BISMARCK, N.D. — A North Dakota nonprofit is using indoor digital billboards to honor the state's military veterans, active military personnel and first responders, an idea that might spread to other states.
Billboards placed by the Wall of Honor organization display the photos of veterans and active military personnel along with information about their branch of service, hometown and duty locations. The units are going up in veteran and fraternal organizations -- American Legion halls, AMVETS, Elks lodges and the like -- and other places where people gather, such as hospital waiting rooms and convenience stores. So far, 30 units are in place in North Dakota.
The project has grown from the idea of an anonymous North Dakota founder, who is an Army veteran and served in Vietnam. The man received a "not-so-warm welcome home," according to information from the organization, and wants to make sure that doesn't happen to others.
Every billboard -- a television used only for Wall of Honor purposes -- will be unique, according to Dave Weiler, a Bismarck real estate agent and former state legislator who uses his marketing skills to promote the project.
"The technology is such that the vets and first responders honored in Fargo will be different than in Bismarck or Williston," he said. "Every location has its own playlist."
People who want to place photos and biographical data on a billboard can upload the information through the Wall of Honor website, https://www.thewallofhonor.org/.
The group creates a slide for each person being honored and forwards it to the location where it will be displayed. The slide stays in place indefinitely and will become part of a one-hour playlist that displays each slide for about seven seconds. As more people are honored at a location, more playlists will be added, The Bismarck Tribune reported.
"One thing we're in need of is more people to honor," Weiler said. "We want to keep it fresh, so if you're at the Elks twice a week you don't see the same thing every time."
The effort is maintained through sponsorships and donations. There is no cost to upload a photo and information. The Wall of Honor provides the host establishment with the TV, accessories and installation. The concept has been "very well received" by businesses, said volunteer Dennis Beck, a 24-year veteran of the Army National Guard and a former recruiter, adding that the reaction from patrons of those businesses has been "overwhelming."
"They just think it's so cool," said Beck, who is an active member of several North Dakota veterans organizations. "It's a very positive thing and I'm proud to be part of it."
First responders will be recognized as groups to protect individuals from possible threats, Weiler said.
The Wall of Honor group aims to have 100 billboards in North Dakota -- with at least one in each of the 53 counties -- by the end of the year, and increase that to 300 by the end of 2023.
Groups in Wisconsin and South Dakota have contacted the North Dakota organization for information on starting their own chapters, Weiler said.