Delta peaks into the eyes of freedom

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Delta College played host to the Eyes of Freedom traveling memorial dedicated to the members of Lima Company who died in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005 March 27-29 in the Atherton Auditorium.

The memorial consisted of eight paintings of the members who died during the operation, as well as a bronzed-clay statue dubbed “Silent Battle,” which was recently added to the memorial.

“Silent Battle” was dedicated to veterans dealing with suicidal thoughts, as well as those who took their own lives.

Alongside each portraits was a plaque with name of each young man, their position and how they met their fate as well as a pair of their spare boots and certain personal effects.

Most of the men had been killed by two particular IED blasts, while others had been killed in combat.

The portraits and the sculpture were both crafted by Anita Miller, a woman in Ohio who had read a story about a massive IED blast in 2005 taking the lives of some the young men memorialized.

“Anita was just a random woman in Columbus, Ohio to begin with. She was a hobby artist… she saw the front page news article of the 2005 August blast … she reached out to the Unit to get the phone numbers to get into contact with her families,” said Mike Strahle, an Eyes of Freedom employee. “She did not have any connection to the military… she painted as a mom. She was imagining losing one of her sons in this scenario and how crushed her and her family would be.”

Soon after, Miller got into contact with the families and requested if she would be able to use photographs in order to produce the portraits.

The organization is operated primarily by three people, but have a road crew of two: Strahle, a Marine veteran who served with Lima Company and Sean Flaharty, a personal friend of Justin Hoffman, one of the men killed.

The two men met when Strahle started working for the memorial.

“We met Mike in July of 2011. As we were going through some of the old footage I shot Mike was at the studio signing one of portraits like he was always part of the story and we didn’t even know, ” said Flaharty.

Flaharty had become involved after making a tribute video to Hoffman, which was later featured on Miller’s blog where she announced her project.

Soon after Flaharty got into contact with her and began working as a videographer and photographer for the traveling memorial.

The memorial makes about 30 shows a year, with Delta being the fourth this year. The memorial has already traveled through Los Angeles, with plans to go back to Nevada.

The memorial also acts as a medium. Often the portraits are used a sort of gateway to help other veterans discuss what they’ve been through.

“The visual of honor and having a representation of these men. A lot of the veterans that are needing the most support are the ones who are – we’re too proud or too stubborn to ask for help. Some put up a fight to see, but they normally give in and come,” said Strahle. There’s something disarming about the portraits … these veterans walk around with their dukes up all day just as a defense and whatever happens in front of those portraits those dukes go down.”

The portraits have also had a positive effect on those who ferry them across the country.

“Early on this job has been almost impossible for me. I wanted to help Anita because I believe in what she did and I believe in those guys [the portraits] and I always joke with Anita and many others that it would’ve been easier for me if she did a sh*** job painting them. But she didn’t. Shew nailed them. Early on I thought, ‘That’s Erdie, that’s Goodwin…’ I get see what those portraits do to veterans, this disarming thing, and I’m in a position to see it to that it happens and fast forward three or four years and it’s been happening to me the whole time,” said Stahle.

A flag was present during the memorials visit, where visitors were encouraged to sign their names.

On March 26, the flag was presented to Delta College and can be viewed in the Veterans Resource Center.