Faces Of The Fallen

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Artist John Phelps painted his son, Pfc. Chance Phelps, who was killed last April in a gunfight outside Baghdad.
CBS

There were a few more tears than usual at Arlington National Cemetery Tuesday. That's where a new art exhibition, "The Faces of the Fallen," is opening.

As CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod reports, it shows the faces of the 1,322 American warriors who lost their lives between the start of the war in Afghanistan and Veterans Day.

"This is to honor these men and women who have died, period," says portrait artist Annette Polan, who organized a couple of hundred artists to paint the portraits.

Polan's vision was to focus on the faces, not the uniforms.

"As I'm painting it, I'm thinking about this boy - not the soldier - but the boy," she says.

In the process, she got to know men she's never met and never will, like Navy Lt. Thomas Adams.

"I look into his eyes, I feel his skin," she says about Adams.

Of Marine 2nd Lt. Shane Childers, she says, "I'm painting these soft lips, and I'm thinking, 'You know, I hope he's had a girlfriend, I hope he's tasted a kiss,'" she says.

Artist John Phelps didn't have to wonder about the Marine he painted.

"It came very easy, very easy," he says. "It surprised me."

His subject was his son.

Pfc. Chance Phelps was killed last April in a gunfight outside Baghdad and is buried near his father's ranch in Wyoming.

His father says there was something healing for him in doing the portrait.

"I wouldn't call it closure, but it was healing," he says.

The families Polan has heard from have all been grateful.

"They don't care so much what it looks like," she says.

The families, she says, are more responsive to "the need to know their son or daughter mattered. That they were someone and that they aren't forgotten."

Which is what the tears are all about. Not that the memories would've faded, but it's that these portraits keep them all just a little sharper.