By Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service


ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va, 3/29/2005 (AFPN) - Faces of the Fallen, an exhibition at the Women in Military Service to America Memorial here, features more than 1,300 portraits of service members who have died in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The faces remind us of what we have lost.

Hundreds of family members came to see portraits of their loved ones - portraits painted from photos. More than 200 artists participated in this “labor of love,” said Annette Polan, the co-chair and one of the artists for the project.

“To say this is a moving exhibit would be a serious understatement,” said Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Words always fall short when we try to describe our respect, sympathy and profound gratitude to those who have sacrificed everything in the service to our nation. The lesson here today is the artists have succeeded where our words have failed”

The various artists used different media and styles to portray the fallen. Some worked from photos taken in Iraq or Afghanistan, depicting a young man or woman peering out of the portrait wearing full battle dress.

Other portraits are taken from the enlistment photos where young men and women try to look older and tougher than they feel. The men and women in the portraits sport new military haircuts, military-issue glasses and big ears that longer hair covered.

Still other portraits came from graduation, wedding or family reunion photos. All the portraits say something about those who have died.

“You have captured the spirit of those who have given their lives and really the spirit of all the brave men and women who serve,” General Myers said. “A spirit that has lived in so many generations of Americans, a spirit of belief that freedom and justice for themselves, for their fellow Americans and for people around the world are more important than personal safety or comfort.”

Families crowd into the education hall of the memorial, many seeing the portraits of their loved ones for the first time. “They really caught John’s goofy grin,” one mother said. Another family group hugged each other in front of the portrait of their son. Tears flowed. “It’s still too raw for us,” the father said.

One family took a picture of the portrait, so they could take it home to the grandmother. “She couldn’t face this,” the father said. “But she would want to know he is honored.”

General Myers said the portraits represent “the very best America has to offer. When I looked at the faces in this exhibit, what I saw was the faces of men and women who made very noble decisions: to serve the cause of freedom. They could have chosen another profession that was safer or less demanding or more profitable. But at this critical time in our nation’s history, when terrorists threaten to replace our way of life with intolerance and tyranny, hatred and fear, these selfless men and women raised their right hands and swore to defend liberty. The fallen are heroes not because they died, but because they lived their lives in service to their country.”

He told the families that the country will continue the fight in which their sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters died. “The war will be long, it will be hard, and the stakes could not be higher. Failure is not an option. And we won’t fail, because the spirits of the fallen live on in the men and women that serve today, and they are doing a tremendous job.”