War memorial visits St. C.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – On Wednesday, a traveling Iraq War memorial known as the Eyes of Freedom visited the St. Clairsville Central Park. The exhibit, sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5356, was on display from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

On Tuesday night, Eyes of Freedom received an escort from the Shenandoah truck stop to Central Park. The entourage included 75 motorcycles and four vehicles.

Eyes of Freedom features life-size paintings of 25 Marines and one Navy Corpsman, all of whom lost their lives in western Iraq in 2005. Of the Marines, 23 were members of the Lima Company, Third Battalion, a reserve infantry unit. The majority of the men were native Ohioans.

In 2008, Ohio artist Anita Miller envisioned a memorial to honor the fallen soldiers. Working together with their families, she was able to complete the 8’6″ by 6′ paintings in their likenesses. They were unveiled at the Ohio State House Rotunda and remained on display for six months before beginning a traveling tour.

Mike Strahle, a fellow Marine who retired from Lima Company 3/25, travels with the memorial. He is part of a three-man team that includes driver Jim Swallen and Sean Flaharty, a friend and coworker of Sgt. Justin Hoffman, one of the fallen Marines.

Strahle explained that Hoffman, who was a remarkable 6′ 7″ tall, was the first Marine that Miller painted. She then used his image as a scale for the other men’s heights.

“The mission was originally about helping the families heal,” said Strahle. “They were in tune with it while it was being created. Then it became more about the men themselves.”

The soldiers featured in Eyes of Freedom are:

Pvt. First Class Christopher R. Dixon, LCpl. Christopher P. Lyons, Staff Sgt. Anthony L. Goodwin, Petty Officer 3rd Class Travis Youngblood (Navy Corpsman), Sgt. Justin F. Hoffman, Staff Sgt. Kendall H. Ivy II, LCpl. Nicholas William B. Bloem, Cpl. Andre L. Williams, LCpl. Grant B. Fraser, LCpl. Aaron H. Reed, LCpl. Edward A. Schroeder II, Sgt. David Kenneth J. Kreuter, LCpl. Jourdan L. Grez, LCpl. William B. Wightman, LCpl. Timothy M. Bell, Jr., LCpl. Eric J. Bernholtz, Cpl. Dustin A. Derga, LCpl. Nicholas B. Erdy, LCpl. Wesley G. Davids, Sgt. David N. Wimberg, LCpl. Michael J. Cifuentes, LCpl. Christopher J. Dyer, LCpl. Jonathan W. Grant, Cpl. David Stephen “Bear” Stewart, LCpl. Kevin Waruinge and Sgt. Bradley Harper.

Strahle added that the memorial has evolved to become a tribute to the entire U.S. military – past, present and future.

According to Strahle, the memorial has traveled as far as Portland, Ore. After leaving St. C., they were headed for Cincinnati, then Seattle, Wash. Seattle will be hosting Marine Week from July 26 through Aug. 3. This will be the fifth year for the celebration, which honors the Marine Corps and gives the American public a chance to personally connect with hundreds of Marines. Eyes of Freedom will be featured prominently.

In addition to the paintings, the memorial features boots and dog tags. Visitors are encouraged to sign a Marine Corps flag, and can learn the fallen soldiers’ stories via a video playing on repeat.

Also at Central Park on Wednesday, the U.S. Air Force Band of Flight performed at the Amphitheater from 7 to 9 p.m. A fireworks display followed.

To learn more about Eyes of Freedom, go to limacompanymemorial.org.

Warner may be reached at mwarner@timesleaderonline.com.