As imperfect as we may think ourselves to be, this is still the greatest country on earth. The only thing that can change that is our own apathy and lack of appreciation for the freedoms we have.
These freedoms haven’t come cheap. They have been earned through the sacrifice of those in our military over the years that put their life on the line so that we might live free. This is a story about these heroes, both on the front line and here at home.
Many of you will recall the name of Lt. Frank Wilson, a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, who just a few short years ago was in Afghanistan helping root out the bad guys. He and his unit were in those killing fields for long stretches of time and enduring hardships that you and I can only imagine.
In May 2008, Wilson wrote and asked if we would consider supplying a list of items that he and his troops badly needed, stuff we take for granted in our everyday lives such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, eye drops, granola bars and the like. Routine to us but critical for those in the front lines.
I, in turn, asked you to help them out. You responded as I knew you would. The requested articles poured in from around the state and you dang near overwhelmed their supply lines.
Fast forward to 2012. Wilson, promoted to captain, completed three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan in some of the worst fighting imaginable. That he is lucky to be alive is an understatement. That he is one of the most highly-decorated Marines to serve in Afghanistan is not. He came home, earned a master’s degree from Georgia Tech, got married and is now with North Highland, an international consulting company.
Best of all, he is a father. His son, Edward Mayes, was christened by Dr. Gil Watson, the World’s Greatest Preacher, with a proud family in attendance. To see Wilson beaming at his little boy and to know where he has been and what he has gone through was an emotional moment for those of us in attendance.
As I watched, I thought of those 200-plus Georgians who did not return. Yet, their memory will live on. And that brings me to the second part of my story — the heroes in the Atlanta Fine Arts League, composed of some of Georgia’s most accomplished artists.
The group has undertaken a program called “Art from the Heart” and their intent is to produce portraits for the families of every Georgian killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and to do it free of charge. Lisa Gleim, who created the project, tells me the organization has completed close to one hundred portraits so far. More than 42 artists are involved.
“Not only do our participating members do this on their own time,” Gleim says, “but when they are finished, they are eager to do another one.” Remember, these are some of the best artists around.
Of the project, she says, “It is a humbling and emotional experience for us and for the families and when we finish a portrait, we feel we know these young people.”
Gleim encourages those who have lost loved ones in these two conflicts to get in touch with the Atlanta Fine Arts League at AtlantaFineArtsLeague@yahoo.com.
In addition, I would urge you to go to the group’s webpage: AtlantaFineArts League.org and see for yourself the portraits done thus far. They are breathtaking. It will warm your heart to see how these artists have honored those who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will also break your heart to look on the faces of these young men and women and realize they lost their future one fateful day in a God-forsaken part of the world.
The election is history but the good people who make this a great country remain. They include Frank Wilson, a hero who survived some of the worst of war to return and begin a new life with his new family and Lisa Gleim and her colleagues in the Atlanta Fine Arts League who won’t let us forget those that didn’t make it home.
God bless them and God bless America.
Dick Yarbrough is a North Georgia resident whose column appears Saturdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint. Contact him at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139.