lot of them knew what they were getting into. They left sleepy towns like Spring Valley, Cherry and Seatonville and went away to a war. Some of the photos in the display are of soldiers who never returned home.”
Valley Photo continues to collect the photos of area veterans on a daily basis.
“There will always be room for more,” Sheila said. “And a lot of people are afraid to give up their photo, but we take the original photo, copy it and hang the copy in the window and return the original to them.”
Along with the photo, a name, branch of service, the years of service and the last rank are displayed. No cost is required to have a photo displayed.
Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.