Exhibit to Fallen to Close; Portraits to Go to Families
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., June 7, 2007 For two years, the American public has been given a personal look into the sacrifices of U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan through the Faces of the Fallen exhibit.
Dawn Peterson holds a painting of her son, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jason Plite, at the closing ceremony of the "Faces of the Fallen" exhibit in Arlington Va., June 7, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Now the portraits of fallen troops that adorned the walls of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial here are being taken down and sent home to the families of the troops to serve as a lasting tribute to their service.
After an extended two-year run, the exhibit, which features 1,139 portraits of fallen servicemembers painted by 200 professional artists from across the U.S., is closing June 10. Family members, military leaders and visitors gathered today to pay tribute to those whose memories are honored and to thank those who made the exhibit possible.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called today a chance to remember that “for some 232 years, incredible men and women have volunteered to serve our nation, all knowing the dangers involved, some giving their lives.”
Pace said the exhibit reminds him of a photo he keeps on his desk of Marine Lance Cpl. Guido Farinaro, the first Marine under Pace’s command to die in Vietnam. “I know how much his picture means to me; I know how much these portraits mean to the families,” Pace said.
Faces of the Fallen opened in March 2005, and the exhibit has seen more than 650,000 visitors since. The portraits, done for free by the artists, honor the memories of the first 1,319 servicemembers to die in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One of those honored is Army Cpl. Matthew A. Commons, who was killed in Afghanistan in March 2002 during a mission to rescue a Navy SEAL who fell from a helicopter. Commons’ father, Greg Commons, a former Marine and Vietnam veteran, said today that Matthew was enthusiastic about his service and was dedicated to his fellow servicemembers. He died along with six of his comrades that day, and their story of heroism will be one of many used to teach future generations about sacrifice, Greg said.
“Although the men and women in Faces of the Fallen are displayed individually, it’s the groups -- the groups of two or three, and in Matt’s case, the group of seven -- that are the book covers to these stories,” Commons said. “They’re the sources that teachers and historians will use in the years to come to inform new generations about what it means to serve. This time, those stories will be told to the sons and daughters, the nieces and nephews, the grandsons and granddaughters of the men and women who are pictured in this exhibit.”
Commons, a high school teacher of U.S. government and history, said he is proud of his son’s service and commitment to the country. He recalled a conversation with his nephew, Matthew’s closest friend, shortly after his death. Although he was dealing with extreme grief, his nephew reminded him that, if given the chance, Matthew would have volunteered all over again and gone on the same mission.
“I don’t wake up in the morning wondering why my son died; I know why he died,” Commons said. “He performed the ultimate community service; he gave his life trying to save the life of someone else. Of that I can’t be more proud. These paintings, these carvings, these etchings, these faces of the fallen, pay tribute to another generation of young men and women who have answered the nation’s call.”
At today’s ceremony, six portraits were symbolically presented to family members. The remainder of the portraits will be packed and returned to family members over the coming weeks. The many hundreds of items of memorabilia and tokens of remembrance left with the portraits will be archived by the National Park Service.
Speaking to the family members at the ceremony, Pace said he hopes the exhibit has demonstrated that the nation cares, and will always care, about the sacrifices they have made. He also pledged the dedication of all those in uniform to carrying on the legacy the fallen troops left behind.
Faces of the Fallen was conceived by Washington, D.C., portrait artist Annette Polan. She said she was inspired by a lack of recognition for the fallen troops and hoped the power of the groups of artists would pull America together to honor those who sacrificed their lives for freedom.
“Faces of the Fallen has brought Americans together to mourn and to celebrate lives lost,” she said. “American artists gave each an identity and a face that will always be remembered by a family, by a school, by a community, and in turn, by a country. This is what we look like; this is who we are.”