An exhibit displayed in Livingston County pays tribute to members of a Marine unit killed in Iraq, but has expanded its reach by bringing awareness to the veteran suicide epidemic.

It was in 2005 that Ohio-based Lima Company 325 mobilized for Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Marine reserve unit was one of the hardest hit while operating near Haditha. During their deployment, the unit lost 22 Marines and a Navy Corpsman. Nine Marines were killed by an IED attack on May 11th. In July, two more Marines and a corpsman were killed in action. On August 3rd, 11 Marines were killed by a roadside bomb. Their sacrifice is remembered through The Eyes of Freedom: Lima Company Memorial.

Mike Strahle, Director for the traveling memorial, served as a lance corporal for Lima Company. He was wounded and saw six comrades die in the May attack. He says the tribute came into existence with the help of the fallen soldiers’ families and artist Anita Miller. Miller spent two years working with the families and collecting photos in order to paint the fallen in their likeness. The result was life-size oil paintings of each member of the unit that was killed.

Strahle tells WHMI the memorial is healing adding, “They were really great men. Anita took something really ugly…and she made it beautiful and permanent…having served with the guys, it’s an honor for me to be able to talk about them because it’s helping me too. It keeps their legacy alive and since traveling nationally, it became a lot less about these guys specifically. It’s kind of using their story and legacy to speak for all of us.”

Below the paintings are personal items of the soldiers, including boots they had worn in Iraq. The exhibit’s newest addition is a life-size bronze sculpture of a man hunched over. The sculpture is titled “The Silent Battle” to honor the losses due to post traumatic stress and veteran suicide. The memorial has traveled to nearly 300 events, serving as a reminder and an outreach for struggling veterans. The exhibit is on display at the Livingston County Spencer J. Hardy Airport through Sunday. (DK)