On the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, families in Northern Nevada whose children made the ultimate sacrifices would tell you not a day goes by they aren't reminded of their loss.
Brandon Williams, a 2005 graduate of Douglas High School, was killed in Baghdad on Oct. 9, 2006.
"Even after three years, every day is still a struggle," said his father, Brad Williams, as the anniversary of Brandon's death nears.
The South Lake Tahoe Police Department sergeant is a member of Gold Star Families of Northern Nevada, started a year ago by Fernley resident Roger Varela whose son Alejandro was killed May 19, 2007, also in Baghdad.
"We understand each other," Williams said of the organization of 60 families. "We know what it's like to not be able to sleep, and when sleep finally does come, you're awakened by dreams and tears.
"We know what it's like to struggle with insanity, and what it feels like when you think you've lost that struggle," Williams said.
On May 25, four days before Brandon's 24th birthday and near the first anniversary of Alejandro Varela's' death, Williams joined other families in Carson City as Gov. Jim Gibbons signed into law a provision allowing specialty license plates for Gold Star family members.
"Only those who were immediate family members of our military personnel who lost their lives are eligible to acquire the license plates," Williams said.
Williams said the Gold Star families - while not professional counselors or psychologists - share a loss few can understand.
"It's a unique sense of pride and sorrow, of honor and despair with which many may sympathize, but only those who have experienced it can fully understand," Williams said.
The bill to create the plates was authored by Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Clark County, and passed both houses without opposition.
The first 100 plates were set aside for the Gold Star families. It was the organization's option to use the plates as a fundraiser, but Williams said they decided to release the first plates at $1 each, the manufacturing cost to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
DMV will charge a specialty plate fee when the vehicle is re-registered the following year. A portion of the fee will go to help sustain Gold Star Families, Williams said.
Gold Star Families of Northern Nevada is seeking nonprofit status and is without funding, he said.
Williams has elected not to obtain one of the specialty plates.
"I talked it over with both my sons," he said. "I don't want to go to my car every single day and be reminded there of Brandon's loss."
Williams' son Justin, recently completed his Marine Corps service and hopes to join his father and uncle Brian Williams in law enforcement. Son Aaron plans to attend a culinary arts institute in Indiana.
He said the Gold Star families meet quarterly with as many as 100 people attending.
"We understand what it's like to bury your child, your parent, or your spouse. We understand in a way no one else can, because we've been there," he said.
Walks to remember
The family of Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua Rodgers, 29, who was killed May 30,2007, when his helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan, will meet at 5 p.m. today for their weekly march through downtown Carson City.
"It's our regular walk," said Rodgers' mother Debbie Walker. "Anybody is invited to wear a red shirt in support of our soldiers who were lost. On Friday, we're incorporating a remembrance for all those lost in the terrorist attacks, too."
Since Rodgers died, members of his family and friends have walked every weekend in Carson City carrying American flags and wearing red shirts.
"We're really, really fortunate to have 35-45 people with us most weeks," Walker said.
Rodgers was a 1997 graduate of Douglas High School.
The group meets at Carl's Jr. on South Carson Street to Highway 50 East, returning to Carl's Jr. The two-mile walk takes about an hour.
On Saturday, at Carson Mall, the public is invited to celebrate Patriot Day from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. to commemorate Sept. 11 and support the families of military personnel.
"There will be rock climbing, face painting, music and a drawing for any military personnel planning to get married in the next year," Walker said.
The Sierra Nevada Republican Women is hosting its annual 9/11 Commemorative Dinner at 5 p.m. at Genoa Lakes Golf Club.
The speaker is Ellen Howe, former assistant administrator and senior spokeswoman for strategic communications and public affairs at the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.