Updated 12/10/2010 06:01 AM
Artist donates Marine portrait to family four years after soldier's death
A few years after Marine Corps Captain John McKenna died in combat in Iraq, an artist presented his family with the portrait he painted of their son, brother and friend. Our Steve Ference was there and has this report.
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ALBANY, N.Y. -- At the Albany Airport, soldiers still say goodbye to their families almost every day. But sometimes parents, like John McKenna, end up facing an indescribable emptiness.
McKenna said, "I look down at the TSA security and that's the last time I saw my son alive."
Marine Captain John McKenna III was killed in Iraq on August 16, 2006, trying to save a fellow soldier. He's had a room for soldiers leaving and coming back named after him here. And yet, four-and-a-half years later, the Eagle Scout, Trooper, friend, is being painted as a hero.
His father said, "If a soldier or Marine was really down in the dumps on a particular day, he would just go and hand them a cell phone and say call your mother. He knew how valuable that connection was. It was for him."
In front of 200 people, fellow Marines, Troopers and Patriot Guard Riders, his family received a portrait of their son, their brother, completed by someone they had never met. A Texas artist who, himself, had lost a friend to war and has since donated 80 other portraits as part of the American Fallen Soldier Project.
McKenna Sr. said, "It's hard to explain what this means. He's done this for so many families."
Artist Phil Taylor said, "Four years of doing it now, there are periods where I need this as much as the family does. To see the effect, to experience the honor, the life, the family I've been working for and representing."
It's artistry bringing home the minute details of McKenna's life. Even the moments of pain.
McKenna's father said, "He asked about what looked like a line over his eyebrow. I didn't remember it. I talked to Karen and yeah, he was four or five years old and he jumped on the bed fell hit the dresser. Phil was able to capture that."
...Reminding his family of those small memories that now matter so much...
McKenna said, "It's so much easier for me to look at his face. Tell me if you don't see all the joy he had in his life. He loved his Marines and his troopers."
And with nearly 6,000 American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, Taylor says his work continues.
Taylor said, "No stopping. No way, I could never do that. I would only wish and pray God would give me as much years to do as many as I can. We're climbing up to 6,000. In four years I've done 80."
A picture of sacrifice, grief. But one that aims in some minor way to fill the void left by one man who never made it home, a picture forcing all of us to come to terms with the scars of war.