It's called the Eyes of Freedom and you have to see it with your own eyes to realize how special it is.
Veterans gather every Friday at Monument Terrace in Lynchburg but on this Friday something different was going on.
As the veterans gathered, the Eyes of Freedom Memorial rolled in. Life sized portraits arrived of 22 young Marines and one Navy Corpsman - all who lost their lives in Iraq.
Mike Strahle served with those men. "I was injured in one of the blasts that took six of these guys," Strahle said. "It's just dumb luck that I'm here and able to do this."
Strahle now travels the nation helping tell their story.
"We help a lot of veterans everywhere and I always tell people 'it's helped me the most,'" Strahle said.
Perhaps it's therapeutic, helping him deal with the loss by keeping their memory alive.
"It's done wonders for me and my family and I've seen it do wonders for veterans all over the country," Strahle said. "It's a really powerful thing."
The portrait artist from Ohio, Anita Miller, was inspired to paint these men even though she never knew them. She visited each family to learn their story.
"She was able to capture the personality and the likeness of each and every one of them," Strahle said.
When the memorial arrived even the ones who helped organize its visit to Lynchburg were in awe. "Oh I'm just overwhelmed I really a little on the speechless side," said Betsy Callaham, who organized the The Eyes of Freedom Lynchburg visit.
"I just can't wait for it all to get set up and for people to just start coming so they can see it and appreciate it," Callaham said. "I think everyone will take something different from it. There are some families here who have lost their sons or daughters in Iraq or Afghanistan and it'll mean something very different to them than to a citizen of Lynchburg who just wants to see the artwork."
This Eyes of Freedom exhibit has visited at least 70 cities. The welcome it got in Lynchburg- the veterans who come out to monument terrace every Friday no matter what -- stood out.
"The is the 639th week in a row that we've had a meeting of veteran's here at monument terrace," said Gary Witt, the Vice President of the Lynchburg Vietnam Veterans Chapter.
" I've never heard of anything like that ,"said Strahan. "I've never heard of a group meeting that long consecutively and when they snap to attention when the truck went by and salute it when the truck went by it's something I'll won't ever forget ."
The Eyes of Freedom exhibit will be on display through March 13th at 1023 Commerce Street in Lynchburg.
More on the Eyes of Freedom:
The Eyes of Freedom: Lima Company Memorial was created as a result of an Ohio artist's vision, in which she saw the finished memorial and felt she was being asked to create it. With the help of the families of the fallen and the returned Marines of L3/25, the work was created and unveiled in the Ohio State House Rotunda in 2008, as the vision foretold.
Although the paintings in this Memorial specifically depict the 23 fallen Marines from Lima 3/25, it has become much more; The Eyes of Freedom honors all who have answered the call to service. Behind each portrait we feel the honor and sacrifice of the thousands of men and women who have served our country, in every branch of the armed forces.
Mike Strahle retired from Lima Co. 3/25 and upon seeing The Eyes of Freedom unveiled at the Statehouse in 2008 knew he had witnessed something truly special. Three years later he would contact Anita Miller, the artist and creator, requesting to host the memorial at a Veteran's Support fundraiser he co-founded. It was this reunion that sparked the passing of the baton from its creator to the hands of a brother in arms. For Mike this mission is personal. He too was badly injured in the explosion that took six of his squad members; two more fell to enemy fire just days prior.
The Eyes of Freedom Memorial's exclusive transportation provider is R+L Carriers, Inc. based in Wilmington, OH. R+L is a leading less-than-truckload (LTL) freight transportation company, providing guaranteed, day-definite regional and transcontinental service through a network of more than 100 service centers in the United States, Canada, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.