When Cpl. Michael Strahle was traveling along the Iraqi-Syrian border in an assault vehicle with 18 of his colleagues in May 2005, all was going routinely until they heard an explosion.
They had run over an improvised explosive device (IED). Strahle was ejected through the roof. Six of the men from the Columbus, Ohio-based Lima Company who were traveling with him that day – men who he said were sons, husbands and fathers – died.
In the months that followed, 23 other men from his unit were killed in combat.
Now, Strahle is retired from Marine Corps reserves and wants to share the memories of these men. The traveling memorial, “Eyes of Freedom,” which he serves as director of, can be seen in the Marshall Student Center (MSC) atrium this week.
“This is a really interactive exhibit to remember what it costs to be free – a free nation,” he said.
The exhibit consists of life size portraits of the lost soldiers. Underneath the paintings are their spare combat boots, donated by the family.
The idea for the project began at the end of 2005, the year Lima experienced substantial losses. Anita Miller, a Columbus-based artist, felt the need to memorialize the fallen soldiers.
“She saw fit to paint them in life size,” Strahle said. “Her goal was – 100 percent – to help the family members that had just lost a son, or a husband or a father. It has blossomed into this traveling memorial all over the country.”
Patrick Schweickart, a senior majoring in criminology and vice president of USF’s Student Veterans Association, helped coordinate the visit.
Schweickart, a Marine Corps veteran and current Marine Corps reservist, said the exhibit emotionally touched him. He also believes non-veterans will get a clearer “perspective” of the sacrifices of service members.
“It’s just very humbling,” he said. “It brings a little bit of an impact to everyone.”
As people begin to leave, Strahle tells them that they can pen their name or a message on a Marine Corps flag, which the university will keep. Because of the memorial’s purpose and impact, he believes the story of Lima Company will be shared for many years.
“The ultimate significance (of the memorial) is just honoring the service and sacrifice of all of our men and women in uniform,” he said. “Whether that be the past – the people that have paved the way for us today – those that are in harm’s way right now . . . and those that are going to be signing up in the future, that we don’t even know yet. This will continue to travel for probably decades to come.”
The exhibit will be in the MSC atrium until Wednesday evening.