A hero's portrait

By: Mystic Matthews Email
By: Mystic Matthews Email

SHERMAN, Tex. -- Thousands of American soldiers have been killed since the start of the second Iraq War five years ago. One Frisco man is honoring those fallen soldiers, including one from right here in Texoma.

Specialist Braden Long of Sherman was serving in Iraq in August 2007 when a bomb exploded under his humvee and killed him. Long was just 19 years old.

This week, we were with Long's family as they received a special tribute to their son.

“I never pictured it. I didn't think they'd send a baby over there… a little boy,” Braden’s mother, Melanie Thrasher, says.

For nearly eight months, the Long family has struggled with the loss of their son. They say memories of Braden help them through the pain.

Now they have one more way to remember him, thanks to a Frisco man.

"I try to give them a place of reference, when they're really hurting. Look into their eyes and just spend time with their soldier," artist Phillip Taylor says, who created the "Texas Fallen Soldiers Project," making it his goal to paint the picture of every Texas soldier killed in the Iraq war.

On Tuesday, Taylor personally delivered a hand-painted portrait of Braden Long to his mother, Melanie Thrasher.

“It’s bigger than life, its huge, and it looks just like him. Down to the cowlick and eyebrows…it looks just like him.”

“That’s a very strong impact that they have sometimes when they get it. There’s a certain sense or experience that helps them or makes them feel like their soldier has come home," Taylor says.

It’s for that reason Taylor is dedicating his time and talents to the project to honor soldiers like Braden Long who died just days before his 20th birthday.

Over the past year, Taylor has painted 17 soldiers and has more than 350 to go.

Taylor says these paintings are not only a comfort for the soldiers’ families, they are also his tribute to the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

"[I try to] catch them in a moment of spontaneity. This one did that very, very well, and his are just so cute. No denying just how clear they are through the glasses. So this was a good one," Taylor says of Braden’s portrait.

Taylor spends anywhere from 35 to 50 hours painting each soldier. The cost is about $850 by the time it is photographed, framed and shipped, all of which is paid for by donations.

To donate to the Texas Fallen Soldiers Project, click here or visit http://www.texasfallensoldiers.com.

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