'You see their soul': Images of fallen Illinois service members on display at Arlington Heights library
Those who walked into the Arlington Heights Memorial Library Thursday morning saw the faces of some 320 Illinois service members who gave the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries since Sept. 11, 2001.
Four of the hand-drawn images in the Portrait of a Soldier exhibit are of their neighbors in Arlington Heights.
Katie Stack took a moment to pause by the drawing of her husband, Marine Lance Cpl. James Bray Stack, who was killed in action on Nov. 10, 2010, in Afghanistan.
"Every face that they see is somebody who gave their life for their freedom, and knowing that I think really allows them to understand why they have the freedoms that they do," said Stack, who was 19 when a sniper's bullet killed her 20-year-old husband.
The collection of images is on display in the first floor lobby through Sept. 30 -- the library's first exhibit since the onset of the pandemic. The library brought the traveling display to Arlington Heights with the help of the veterans support organization Salute Inc., the Veterans Memorial Committee of Arlington Heights and the First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights, among other groups.
A related 9/11 remembrance ceremony -- where the names of all Illinois' fallen heroes will be read aloud -- is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the church, 302 N. Dunton Ave. The formal public opening of the exhibit will follow at the library from 1:30 to 4 p.m.
Artist Cameron Schilling, who drew the first portrait after the funeral of Army Spc. Charles Neeley in 2004 in Mattoon, went on to complete 290 others. Donald and Kiana Jeremiah have done another 20 recent drawings as part of the exhibit.
Former Gov. Pat Quinn, an early supporter of the project, helped introduce Schilling to the Gold Star families and turn the project into a traveling exhibition. Quinn, who has attended the wakes, funerals or memorials for all the fallen service members from Illinois, gazed at the photos in the library lobby Thursday as he recalled some of their individual stories.
"If you look at the portraits, you look into the eyes of the men and women -- you kind of see their personality. You see their soul," Quinn said.
The former governor visited with Stack and two other Gold Star families who were there for the exhibit opening preview.
Army Maj. Paul Syverson III's portrait was among the first to be drawn. He was killed during a mortar attack in Iraq in 2004. His parents, Paul and Joy, say they've seen the exhibit throughout the state, and how it's grown since then.
"This is a beautiful tribute," Joy said. "He did many a book report in this library."
Kaki Newgard, mother of Army Pfc. William Newgard, also looked forward to the exhibit's arrival in Arlington Heights. Her 20-year-old son was newly enlisted when a vehicle he was traveling in ran over a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006.
"You walk in and see all these faces," she said. "The more this happens, we're not going to forget. We're not going to forget."