Remembering the 9/11 fallen and those who followed

Published: Sep. 9, 2016 at 7:23 PM CDT
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Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. A group of Nebraskans and Iowans are in New York City this weekend to help honor those who died that day and in the years that followed.

When terrorists struck the World Trade Center in 2001, many young men and women around the country decided the only way to fight back was to join the military. Robert Yllescas would have been in that category, too, had he not already been in the Army. He left for Iraq 19 months later for his his first tour.

"He was always the leader of our family, even from the time when he was a little kid," says his mother, Barb Yllescas-Vorthmann of Treynor, Iowa. "He was the leader of his siblings and even told me what to do."

By his third tour in 2008, the now-Capt. Yllescas was leading troops in Afghanistan where a roadside bomb killed him. "They were very proud to be defending the country."

He was always close to his mother on a necklace with a photo of him with daughters Julia, who was 7 when he left for Afghanistan, and the youngest Eva. "Eva really didn't know him," says Barb. "She was 10 months old when he died. They're proud that their dad served to protect all of us. Otherwise we'd have a war right here in our own country."

On Saturday, aboard the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, the two girls from Aurora, Nebraska will sing for those in New York who have lost their lives since 9/11. "The girls are nervous, but excited to sing," says Barb. What are they going to sing? "'It's Still The Land Of The Free.' I always cry during that one. They're getting used to me crying during their songs."

After the song, a "Remembering Our Fallen" memorial for New York families will be unveiled, similar to Nebraska's traveling tribute created by the Williams family of Omaha. This is the 19th state honored with the photos and remembrance.

"It has been said by many parents, we don't want our children forgotten," says Barb. They're Gold Star families who would trade it in instantly to have their families back home together. "There isn't one Gold Star mom who wouldn't. We don't want to be in this club. We're all family now."

She can't wait to hear her granddaughters sing again. "He would be so proud of them. They do this to honor him. Julia said we do it to honor all the soldiers, but they said we do this for our dad. I say I know he's looking down on you girls and he's so proud of you."

The list of names of those troops killed in the War On Terror is much longer for New York than Nebraska. There are more than 300 stories on the "Remembering Our Fallen" exhibit in New York.