Traveling Iraq War memorial comes to Bozeman, holds special connection


BOZEMAN, Mont. - The traveling Iraq War memorial made a stop in Bozeman. It's called the "Eyes of Freedom" memorial, and features paintings of 23 fallen soldiers from the Lima Company 3rd Battalion 25th Marines, one of the hardest hit units in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Veterans who came to see the memorial explained, the life size portraits honor not just those 23 soldiers, but all who have served in the armed forces. "The feeling I get is that it's timeless," said veteran Jack Pollari. "It's timeless in the sense that these could be men in any war, any of our different wars." Monica Remely explained when she saw the Iraq War Memorial last year in Florida, she knew the Gallatin Valley community had to see it. "It was so powerful just looking into the eyes of these men with so much life who'd given their lives," she said. Remely and her husband worked to bring these 23 paintings, depicting soldiers from one of the hardest hit units in Operation Iraqi Freedom, to Montana. "It's just a great reminder of the freedoms we take for granted," she explained. But, they didn't realize that one of these paintings would have an even deeper connection. The organizers of the event were surprised when they learned that one of the fallen soldiers depicted in memorial was Marine Lance Corporal Nicholas Bloem, a 2003 Belgrade High School graduate. "we were without words when that connection was made," Remely said. Nicholas Bloem was struck and killed by an IED in 2005. "He just cared about people and was very genuine and loved challenges," explained Christina Charlson, one of Nicholas' sisters. She explained the Ohio artist who painted the memorial worked closely with her family as she created the project. The memorial was unveiled in 2008, and has been traveling around the country since. Debbie Bloem, Nicholas's mother, spoke at the event about the serendipitous way the memorial came to Bozeman. The family explained they are honored that Nicholas is part of the memorial, but hope the paintings serve as a reminder for all soldiers who've given the ultimate sacrifice for their country. "There are thousand of others that are still serving and that have served and get forgotten about," Christina said. The Eyes of Freedom Memorial will be on display at Heritage Christian School tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., with a welcome ceremony at 6:30 p.m. The memorial will be on display at Dokken-Nelson Funeral Service, located at 112 South Willson Avenue in Bozeman on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.

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