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Artist Helps Keep Memories Of Fallen Soldiers Alive

By Paula Ebben, WBZ-TV
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BOSTON (CBS) – Keeping alive the memories of fallen soldiers in a unique way. That’s the quiet goal of one local woman, an artist, who uses her talents to help the families left behind. And now others are joining here to spread the work of “Operation Home Ties.”

Gina Johnson of Woburn, with a pencil always in motion, sketches a portrait of Mitchell Daehling from Dalton, Mass. “He was killed in action in Afghanistan,” she says. Gina, who works as an office manager, but has a calling as a portrait artist, is capturing the 24-year-old U.S. Army Specialist on paper. The portrait will be given to his family. “He has a lovely wife, Samantha and his parents are Kirk and Brenda,” she says.

The likeness will also join nearly 200 others on Operation Home Ties wall of remembrance. “I thought if I put a face to every name people would look and remember, so that’s what I did,” Gina says. And she’s been doing it for nearly seven years. “I work with the families and will try to bring some joy back from the sadness,” she says.

“I certainly think it’s a source of comfort,” says Steve Milley who lost his son Lt. Scott Milley three years ago. Scott was also killed in Afghanistan. Gina’s portrait proudly hangs in their Sudbury home. “When someone dies or is killed you use photos as a reflection and a way to look back because you don’t want to lose that person. And photos, drawings, portraits keep them present,” says Milley.

The goal of Operation Home Ties is to create portraits for the families of all Massachusetts service men and women who died after the Sept. 11 attacks. Many volunteers are now helping Gina accomplish that by reaching out to families, delivering the artwork and displaying the wall of remembrance. “I view it as a way of celebrating what they gave. They gave it all,” Gina says.

And Steve Milley sometimes looks into his son’s eyes. “They say that’s the window to the soul, and when you look at this pencil drawing, you can see Scott’s soul. And I think that’s her gift,” he says.

Gina also plans to create portraits of service men and women from Mass. who died during the Vietnam War. That will be some 1,300 drawings.

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