CENTRALIA – On the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon will pay tribute to Illinois military service members that have been killed since the start of the Global War on Terror.
Simon will speak at the opening ceremonies for the “Portrait of a Soldier” exhibit at 6 p.m. tonight at Kaskaskia College. The traveling memorial will be on display at the college until September 24 and features hand-sketched portraits of nearly 300 fallen service members from Illinois.
“On this anniversary we remember those we lost as a result of the attacks on September 11, and the brave military heroes who have defended our country since,” Simon said. “The 'Portrait of a Soldier' exhibit honors and commemorates the young men and women that gave the ultimate sacrifice to ensure our freedom.”
Among the fallen service members from the Kaskaskia College-area included in the exhibit is Marine Lance Cpl. Torrey Stoffel-Gray of Patoka. Stoffel-Gray was 19 years old and on his second tour of duty when he was killed by hostile fire in Iraq on April 11, 2004. Stoffel-Gray was 17 years old when he joined the Marines and was credited with saving the life of friend Aaron Gordon of San Diego, Calif., during the invasion of Iraq.
Also included in the exhibit is Army Spc. Casey Hills of Salem. Hills died in Iraq on June 24, 2009 at the age of 23 when the vehicle he was in rolled over after coming under attack. Hills was part of a mission providing security for convoys driving into Iraq and volunteered for the mission so a fellow soldier could attend a naturalization ceremony to become an American citizen.
Several other service members from the Kaskaskia College District are featured in the “Portrait of a Soldier” exhibit and include Marine Staff Sgt. Jordan Emrick of Hoyleton; Marine Lance Cpl. Nicholas B. Kleiboeker of Odin; Army Sgt. Matthew Straughter of St. Charles, Missouri whose parents were Kaskaskia students; Marine Lance Cpl. Jonathan Kyle Price of Woodlawn; and Army Staff Sgt. Joshua Melton of Germantown.
“We at Kaskaskia College are honored to be paying tribute to the 288 fallen heroes from Illinois in the Global War on Terror since September 11, 2001. We shall never forget these men and women who served this nation so proudly in preserving the freedoms we all enjoy as Americans,” said Kaskaskia College President Dr. Jim Underwood. “We are very proud to have on display the ‘Portrait of a Soldier’ exhibit in honor and memory of the fallen heroes from Illinois. It is a pleasure to have Lt. Governor Sheila Simon present to speak and represent the state of Illinois at this very special occasion. We also welcome family members of these fallen heroes and the public to this proud event.”
These service members will also be recognized by the “Veteran’s Tribute” that Kaskaskia College is constructing on campus to recognize past, present and future veterans from the college’s district. The memorial is completely funded by private donations and will feature a six-foot-tall eagle sculpture, two walls with the names and branches of area veterans, and the seals of all five branches of service.
Seen by thousands of people at more than 100 venues across the state since 2005, “Portrait of a Soldier” is a tribute to the nearly 300 men and women from Illinois killed in the line of duty since 2001. Artist Cameron Schilling drew the first portrait in 2004, when he sketched Army Spc. Charles Neeley, a 19-year old Mattoon resident who died in Tikrit, Iraq, and presented the sketch to Neeley’s parents. Months later, while a student at Eastern Illinois University, Schilling committed to draw a portrait of every Illinois service member.
Governor Quinn today directed state buildings to fly their flags at half-staff today and also called on Illinois residents to take time to thank a veteran, help a military family or salute a Gold Star family. For more information on the “Portrait of a Soldier” exhibit and ways to help veterans and military families, visit www.operationhomefront.org.