A record-setting 110,045 fans gathered in Ohio Stadium for “The Game” on Saturday afternoon. Some of them, however, took a detour to visit the Eyes of Freedom: Lima Company Memorial, which was displayed in Ohio State’s Remembrance Park, that splash of grass between The ‘Shoe and Converse Hall, which hosts the university’s ROTC program.
The traveling exhibit, created by local artist Anita Miller, consists of nine panels featuring full body paintings of 26 marines and one Navy corpsman who died while serving with the Columbus-based Lima Company, part of the 3/25 Marine Reserve unit. The project took 2 1/2 years to complete.
The memorial features boots the service members wore in training or while fighting — donated by their family members — at the feet of the exhibit’s portraits. Mike Strahle, a Lima Company veteran, said the boots really engage visitors.
“People leave notes and tokens of thanks in the boots from complete strangers, from all around the country and when they fill up we empty them out and send them back to the families,” he said.
In March 2005, Strahle was deployed to Western Iraq as a member of the Lima Company, which was made up of about 190 service members.
But when the unit returned to Ohio after its deployment, it was with 23 fewer men. An additional three men who were not members of the unit, but were assigned to fight alongside the company, also died. It was one of the hardest-hit units in regards to casualties acquired during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“We didn’t have the best vehicles to defend against (roadside bombs) at all, and there was a lot of faith put into to us not hitting any,” Strahle said. “Unfortunately, we hit two very large ones. So of the 26 men (lost), 20 of them were lost in those roadside bombs alone.”
Strahle suffered injuries alongside his unit in one of the roadside blasts, leaving him with shrapnel in his body. He was able to make a full recovery and now works for Eyes of Freedom.
“I have the best job in the world now, I get to talk about my guys, and their story represents us all,” Strahle said.
Although some of the unit’s men had attended Ohio State prior to their deployment in 2005, the memorial had never visited the OSU campus before Saturday. Steffon Corna, a fourth-year in political science and member of Vets 4 Vets, the student organization which organized the event, said he hopes the memorial will visit campus more often now.
“The connection is still strong — and is always going to be strong — between Ohio State and Lima Company, because there’s so many veterans that have served with that unit, or family members that are now here at Ohio State as students,” Corna said.
The memorial has traveled all over the nation since being unveiled in 2008 at the Ohio Statehouse. Saturday was the 230th showing.