MOUNT VERNON — You could hear them coming — police and sheriff’s cruisers, and maybe 100 or more motorcycles, all escorting a semi-trailer carrying the “Eyes of Freedom” to the Knox County Memorial Building where it will be on exhibit through Friday.
The exhibit is a collection of large paintings of members of the Marine Corps Reserves Lima Company, which saw 22 Marines and a Navy corpsman killed while serving in Afghanistan in 2005.
The Gambier artist who did the paintings, Anita Miller, has added a life-size sculpture of a service man struggling with post-traumatic stress syndrome and the death of his fellow service men. The sculpture is entitled “Silent Battle.”
As the caravan came up Ohio 3/U.S. 36 from Sunbury, you could see the lights of the cruisers approaching on West High Street and coming around Public Square, then you could hear the rumble of the motorcycles approaching.
Awaiting them at the Memorial Building were members of the Air Force Junior ROTC and members of Boy Scout Troop 336, who would help unload and assemble the exhibit.
The Boy Scouts also lined the front of the Memorial Building property with American flags.
The escort was organized by the Punishers Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club of Northern Ohio.
Steve Lynch of Fredericktown said he encountered Joanne Snow, the local resident who arranged the latest visit of the exhibit, at the Southside Diner one day and she asked him if he and the motorcyclists would be interested in arranging the escort.
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“I contacted every friend I have who rides. I thought I’d have 15 or 30 show up,” he said, just about the same time he was informed the count was actually about 235.
The riders included the Combat Veterans, Ohio Patriot Bikers, American Legion Riders, the VFW Riders and AMVETS, as well as some others they may have picked up along the way.
Ken Smith, captain of the Columbus Chapter of Ohio Patriot Bikers, expressed his feelings, saying “We would do this for any veterans, because they have put their lives on the line for us. It’s something we can do to pay tribute to them.”
Some of the bikers helped unload the truck, but it was the Junior ROTC students who attacked the job with a will and, under the direction of Sean Flaherty, historian, and Mike Strahle, director, of the Eyes of Freedom, had the truck unloaded and the large painting into Veterans Hall and mounted on their bases in little more than an hour.
Flaharty said this was one of the most efficient unloading jobs they’ve experienced.
“It can be a three-hour job, with large, bulky and awkward items to haul in without a regular loading dock. We were able to park the truck in front of the building and the volunteers got everything right up the stairs,” said Flaharty.
“It was a great honor being able to help set this up,” said ROTC student Isabel Hooley. “It’s a nice exhibit that honors the fallen.”
She added that she would be willing to do it again, even if she has to come back to town to do it.
Another student, Claud Tiqui, agreed with Hooley, and said it was nice just hanging around with all the people for the afternoon.
Snow, who also arranged or the fist visit in January 2013, said she contacted the exhibit to see if they would be willing to return to Mount Vernon, then contacted the county commissioners about using the Memorial Building. She then solicited community donations to pay for the visit. Most of he donations came from community members, but the Community Foundation of Mount Vernon & Knox County and Ariel Foundation also made contributions.
The exhibit will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., through Friday.
“The last time it was here it closed at 5 p.m. and we had a lot of people who said they were disappointed because they couldn’t get in to see it,” Snow said.