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Memorial Day boot display comes to Union Station in hopes of reinforcing the holiday’s meaning

By Rob Nielsen - | May 27, 2024

Rob Nielsen, Standard-Examiner

Visitors walk among the 378 pairs of boots that made up this year's Operation Hero Memorial Day boot display at Union Station in Ogden on Monday, May 27, 2024.

OGDEN — Operation Hero returned to Ogden this Memorial Day weekend with the intent of keeping the spirit of the holiday in everyone’s mind.

For the second time in Ogden and the first at Union Station, the group displayed hundreds of pairs of boots representing Utah service members who have passed away since Sept. 11, 2001, as part of its Memorial Day boot display.

Antoinette Stapley, founder of Operation Hero, said the organization was created in order to give back to those who serve and the families that support them.

“Operation Hero was started to continue the legacy of my husband, 1st Sgt. Tracy Stapley, who died July 3, 2013,” she said. “It’s our way of giving back and helping others — our Gold Star families, our Blue Star families and single service members.”

She said the centerpiece of the three-day commemoration is the Memorial Day boot display.

“Each boot in the display represents a service member who has passed away since 9/11,” she said. “It could be from illness, life-completion, KIA (killed in action). It doesn’t matter what manner of death, and we don’t disclose that. What we believe in is telling their story and making sure they’re remembered.”

The display — which this year honored 378 service members from Utah who have died since 9/11 — has been traveling around the state since 2016.

Stapley said this is the second time the display has been in Ogden, with the first being at McKay-Dee Hospital.

She said reception and visitation to the 2024 display at Union Station has been amazing.

“The people here in Ogden and the surrounding areas have come out to support and see the boot display,” she said. “It’s been heartfelt.”

Stapley’s daughter Kennedy told the Standard-Examiner commemorations like this remain especially important.

“It’s not an every day thing,” Kennedy Stapley said. “There are certain days put aside to honor these service members — there’s Veterans Day for veterans and Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers. I think it’s really important to really keep those days alive. Because if we don’t, as a society, none of these names will be remembered. They’ll kind of start to drift off, which we don’t want. We want these people to be remembered for their sacrifices and what they were able to do.”

Stapley said the boot display likely will not be seen again until next Memorial Day.

“We’re very protective of the boot display,” she said. “We don’t just put it out. We want it to keep its meaning. And so a lot of times it will stay until next Memorial weekend.”

She said next year’s Operation Hero Memorial Day boot display will once again return to Union Station.

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