Sarah Duvall, a Gold Star Mother whose son is depicted.
I’ve attended the first couple of talks connected to the “Eyes of Freedom” exhibit, and it gave me that kind of feeling that can’t be described. It’s like when you try to tell single people what it’s like to have a baby in your life. I felt like these veterans (living and dead) were sharing something precious with me… But let me give you a taste of what you will experience if you can attend the final days of this exhibit and the talks.
First, you will see life-size portraits of 23 men who died in combat in Iraq. While the artist, Anita Miller, used photographs provided by the families to create them, she says that she felt the brush in her hand was moving on its own. As I looked at them, I could see clear, individual faces that I felt I could recognize on the street. It wasn’t a roomful of generic soldiers’ faces.
Second, the story about the development of this project was told in the most personal and deep way possible, with nothing held back about the tragic incident, the mystical calling to make it happen, the heartbreak and depression, and the gratification of feeling that it has helped so many reach a healthy stability.
We met Mike Strahle, a combat veteran who served with Lima Company 3/25 and is now retired, and Anita Miller, the artist who created the paintings and statute, as well as Sarah Duvall, a Gold Star Mother whose son is depicted. (And on Friday, Robert Bellows and his veteran crew, along with Anita Miller, will talk about the healing possibilities of the creative process, including large metal sculptures they are working on in Longmont.)
Mike Strahle, a combat veteran, and director of the exhibit
After a couple of years, Anita was able to connect with Mike Strahle because of a exhibition that he arranged. He took over directing the project. He saw combat with the men in the paintings, and he suffered severe, traumatic, physical injuries in the blast.
It took him a long time to be able to be in the center of the room and feel the energy and spirit of the marines. It was mainly after he saw the healing power of the exhibit that he felt comfortable to be part of the process of getting the visiting vets to open up. During COVID lockdown, the project came to a halt, and he saw himself mentally go down hill; and he thought, “if isolation can make me do that after all I’ve been through, travelling with the exhibit, then I could only imagine what other vets were dealing with. It was a call that we weren’t invincible. We all grieve and heal together.”
“Veterans are stubborn,” said Mike. “We don’t have feelings! We’re good at getting out of conversations about our health. Not going to military doctors to talk. But this statute is in the middle of the room. You can’t avoid it. It helps us match that bonding that we had in the war again. It connects quiet vets, who don’t want to talk. They open up.”
Anita Miller, artist of the paintings and sculpture, shows her vision.
Anita Miller, who now calls Lyons home and has many pieces of her art work on permanent and temporary display here, first learned about the death of 22 Marines and one Navy Corpsman of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Regiment, while she was living in Ohio back in 2005. A couple of months after the headline, she got a vision at night of the fully realized exhibit showing at her State House Rotunda. After many months of refusal to believe it was her mission to do it… because she didn’t feel she had the money, skills or connections to make it happen… she finally felt the strong loving energy of the men’s spirits and heard the words “We are brothers but not by blood,” so she knew she had made a connection and would be guided. She moved ahead and got the permission to do it from the Marines and the grieving families.
In Lyons we are lucky to have Anita tell her story. She does not travel around the US with the exhibit normally. Initially there were long exhibitions of six months or maybe a year, but eventually the exhibit started being requested for shorter time periods, smaller venues and special occasions. It has now been to 343 cities.
The statute was the result of Anita connecting with Brian Zimmerman. She was referred by Mike, and happened to catch Brian when he was in deep suicidal depression. She suggested to him that he help her make a statue to lift up the spirits of vets. It would be of a man reaching up to the stars for hope. He told her that was a stupid idea. He recollected seeing a fellow soldier sitting in a corner, hunched over, and holding the dog tags of a friend who had just been killed. That image would show vets that “you are not alone;” he said, “Knowing they are understood and that there are other guys out there like you.”
I am telling you the bare bones version of what I heard. I hope that you can come and hear the final stories this week. But, even if you only have time to come during the day and view the exhibit, please take a moment to gaze into the eyes of these men. Realize that they not only gave their lives for us, but they are sons, brothers, fathers and friends. Place your hand on the statute of the struggling veteran, and reflect… then engage… infuse your energy and heart into the sculpture. And, maybe one day a veteran will touch that same spot and pick up your love and hope. Or, maybe it will inspire you to speak directly to a veteran you know, and finally speak about the pain of PTS, of lost comrades, of suicide. Remember, the first step in healing is knowing that you are not alone.
Final Events —
Thursday: 6:30 p.m. – THE PROMISE, Documentary showing
7 p.m. – Community round table discussion on Mental Health facilitated by Janaki Jane.
Friday: 6:30 p.m. – THE PROMISE, Documentary showing
7 p.m. – “The Healing Power of Art” Presentation by Robert Bellows and his veteran crew and Anita Miller about the healing possibilities of the creative process.
Saturday: 9-10 a.m. – Special Open House for Veterans ONLY. Meet vets from several different wars and experience the Eyes of Freedom in this private time. Coffee and Donuts too.
7 p.m. – Closing Ceremony
CLICK HERE to see the initial article about the Exhibit and Talks.
HONORING LYONS’ VIETNAM VETERAN: Mickey Hawkins
Hawkins was the only military person from Lyons to have lost his life in Vietnam. His ALUMNI class of 1969 will be commemorating his service by dedicating a sandstone bench on Friday, June 24, at 6 – 7 p.m. in front of the Lyons Redstone Museum (the 50th anniversary of his death… which event was delayed due to COVID restrictions). Everyone is welcome to join us for this ceremony. It includes Honor Guard, Speakers, Wreath/Salute/Taps.