Sketching veterans recovering from war, so their stories aren't lost

(CBS News) For nearly 100 years, since World War I, the U.S. military has used combat artists to create a visual record of America's wars.

Among those artists in Iraq and Afghanistan was a Marine named Michael Fay.

CBS News correspondent Chip Reid reports now that he is out of the service, he is documenting America's war veterans as they fight a new battle.

Fay brought the tools of his trade -- pencils and a sketch pad -- as he visited Marine Lance Corporal Timothy Donley at Walter Reed Hospital. His mission was not only to draw Donley, but to draw him out.

Donley lost both legs and part of an arm in Afghanistan, but told Fay he's one of the lucky ones.

"You see a lot of these guys and they've got so much worse injuries," Donley said.

Fay's sketches, including names and details of what happened, have been displayed in museums around the country. He started the project 15 months ago.

Fay says he does these sketches "to get their stories into the culture, into history, so it doesn't get lost."

Down the hall, Fay sketched as Marine Corporal Josh Lopez told his story, with his wife and baby by his side.

"And I'm looking at my leg and my hand and I couldn't put the tourniquet on and that's when I started screaming for Sergeant K to help out. It was the only time that I felt useless," Lopez recalled.

Fay said his art is trying to get the American people to pay attention, "to wake up."

Fay was an active duty Marine for nearly 20 years, including service in Iraq and Afghanistan. He says he knows how it feels to be in a war that the American people seem to have forgotten.

"At a forward operating base in Afghanistan, it's written on the wall: 'America's at the mall, Marines are here fighting.' We have such a good forgetter in our culture. We celebrate things that are sometimes so vapid and without substance but they're easy to tell. Now, this is a hard story to tell," Fay said.

One of Fay's most memorable subjects is 22-year-old Lance Corporal Kyle Carpenter, who proudly displays a Purple Heart on his fake eye. Carpenter took a direct hit from a grenade in Afghanistan. The impact nearly blew off his jaw and he's had more than 30 surgeries. Carpenter has posed twice for Fay.

"People need to actually see and not just hear what's going on, how guys are coming back, what type of wounds, what type of scars, what type of stories they're coming back with. Mike has an amazing ability to paint that picture, and sketch that sketch," Carpenter said.

Fay also puts a face on the nation's wars.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.

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