'Faces of Fallen' Exhibit Opens at Arlington
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Virginia, Mar. 23, 2005 The faces remind us of what we have lost.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers talks with family members who have lost a loved one to the war on terrorism at the Faces of the Fallen opening ceremony in Arlington, Va., March 22. Photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"Faces of the Fallen," an exhibition that opened March 22 at the Women in Military Service to America Memorial here, features more than 1,300 portraits of servicemen and women who have died in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"To say this is a moving exhibit would be a serious understatement," said Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the keynote speaker at the opening. "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," continued the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Hundreds of family members came to see portraits of their loved one. The portraits were done from photos, and more than 200 artists participated in this "labor of love," said Annette Polan, the co-chair and one of the artists for the project.
The various artists used different media and styles to portray the fallen. Some artists worked from photos taken in Iraq or Afghanistan, and depicted a young man or woman peering out of the portrait wearing full battle rattle.
Other portraits are taken from the enlistment photos the services take, and you see young men and women trying 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 photos or wedding photos 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," 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."
The families crowded into the education hall of the memorial. Many saw the portraits of their loved one for the first time. "They really caught John's goofy grin," said one Mom.
Another family group hugged each other in front of the portrait of their son. Tears flowed. "It's still too raw for us," said the father. One family took a picture of the portrait, so they could bring it back to grandma. "She couldn't face this," said the father. "But she would want to know he is honored."
And they are honored. 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," he said. "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."
Myers said the fallen are heroes not because they died, "but because they lived their lives in service to their country."
The chairman told the families that the country will continue the fight their sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters died in. "The war will be long, it will be hard, and the stakes ... could not be higher," he said. "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."
Myers thanked the families for the support they give the country and each other. After the ceremony, he and his wife, Mary Jo, spoke, and posed for pictures, with the families of the fallen. They also shook hands with everyone.
And when all was said and done, the general was the last to leave the hallowed ground of Arlington on this special evening.