BURLINGTON, N.C. -- The North Carolina Highway Patrol, along with a line of veterans riding their motorcycles adorned with American flags, escorted a tractor-trailer through the streets of Burlington.
The patriotic scene clearly illustrates that the truck is carrying special cargo. When the caravan stopped at the Holly Hill Mall and Business Center, Mike Strahle described the portraits that are inside of the truck.
"Their expression, their pleasant nature, their commitment to duty, all of that comes through in their face. Their eyes especially,” Strahle said.
Strahle is the director of the "Eyes of Freedom" memorial. The life-sized portraits honor the men that served with the Marine Reservist Lima Company.
In 2005 the company was deployed to western Iraq as a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Their task was to go from village to village, searching for the insurgency. In a four month period, 23 men were killed when they encountered roadside bombs.
Bennie Kidd is a member of VFW Post 10607 in Alamance County. When he saw the "Eyes of Freedom" memorial in Virginia, he knew he had to bring the mobile memorial to Burlington.
"When I walked in the room, it took my breath. I had to back out, gained my composure and go back in. It's awesome. It really is,” Kidd said.
Kidd and other volunteers unloaded the truck and assembled the portraits.
"To be able to come to a display like this and see pictures and names, it hits home," said VFW Post 10607 member Fred Galey. "It hits you in the heart.”
For the volunteers that are transforming an old store location into a military memorial, their work slows down when they see the boots worn by the 23 servicemen.
"It's real," Galey said. "It's tangible. This is the boots they wore in combat. It makes it very real for people.”
New to the memorial is the life size bronze sculpture "Silent Battle." The artwork symbolizes the struggles of post traumatic stress disorder many veterans are suffering from.
The "Eyes of Freedom" memorial gives visitors a look into the character of the 23 men who died while serving our country. But the best stories are told by Strahle. Strahle is a Purple Heart combat veteran that was with Lima Company.
"To be able to take around their imagine, their story, their legacy, it’s an honor to still serve with them today,” Strahle said.
The "Eyes of Freedom" memorial is at the Holly Hill Mall and Business Center in Burlington. The exhibit runs from Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free.