Portraits of South Carolina's fallen: 'It's like a gift from God - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

Portraits of South Carolina's fallen: 'It's like a gift from God'

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

Many parents of South Carolina's fallen service members say their greatest fear is their loved ones being forgotten.

A Midlands project aims to make sure their sons and daughters names and actions aren't lost over time.

A military member dying for our freedom is too sad and too tragic to keep artist Karen Langley sitting still.

She had to do something for the mothers, wives, fathers, husbands and children feeling the worst of the pain.

In a Northeast Columbia gallery, Karen Langley paints portraits of the men and women who have been killed in the current conflicts.

She then presents the finished product to the families at an unveiling.

It is a time-consuming, heartfelt journey for Karen.

As she paints, there's a reason she only wants a name to go with the face.

"I try not to be too close to their stories as I'm painting," Langley says. "It's too emotional to me."

Neal Dillon of Aiken lost his son, USMC Cpl. Matthew V. Dillon, in December 2006. He was 25.

Dillon was in Al Anbar province, Iraq when he was killed while conducting combat operations when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device.

Nearly eight years later, Neal and his wife, Lucy, are presented the oil painting portrait created by Langley.

It's one of 17 portraits she spent an average of 22 hours painting over several months.

Last fall, Langley unveiled her first round of portraits to families of the fallen.

Dillon says of the portrait, "My first reaction was to walk up and touch him. I felt like he was here again."

The unveiling of the portraits is an emotional event.

The portraits are very detailed and lifelike.

It's overwhelming even for families who have had years to heal.

Karen provides the paint. The Blue Star Mothers of the Midlands takes care of the frames and canvasses. Blue Star Moms also help coordinate the unveiling event and help communicate with families about the portrait project.

Some parents decline the free painting saying the loss of their child is still too raw.

The portraits are on display at The Village Artists at The Village at Sandhill in Northeast Columbia through Memorial Day. After that, the portraits go home with the families.

For more information about The Artist's Gallery, visit thevillageartists.com.

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