By Linda Dillman
A somber reminder of the ultimate sacrifice paid by members of the Marine Corps Ohio-based Lima Company is coming to Canal Winchester along with an honor guard of more than 200 motorcycles.
The procession is escorting The Eyes of Freedom, a memorial to the reserve unit, featuring paintings of each of the 23 fallen soldiers who died during combat operations in Iraq in 2005.
It rolls through Canal Winchester at 7 p.m. on Sept. 2, the evening prior to the city’s annual three-day Labor Day Festival. The motorcycles are leading the memorial’s semi-trailer containing the display down Diley Road from U.S. Route 33 to East Waterloo Street, ending at the McDorman Auto Museum for a three-day viewing.
“We do not anticipate a complete closure of East Waterloo east of Trine Street, but there most likely will be a delay in traffic until the procession is within the festival boundaries,” said Mayor Mike Ebert. “If anyone would like to welcome the procession it would be best to park their vehicle and walk to East Waterloo Street to view. It should be an amazing event.”
Artist Anita Miller started painting the true-to-life panels after hearing about the Lima Company tragedy. She spent the next two and a half years bringing the project to fruition. In May 2008, the memorial was unveiled in the Ohio Statehouse rotunda and began a tour around the country.
“My wife Carolyn and I had seen the Eyes of Freedom memorial display at the statehouse a few years ago and then a few more times after that at other functions with members of the Labor Day Committee,” said Ebert. “We inquired about getting it to the Labor Day Festival over two years ago and this year was the earliest they could make it for the entire weekend. If you have never seen the Eyes of Freedom on display I guarantee you will leave with a lump in your throat or tears, maybe both. I have seen it four times and every time I get the same feeling. It makes you really think hard about what those young men must have gone through to protect our country from those who don’t like what we stand for and our freedom.”
Set-up for the Eyes of Freedom Memorial is inside the museum in the east wing of the building and accessed by a separate door. There is no charge to see the memorial, but donations are accepted.
Ebert said Canal Winchester is historically a patriotic community and organizers felt the memorial would be well received.
“Twenty-Two Marines and one Navy Corpsman of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Regiment, died in service to their country while deployed in Iraq,” said Ebert. “While these young men represented seven states, they were mostly from Ohio and some were from right here in Central Ohio. Their Marine based home was Rickenbacker. They are our fallen heroes.”
According to the memorial’s website, from March until September of 2005, Lima Company sustained the fourth highest number of casualties of any Marine company in combat operations in Iraq and the highest number of casualties experienced by any Marine Reserve company in Iraq. On Aug. 1, six Marine snipers were ambushed and killed by insurgents. The single bloodiest day, however, was Aug. 3, when 11 marines were killed when their convoy struck an IED. During their 210 days of combat operations, 34 were wounded and three were wounded twice.
The Labor Day Festival Committee is also honoring World War II veteran Milton Mapou as the parade grand marshal. Mapou is a survivor of Pearl Harbor USS Detroit and was later reassigned to the USS Pringle, which came under attack by Japanese Kamikaze pilots at Okinawa. He will also make an appearance after the parade on Sept. 5, about 3 p.m., on the Stradley Park Stage, where he will speak about his experiences and answer questions.