of fallen soldiers help families cope, remember
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
Drexler received the 16-by-20-inch oil painting
last week, just in time for the third anniversary of her son’s
“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.