When the owners of Carlton Concrete arrived at the job site Thursday, they decided they would donate their services to build a backyard memorial to a fallen soldier.
The memorial is in honor of Keith Williams, a 19-year-old from Visalia who died in Afghanistan in 2014 and who had graduated from El Diamante High a little more than a year before.
They were inspired by the fact that the next day was Veterans Day, said co-owner Frank Van Landingham.
“How can we be in this lady’s backyard taking her money while she has donated her child to this country?” Van Landingham said. “It quit being business and just became something we needed to do.”
Typically, the work would have cost $25,000, he said.
How can we be in this lady’s backyard taking her money while she has donated her child to this country?
Frank Van Landingham, Carlton Conrete
They were also inspired by the election of Donald Trump and his slogan to “Make America Great Again.”
“It’s our responsibility, not Donald Trump’s, to make this place better,” he said. “We’re just concrete guys. We’re not soldiers. We’re not first responders. We’re just guys who do this. But we can also do something, and this is what we’re doing.”
Debbie Tuttle, Williams’ mother, is a nurse practitioner who grew up in New Zealand in a military family.
Today, her backyard has so many American and Army flags that “I think they call me the crazy flag lady in my neighborhood,” she said.
She also had her son’s pickup, which he bought on Dec. 31, 2013, while wearing his Army uniform, decorated in patriotic images.
“I didn’t want it just sitting in the garage,” she said.
These guys have just been amazing.
Debbie Tuttle, mother of soldier who died in combat
The backyard memorial design includes a plaque under a flagpole, gazebos for socializing and a “path of heroes.” Her intent is to preserve his memory and honor veterans, Tuttle said.
“I’m so proud of my son for stepping up,” she said.
The commanding officer of the unit that her son served in sent her an olive tree that’s planted in the backyard, and the area around it will be a place for quiet reflection, she said.
“It’s not just a pretty backyard, but a place to do events for veterans. … They get what Keith’s sacrifice is all about.”
He died when an IED exploded as he was returning from a mission outside Kandahar. The bomb turned over the truck and also killed his sergeant, she said.
She said she’s thankful to Carlton Concrete.
“These guys have just been amazing,” she said.
They called up their suppliers, who agreed to donate to the cause, said Scott Carlson, a co-owner of the company. Among them are Dunn’s Sand, Mendez Concrete Pumping, Permanent Concrete Products and Awards & Signs Unlimited.
“This is a paltry substitute for what she really should have, which is her son,” Van Landingham said. “But if this is the best we can do, this is what we should do.”