A service member views the traveling “Eyes of Freedom: Lima Company Memorial” at the Ohio Army National Guard Recruiting Office in Delaware, Ohio. The exhibit honors 23 fallen servicemen from Lima Company 3/25 during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005 and will be on display Sept. 8-14 in Findlay. (Photo courtesy of Eyes of Freedom)

A powerful, traveling memorial of eight life-sized portraits of 23 fallen servicemen from Lima Company 3/25 during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005, is on its way to Findlay.

“Eyes of Freedom: Lima Company Memorial” will be on display at the Marathon Center for the Performing Arts from Sunday through Sept. 14, and is free to view.

Lima Company is a Marine Reserve Unit and remains one of the hardest hit units in Operation Iraqi Freedom. During a 2005 deployment, the Lima-based unit lost 22 Marines, and a Navy corpsman, while operating near Haditha, Iraq.

The exhibit was generated by artist Anita Miller. With the help of the families of the fallen and those who returned from the battalion, the work was first unveiled in the Ohio State House Rotunda in 2008.

In front of each soldier’s painting lies a pair of standard-issue combat boots, most provided by their families and worn by the men they rest in front of. Beside them a candle is lit to memorialize each man’s fighting spirit.

Miller’s newest creation, a life-sized, bronzed sculpture of a serviceman seated with head down, was added in 2018. This soldier represents America’s veterans who struggle with suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder, as they navigate life after combat.

Chuck Bills, CEO of Ohio Logistics, says he first saw the traveling exhibit in Fulton County.

“When I visited it my first thought was, ‘we’ve got to get this to Findlay.'”

He said he worked with the Marathon Center for the Performing Arts to time the exhibit’s debut with Sunday’s performance of the Shades of Blue Jazz Ensemble. The group is comprised of musicians from the United States Air Force Band of Flight (Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio) and the United States Air Force Band of Mid-America (Scott AFB, Illinois). The concert begins at 3 p.m., and the “Eyes of Freedom” display can be viewed before or after the performance.

The traveling tribute is supported by a board of directors consisting of retired military, business people and clergy. The full-time touring team has a personal connection to the men in the paintings: Mike Strahle is a Purple Heart combat veteran who fought alongside these men and was badly injured in one of the attacks; and Sean Flaharty was a personal friend of the fallen and helped support Miller as a volunteer before becoming part of the touring team.

The exhibit’s exclusive transportation provider is R+L Carriers, based in Wilmington, Ohio. The Hancock Hotel in Findlay is hosting those who drive the “Eyes of Freedom” trailer and other project personnel.

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