They arrived May 29 in Delaware, with a display of pomp befitting the heroes they depict.

Now, the Eyes of Freedom memorial's life-sized paintings of 23 U.S. Marines are ready to move on after watching over the Army National Guard Armory on Houk Road for five days.

The paintings -- which remain on view through 3 p.m. Sunday, June 3, at the armory, 1121 S. Houk Road -- depict members of the Columbus-based Lima Company of the Marine Corps Reserves killed in Iraq in 2005.

The display came into Delaware on May 29 guided by a motorcycle procession and greeted by waving flags and Delaware residents lining the streets.

Among those setting up the display May 29 was Mike Strahle, a Lima Company veteran who served with the men during that deployment.

"I knew all of them. I was fairly close with about half of them," Strahle said. "I was in one of the roadside bombs that took six of our guys."

Before he began touring with Eyes of Freedom, Strahle said, "I was struggling with some survivor's guilt, some other issues that a lot of our veterans are facing when they return home. I was no different. I was battling. I was getting through it. I was kind of day to day.

"Got the good job, I have a great family. It was tough on some relationships that I was in."

Eyes of Freedom has been described as having a healing effect on those touched by the Iraq War. Strahle said the traveling memorial has helped heal him.

"It's done a lot of amazing things for me," he said. "We travel this thing outwardly trying to reach veterans -- thank them, reach them and their families -- and all the while it's helping me, without me even knowing it. It's been a lifesaver for me."

Having the opportunity to travel with the display and "tell this story is the best job I could ever ask for," Strahle said.

"Over the years of doing this, I've gotten very close to some of the families of the men," he said. "I know it means the world to them that (the paintings) continue traveling and it just keeps continuing to grow."

Strahle rode with the motorcycle motorcade into Delaware.

It was "a heck of a welcome," Strahle said. "I got emotional on the bike. Having the community rally around even our arrival was pretty special. I think it probably tells how the week's going to go here. We've never been to Delaware, Ohio. We've got a local boy here we lost from our unit, Justin Hoffman, and it's been a long time coming that we needed to bring the full-size artwork to town."

Sean Flaharty became involved with Eyes of Freedom while artist and then-Columbus resident Anita Miller still was working on the paintings.

A Grove City resident who once worked with Hoffman at Nationwide Insurance, Flaharty has accompanied the memorial as it has traveled to multiple locations around the country.

It has since touched many lives, he said.

"When we started going outside the state of Ohio, where no one knows about Lima Company or their legacy, it became this powerful machine that really, really helped," he said. "The people who don't know anything about those men, they open up to those portraits and they let a lot of stuff out. That's what we're about. We're honoring all who answer our nation's call then, now and tomorrow."

Strahle joined the traveling memorial after it made its first five stops in a tour that began about eight years ago.

"Having all of those pieces fall in place before I came on board made it real easy for me," he said. "All I had to do is tell my personal story with Lima Company, having served with them, talking about the guys, what we accomplished over there, and just book a few events. After that, it took off like a rocket. It's been great ever since."

"Everywhere we go around this country," Flaharty said, "I get to share a story when people ask about (Hoffman). He's the only one in the portrait with a weapon, and he's one of the only ones who's not looking directly at you. He's looking beyond, like, 'I have another mission.' This is clearly another mission. It's helped so many people around the country. ... The family, this has been very therapeutic for them, very much a healing process.

"The original idea behind the reason Anita Miller painted them was to do something for the moms and dads of those men, and the men like Mike Strahle who came home."

Eyes of Freedom, Flaharty said, "completely just changed my life and it really has taught me a lot of stuff. I always really wanted to bring the full display here because of Justin being from this area, and it means a lot to me personally."

Eyes of Freedom was brought to Delaware by AMVETS Post 102 and American Legion Post 115.

For more information on Eyes of Freedom, visit limacompanymemorial.org.

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