A very commendable program for painting portraits (with absolutely no cost to families) of Americans in uniform who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan was initiated by an excellent artist named Kaziah Hancock out in Monti, Utah several years ago.
Acceptance has been overwhelming to the extent that she has been joined by at least 3 other competent artists to meet the demand and that number now stands at around 800......and counting. They have been ably and enthusiastically assisted by the Department of Defense.
When retired NBC Radio Network correspondent Don Blair of Venice saw the Kaziah story popping up on his computer a few months ago he picked up the phone and called his friend Greg Crumbly...widely regarded (by his peers) as probably the finest portrait artist in the U.S. Check out www.gregcrumbly.com to see for yourself.
Suggesting a program mirroring the Utah effort, Greg accepted the challenge immediately. Blair remains as coordinator and the non-profit American Ideals Foundation, Inc....founded by Greg's father-in-law several decades ago...is the umbrella organization to which all donated funding is being channeled.
As with the western U.S. effort, this project is also enjoying the full cooperation of DOD...providing updated lists of Florida military casualties in both Iraq and Afghanistan and informing their families of the opportunity, after submitting favorite photos of their departed loved ones to the American Ideals Foundation or to Don Blair (firstname.lastname@example.org for further direction), to have a portrait done for them at no cost.
The first portrait, that of the late Marine PFC Christopher Cobb has already been done and presented to Chris' mother Sheila at the American Legion Post 312 in Bradenton, Florida now named in Christopher's honor.
Others are in process, meaning families have made contact with the AIF, photos being forwarded and so on. It is important to stress that families may indeed contact the AIF group directly without going through DOD although that department will continue to play a key role in the entire effort.
If you or any group, club or organization you are affiliated with would care to help support this program, the quickest way to "do the deed" would be to contact Don Blair at the above-mentioned e-mail address or call him at 941-493-0857.
By the way...artist Greg Crumbly...wounded in the line of duty as a Pittsburgh cop....later, as an Army Ranger and helicopter pilot, his chopper downed over Nicaragua. Greg wears the Silver Star. Blair served in the Army from 1953 to 1955.
If other family members step forward wishing they could have that portrait....fine lithographic copies will also be provided...at no cost. This is, and will continue to be, a Florida state-wide effort. Your help greatly appreciated. As the saying goes...no contribution either too small....or too big.
NOTE: The Sarasota County Veterans Commission has endorsed this project and has made a contribution to the American Ideals Foundation to help provide free portraits of our fallen heroes to their families. May they live on forever in our hearts and in these portraits.