A special touring exhibit is now open at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Va. It's a memorial to one of the hardest-hit Marine Corps units of the Iraq War.
In summer of 2005, the Ohio-based Lima Company reserve unit was sent to western Iraq.
“We had 22 marines and one navy corpsman that we lost on that deployment...” retired Marine corporal Mike Strahle said.
The life-sized oil paintings in the "Eyes of Freedom" exhibit were crafted by an amateur artist who never knew any of her subjects. She got photos from grieving families and spent two years toiling with dramatic detail.
“The painting, the uniform, the gear, everything is pretty rough,” Strahle said. “The face is not rough. It's perfect.”
Strahle said the exhibit is designed to draw people into the gaze of each Marine’s eyes, to the smiles on their faces, and to the sacrifice of their lives. Ellen Raguette came from Locust Grove, Virginia to see Lance Corporal Chris Lyons’ portrait. The display brought her to tears.
“I didn't know Chris,” Raguette said. “I just know his parents and I know how it affected them. They're very proud of him.”
As much as the exhibit tells a story, it's also a memorial and an opportunity for us to remember all who've served. Each painting is illuminated by a candle for each man pictured. The Lima Company Memorial Organization also placed a pair of each Marine's own combat boots at the paintings' bases.
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“Family members leave items in the boots... photos of the Marine, photos of their daughter, wives, childhood photos” Strahle said.
The National Museum of the Marine Corps said the memorial is a tribute to every service member from every war. But for these men who sacrificed so much at such young ages, being at the museum has special meaning. Spokesperson Gwenn Adams said it brings the Marines home and lets them spend time at their museum.