“It’s so beautiful. She was so beautiful,” says Juanita Tarango, speaking of both the painting and of her daughter.
Master Sgt. Linda Tarango-Griess, 33, was killed July 11, 2004, in Iraq. She was a member of the Nebraska Army National Guard’s 267th Ordinance Company, based in Lincoln with detachments in Gering and Hastings.
The painting that is the dominant
feature on the shelf in the Tarango’s living room was created by
artist Dick Budig of Skiatook, Okla., and formerly of McCook.
Budig is attempting to paint portraits of each service man and
woman from Nebraska who is killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. The
paintings are done free of charge for the mothers of those
Nebraska war casualties.
Although Budig has used the World Wide Web to find the names of Nebraskans who have died, along with their rank, where and how they were killed and their hometowns, he doesn’t contact the families directly.
“I’m reluctant to make contact with a family just out of the blue for fear of offending them or making them wary of my motives,” Budig says. He relies, instead, on families hearing about his project and contacting him.
Budig’s first painting in the project went to Josie Ford of Ogallala, mother of Capt. Travis Ford who was killed in Iraq. A Tarango family member in Lincoln remembered reading the story about Ford’s painting in the Telegraph and contacted Budig.
“They arranged for him to talk to my parents,” says Augie Tarango, Linda’s brother.
The family sent Budig pictures of Linda. And then they largely forgot about it.
Augie recalls the day, about a week ago, that UPS delivered a wooden box to the Tarango household.
“We still didn’t think about what it was,” says Augie, who carefully removed the screws from the wood box that made a secure shipping container for the stretched canvas of the 16-by-20-inch oil painting.
Once the box was open and Augustine and his son realized what it contained, they handed the painting to Juanita.
“She just clutched it close to her, rocking back and forth and crying,” Augie says.
Augie speculates that the arrival of the painting has been one of the better times in the last two-plus years since his parents received word of Linda’s death.
“We think sometimes that she just kind of gave up,” says Augie as he speaks of the two heart attacks and now the renal dialysis that have been part of his mother’s life since Linda died.
Sometimes Juanita Tarango has someone take the painting from its place of honor so she can hold it and admire it more closely.
“It is so great. It is so beautiful and looks so much like her,” says Augustine. His hand rests gently on Juanita’s shoulder as the two of them admire the likeness of their daughter.
“It’s like there is an angel out there and he’s one of them to do this kind of stuff for others,” says Augie of the special joy that Budig’s painting has brought his parents.
“She is always here,” says Augustine as her fingers move across the painting.
Her hand moves to her heart.
“And here,” she says, her voice a soft whisper.