DMV's new plates honor fallen veterans

CARSON CITY — Jeff Evans walked into the Department of Motor Vehicles office today carrying the faded papers in which the Army notified his mother that his father had been killed in an airplane crash in Vietnam in 1970.

Evans left with “Fallen Veteran” license plate No. 7.

In a ceremony led by Gov. Jim Gibbons in the capital city, families of armed forces members who died while on active duty during American wars were given the first of the new license plates.

“It will give me a chance to talk about my father and his sacrifice,” said Evans, a coach and athletic director at Douglas High School in Minden. “I want to honor him.”

Looking at a wall covered with the dozens of license plates manufactured by the DMV, Gibbons said he could not understand why it took so long for Nevada to make Fallen Veteran plates.

“This is long overdue,” said the governor, who served in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm. “The memory of those who fought and died for our safety and liberty must be remembered by all freedom-loving Nevadans.”

During the 2009 session, the Legislature unanimously approved Senate Bill 139, which authorized the DMV to manufacture the Fallen Veteran license plates. The bill initially was proposed by state Sen. Joe Heck, R-Henderson, but after his defeat in the election was introduced by Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas.

Under the law, widows, parents, stepparents, children, stepchildren, grandparents, dependents and siblings of any service member killed in any U.S. war may secure the license plates. They must pay the normal registration fees for their vehicle, plus an extra $1 that covers the plates’ manufacturing costs.

According to Review-Journal records, 66 service members with Nevada backgrounds have been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

DMV Director Edgar Roberts said his agency has no idea how many plates will be purchased, because they will be given to families of people killed in any American war, not just the war on terrorism.

“We can never repay someone for their loss, but we can honor them with these plates,” Roberts added.

Roberts’ own brother-in-law was killed in Afghanistan, so his wife plans to purchase one of the special plates, he said.

People who wish to buy the plates must show the DMV some kind of proof that they are related to a fallen veteran. Families usually are given casualty report documents when one of their loved ones is killed.

Most of the family members who attended today are members of the Gold Star Families organization.

Plates are available at DMV offices statewide.

Unless the Legislature passes a law giving the plates to these families or allowing donations to cover the cost, the DMV must charge the $1 for them, Roberts said.

Evans said he was only 3 when his father, Norman Evans, was killed. He said he does not know for sure if he remembers his father or just thinks he does because of the stories his family has told him about the Army soldier.

Though his mother remarried and he had a wonderful stepfather, Evans said, he welcomes a chance to talk about his dad and keep his memory alive. He added that his stepfather even asked him to keep his father’s name as a show of respect.

Born on the Fort Hood Army base in Texas, Evans said he is appalled by the killings there Thursday and believes someone must have missed the signs of distress in the major accused in the 13 slayings.

Sally Willey of Gardnerville received Fallen Veteran plate No. 2. Her 41-year-old soldier son, Sean, was killed Feb. 19 near As Salam, Iraq. The vehicle in which he was riding struck an improvised explosive device.

Willey said she has experienced many tearful days since her son’s death, but assisting on the plate’s design and taking steps to honor her son and others like him have helped her heal.

“I think the plates will make people much more aware of our soldiers, especially after Fort Hood,” which shows how vulnerable they are, Willey said. “I am grieving, but when I don’t feel like doing something, I say, 'What would the guys in Iraq do?’ ”

The No. 1 plate was given to Ray Varela, a Fernley resident who founded Gold Star Families of Northern Nevada. His son, Alejandro, was in Baghdad on May 19, 2007, when his vehicle struck an IED.

Ray Varela worked with the governor’s office to secure passage of the Fallen Veteran law. He said he noticed that California had similar license plates and wanted Nevada to issue them, too, as a way to honor his son and other fallen veterans.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3901.