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Billboard pays tribute to a fallen Marine; Mother with 2 children grateful for support

Lilly M. World never had the chance to meet her dad. Sgt. Frank J. World was killed in action in Afghanistan one year ago today.

But the 14-month-old girl who just started walking around on wobbly legs will get the chance later today to see a larger-than-life image of her father when a digital billboard comes to life beside the I-190 in the Town of Niagara, near Packard Road.

"I show her pictures all the time, so she knows what her daddy looks like. Actually, daddy is her favorite word," Beth M. World said. "I hope that when my daughter sees her daddy up on the billboard that she'll point and say, 'Dah-dah.' "

World was killed by an improvised explosive device in Helmand Province as he rode inside a light armored vehicle.

Beth World says she is thrilled that the Buffalo Niagara region will get the chance to see and remember her fallen hero.

This tribute came about one day when she was scouting the Internet to find a way to memorialize her 25-year-old husband, who was raised in Riverside.

"I saw this website Operation Never Forgotten, and I started to read through what they did and saw that they do billboards for fallen members of the military," the 25-year-old West Senecan said.

Operation Never Forgotten, a national nonprofit organization, was launched in 2007 by Linda Kelly, a graphic artist from Montana and the mother of a Marine who had lost several comrades in Iraq.

The organization's initial billboard was in Times Square, during the Thanksgiving Day Parade in November 2007. Since then, thousands of digital public service billboards have "rolled out across America," Kelly said Thursday.

Beth World began e-mailing Kelly about her late husband.

"I gave them a little synopsis of who my husband was. He was a great, fun-loving guy. I told them how he was a great father to our son, Jacob; how he loved to come home every day and play with him.

"I also told them what a great Marine he was. After Frank had passed away, a lot of his Marine friends wrote me and said what a great leader he was and how they wanted to be like him."

Frank World joined the Marines to follow in his father's footsteps. "His dad, Cruz, died when Frank was 16. He died of cancer from Agent Orange in the Vietnam War," Beth World said.

Her correspondence worked. She was soon asked by Kelly to send different photographs of her late husband with family members.

That was an easy order.

"I sent a picture of Frank and me, with Frank in his Marine dress blues. It's one of my favorites. The other photo is a picture of Frank and our son, Jacob," she said of her 4-year-old son.

Because the billboard is digitized, the two photographs will alternate on the screen, showing motorists that the sergeant's life went beyond the patriotic call of duty.

"The idea is to show that he wasn't only just a Marine. He was a husband and a father," Beth World said.

Images of Sgt. World and his loved ones will be up for an indeterminate time because the billboard owner, Lamar Advertising Co., donates the space.

There is no question Lilly will recognize the photograph of her curly-haired brother, whose right cheek is happily sandwiched against his dad's left cheek. N

And as if to solidify the prospects of Lilly recognizing the father she never met, several times while her mom shared in advance details of today's big moment, Lilly gleefully shouted, "Dah-dah."

How would Frank World feel about this gigantic tribute?

"I know that he would be really proud, and I know he will definitely be watching over me and our children when the billboard goes up," Beth World said.

e-mail: lmichel@buffnews.com

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