A fallen Marine from North Texas is being remembered with a special portrait painted for his parents. The piece was unveiled this afternoon during an emotional ceremony at Liberty Plaza in Farmers Branch.
More than three years after losing their son, Angela and J.B. Johnston wanted to capture his spirit through an artist's hand.
"There's an emptiness that you carry with you forever," Angela said.
"As parents, that's all you can hope for: Don't let him be forgotten," J.B. said.
Marine Sgt. Gary S. Johnston died at age 21 in a bomb blast in Iraq on January 23, 2007.
"I knew what could happen, and it did," J.B. said. "Didn't want to lose him. Didn't want the family to have to go through again what we went through in 1970."
J.B. lost his own brother in the Vietnam War. He named his son after Gary C. Johnston. The younger Gary wanted to follow in his uncle's footsteps, against his parents' wishes.
But the time for grieving has passed. The Johnstons are ready to smile.
"It is my pleasure to present to you Gary S. Johnston," Phil Taylor, the artist from Carrolton, said as he unveiled the portrait on stage in front of a crowd at Liberty Fest.
The portrait was painted from a photograph of Gary taken by a fellow Marine who served with him. The Johnstons recognize his expression. "He just pulled a good one on somebody," J.B. said.
Taylor never met Gary but he feels like he got to know him while behind the brush.
"Asking him to cooperate, to respond, and to be present," Taylor said. "To help me bring him back to life."
"You just get drawn into the eyes and wonder what's behind there," Angela said. "What does he know? What does he see?"
The Johnstons will hang the painting on the wall of their den.
"And he's saying it's time for everyone to heal," J.B. said.
"Yes, it's ok," Angela said.
Taylor painted the portrait as part of his non-profit effort The American Fallen Soldiers Project. He has done dozens of similar portraits since 2006.