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'It's sad, but it enhances the display': memorial for 13 fallen service members updated with boots from local business

Mieras Family Shoes donated 13 boots for the Walker-area tribute.

WALKER, Mich. — Bruce de Wit's mother taught him to respect soldiers from a young age. She died earlier this year, and de Wit made sure to honor the 13 service men and women who died in Afghanistan this year. 

He set up 13 empty chairs with 13 American flags on his property in Walker. 

"They went out of their way to save people outside the secure area," said de Wit, "That has a lot to be said. They put their lives on the line to get as many people as they could they didn’t know. It’s commendable."

Once the tribute was put up a couple weeks ago, people would drive and walk by to pay their respects. 

Then, de Wit wanted to add something to the memorial. He put out a call for a boot collection. 

"And somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody got a hold of Meiras shoes," said de Wit, "And in absolutely no time, I had a pile of boots here to select from."

Credit: 13 OYS

Meiras donated the work boots to the display. Jeff Joyce, the president of the shoe store, said it was a way to honor the troops and their families so they are not forgotten. 

"We have several soldiers that worked here that served in Afghanistan," said Joyce, "It's close to our heart. I just wish we could do more." 

The shoe store has been part of the Grand Rapids Westside for five generations. 

"I think a big part of it is right now there’s a lot of anxiousness and people feel helpless about what’s happening oversees," said Joyce, "And they just want to be a part of it somehow and don’t know how."

de Wit said the boots are "sad, but really enhances the display." He did not expect a business to take care of his desire to add the boots to the display, but he's happy to see it happen. 

"They're gone," said de Wit of the imagery, "Empty boots, empty chairs, they're gone."

Once he eventually takes down the display, the boots will be donated to Matthew's House.

"They're nice boots!" said de Wit, "They will not go to waste. They will go to a mission, people will use them."

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