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Purple Heart Mural salutes sacrifices of Local veterans

In a ceremony that honored courage, sacrifice and selflessness, 225 Lawrence County veterans that were killed or missing in action since World War I were memorialized Wednesday in the newest floodwall mural.

"The mural presents the names of Lawrence Countians who answered the call of duty and didn't return home," said Ron McFann, commander of the Purple Heart Chapter 765.

Ironton's Purple Hearts hosted the ceremony at the Center Street landing in front of a crowd of more than 100. VFW Post 8850 and DAV Chapter 51 were also in attendance.

"This is the cost of freedom," said Stephen Saunders, DAV Chapter 51 commander, as he looked at the names. "The red on the flag is from the blood, sweat and tears of America's veterans."

Gary Tillis, art coordinator at Ohio University Southern, and his assistant, Patty Shively, painted the mural. They said they were honored to be a part of it.

"It is a great occasion and we are blessed to have this type of weather," Tillis said. "It is a great project to be connected with. It is truly different than any other project I have worked on."

Shively agreed and said this is the first time she has worked on something this large and meaningful to so many people.

"We want it to be perfect and give as much of our talents as possible, especially for the men who gave their lives." she said.

Working on a mural dedicated to these local heroes touched the artists and the selflessness rubbed off on them. Tillis and Shively donated everything they were paid to the Ohio Foundation for establishing scholarships.

"It didn't seem right to take money for this type of project because of the nature of the mural and the chapter," he said.

They planned out everything, including painting the names blue, the wars red and the title in gold. The colors symbolize, respectively, sadness, blood shed and the richness of the price these men paid, Tillis said.

Special guests for the event were Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio 6th), State Sen. Michael Shoemaker and John Hill, the Ohio State Commander of the Purple Heart.

Other city and county officials also attended.

"This wall protects us from the weather and floods, but also symbolizes those who stayed behind to let us live in the world we have today," Shoemaker said.

Strickland agreed with these sentiments.

"Veterans are hesitant to promote themselves," he said. "That is all the more reason to honor and express appreciation to them."

Tillis and Shively began the mural on Memorial Day and worked on it three days a week for five or six hours at a time.

It was dedicated yesterday because it was National Purple Heart Day.

The project was conceived before Sept. 11, but takes on more significance since the events of that day, Tillis said. Michael Caldwell/The Ironton Tribune