Friday, May 11, 2007

"Portrait of a Soldier"

02 May 2007

Yesterday in my flurry of trying to see people on my list of people to visit before I leave to go back to Camp Victory, I stopped by NIU (Northern Illinois University in DeKalb). I did get in to see Ann, but Harry was as elusive as ever. I also wanted to stop by and see one of my old marketing profs, Tanuja.

While waiting in the waiting area for her, I was scanning through the university paper, the Northern Star. On page three, I saw an article by Carlene Eck about “Dead soldiers honored, remembered at HSC” (Holmes Student Center on the campus.) After reading the article, I knew that I’d have to view this memorial after my visit with Tanuja.

“Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn visited NIU Monday morning to unveil “Portrait of a Soldier,” a memorial showcasing 150 Illinois men and women who have died while serving in the military since Sept. 11.”

“The portraits were hand-drawn by Cameron Schilling, 24, of Mattoon, as a gift to the families who have lost loved ones in the Iraq war.”

Our local DeKalb, Daily Chronicle also featured this memorial on the front page in an article written by Dana Herra. In it, Dana notes that “Sketches of dead Americans go ‘right to your heart’”…a point which I will not argue, especially after seeing it.

The pencil sketches are almost lifelike and are arranged with personal histories of each Soldier, Marine, Sailor and Airman. About half-way through however, I was overcome with emotion as Dana Herra describes the reason for my getting all choked up. “A piece of pink notepaper is stuck to the sketch of Lance Cpl. Sean Maher, a 19-year old Marine. ‘Sean Patrick, I love and miss you very much,’ the note reads. It’s signed, ‘Your loving sister.’”

I have been to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, but didn’t connect to the emotion attached to that rock by so many I saw there. Prior to my experiences in Iraq how could I fully understand the personal impact of the casualties of war? It is the hand-written notes of people still emotionally connected to their loved ones that now helps me understand and connect with their loss.

These men and women depicted in the life-like poses with their steel-faced determination appeared to me as troops in formation ready for combat until I reached that pink hand-written note. Someone’s personal reminder of their loss. That cold reminder that these men and woman will be forever remembered as Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen. Names forever etched in marble or steel on their tombstones, honored and remembered in front of their county courthouses on veteran remembrance statues and obelisks. God willing, they will also be remembered for the honor with which they served their country and for their ultimate sacrifice in the name of Freedom.
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