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Archive for Friday, April 27, 2007

Painter’s images of fallen soldiers help families cope, remember

April 27, 2007

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A painted collage of Army Pfc. Jeremy Lee Drexler, 23, by artist Dick Budig.

A painted collage of Army Pfc. Jeremy Lee Drexler, 23, by artist Dick Budig.

Debbie Drexler had heard about artist Dick Budig and she had a request.

The Berryton woman had learned that the artist made it his goal to paint portraits of Nebraska soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and give them to family members.

Last month, Drexler asked, "Would Budig, a former Nebraskan who now lives in Oklahoma, do a painting of a Kansan?"

Drexler's son, Army Pfc. Jeremy Lee Drexler, 23, had been killed in action by an improvised explosive device on May 2, 2004, in Baghdad.

Budig, brother of former Kansas University Chancellor Gene Budig, agreed to do the painting.

"It's true. I'm a Nebraskan dedicated to painting deceased Nebraska servicemen and women, but when Mrs. Drexler contacted me, I couldn't turn her down," Budig said. "After all, her son paid the same price as have Nebraskans, or soldiers from any other state. State lines don't mean much when it comes to dying in a war."

Drexler received the 16-by-20-inch oil painting last week, just in time for the third anniversary of her son's death.

"I love it," she said. "He (painted a collage) of him when he was little, of the last time we saw him and of him sitting on a tank in Iraq. It's really pretty. It's awesome."

Budig said he was inspired to do the portraits when he participated in the Faces of the Fallen art project, which involved hundreds of artists contributing paintings of fallen soldiers based on photos.

The Faces of the Fallen paintings were exhibited at the Women In Military Service For America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. The exhibit is now on a nationwide tour. The paintings will be donated to the soldier's families after the tour.

The artist said he remembers air raid drills in his hometown during World War II. An Army Air Force base was located about a dozen miles north of McCook, Neb., and the sound of low-flying bombers was a daily occurrence.

Drexler said she will hang the painting in the office in her home, where she has set up a memorial for her son.

Jeremy Drexler, who was buried in Penwell-Gable Cemetery in Topeka, went by the nickname "Spider Monkey." His mother plans to take some stuffed toy monkeys and flowers to his grave on Wednesday, the anniversary of his death.

"He was a good person and he always cared about everybody else," she said.

Drexler wrote a letter of thanks to Budig and made him a yellow ribbon magnet with Jeremy's name.

She said it was only a small token of thanks compared to what Budig did for her and her husband, Karl.

"It's good there's a few people out there who care," she said.

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