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'Faces of the Fallen'

From Brian Todd

Wolf Blitzer Reports

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Some seem ready to say hi, with hand extended. Others are more haunting. Collectively, they are overwhelming -- portraits of lives cut short.

Roger Kritzer looks at a portrait of his son, Pfc. Brad Kritzer, and says, "It's a likeness of our son, his smile, his blue eyes ... It really ..."

Fathers can't finish their sentences. Mothers cry.

Their children are among this gallery of heroes. More than 1,300 servicemen and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are honored in an exhibit called "Faces of the Fallen."

Rex Rogers recounts how he lost his son, Spc. Philip Rogers. "My son was drivin' a 5-ton truck ...This girl was ridin' shotgun ... It was a roadside bomb."

The deaths take a wrenching toll on parents -- and artists.

B.G. Muhn spent months on his portraits. He got so close to his subjects, he says, that the soldiers appeared in his dreams.

"They're coming to me and try to express -- I don't know exactly what, but they're with me ... They haunt me, I guess beyond the level of my current consciousness," Muhn says.

Muhn's work on this project is prolific. He and his family alone have done more than 30 portraits. But he's just one of more than 200 artists who've contributed their time and talent. It's a massive undertaking, all inspired by one woman and her own personal loss.

Annette Polan says she spent about a month on her couch after her mother died early last year.

Then she picked up a newspaper and saw a huge spread: Photographs of lost servicemen.

"I looked at it, and it was one of those 'eureka' moments. I said 'This is a portrait gallery, and I'm a portrait painter. I'm going to create something that will be more lasting,'" Polan says.

They'll certainly last with Marine Cpl. Charles Lauersdorf, who looks at the portraits of 27 buddies he lost in the Sunni Triangle last year.

"To come back and see them, there's almost a sense of guilt is associated with it," Lauersdorf says.

They'll last with the memory of 21-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Elias Torrez, whose parents came all the way from central Texas.

"There's really no words for a fallen hero. You know it's very emotional to see that beautiful portrait," his mother, Martha Ramirez-Torrez, says.

Emotions overtake a hardened Vietnam vet who lost his oldest boy.

"It's hard -- very difficult for me ... They say freedom, it's just not free. There's a lot of pain and suffering that goes along with it," Rex Rogers says.

The exhibit runs through Labor Day at the Women's Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Organizers hope to take it around the country after that.

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