Exhibit honors fallen Illinois service members

By Molly Walsh, Campus Reporter

Former Governor Pat Quinn commemorated Patriot Day, a national day of remembrance that occurs annually on September. 11, by opening “Portrait of a Soldier,” an exhibit featuring hand-drawn portraits of 291 Illinois men and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11.

The exhibit, located in the Third Floor Reading Room in the Library, 624 S. Michigan Ave., will be on display until Sept. 15, according to the press release.

Cameron Schilling, the installation artist, drew a portrait of U.S. Army Spc. Charles Neeley after he died serving in Iraq, which was the catalyst for the project. Neeley and Schilling both grew up in Mattoon, Illinois.

Schilling contacted Quinn, asking for help getting in touch with families whohad lost someone in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Quinn said during the exhibit’s opening.

“Many of the service members that are in ‘Portrait of a Soldier’ were in their late teens or early 20s, very similar to the age of many students here at Columbia,” Quinn said. “It’s important 16 years after Sept. 11 that all of us on Earth, whether we’re 68 or 18, not forget their sacrifice.”

Quinn wanted Columbia to host “Portrait of a Soldier” because of its impressive student diversity and downtown location.

“The way the library and school has opened up its doors to ‘Portrait of a Soldier for this whole week is very meaningful,” Quinn said. “You look into the eyes of the service member and you see their soul, and it really brings home to you what purposeful lives each and every one of them brought to all of us.”

Cam Dupre, a junior cinema and television arts major, who served in the Marine Corps from 2007–2011, spoke at the opening of “Portrait of a Soldier” and said it is important to have an exhibit like this on campus to remember fallen servicemen and women and to help connect students to the veteran community.

“I refer to it as a handcrafted time capsule because seeing all these faces and seeing the numbers and their age captures the spirit of the country at that time,” Dupre said.

Tom Nawrocki, faculty adviser for the college’s Student Veterans Association, said the organization includes about 130 student veterans each semester.

These portraits will leave a permanent imprint of veterans’ sacrifices, Nawrocki said. He added that there should be a memorial like this for other Illinois servicemen and women from wars throughout the country’s history.

“Honor the warrior, not the war,” Nawrocki said. “You can have political opinions about the war but the fact is that warriors sacrificed their lives. It’s important to recognize and remember that, and I think that’s true for every generation.”

Democracy is not a spectator sport and everybody has has a duty to contribute to the country, which is not limited to joining the military, Quinn said; however, exhibits like this still have an important role.

“It’s important to have a memorial of our Illinois service members that will last long after we’re gone,” Quinn said. One-hundred years from now, people will still see Portrait of a Soldier, from our time. We wont be here, but these pictures will be lasting reminders of our time and our special heroes.”