SSG Laurent J. West
SSG Laurent J. West

Age: 32
Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina
Date of Birth: March 31, 1975
Date of Passing: March 11, 2008
Incident Location: Near Kishkishkia, Iraq
Branch of Military: United States Army
Rank: Staff Sergeant
Unit: 3rd Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne
Unit Base: Fort Bragg, North Carolina

A1C Elizabeth N. Jacobson

Age: 32
Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina
Date of Birth: March 31, 1975
Date of Passing: March 11, 2008
Incident Location: Near Kishkishkia, Iraq
Branch of Military: United States Army
Rank: Staff Sergeant
Unit: 3rd Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne
Unit Base: Fort Bragg, North Carolina

A1C Elizabeth N. Jacobson

Age: 21
Hometown: Rivera Beach, Florida
Date of Birth: March 26, 1984
Date of Passing: September 28, 2005
Incident Location: Camp Bucca, Iraq
Branch of Military: United States Air Force
Rank: Airman 1st Class
Unit: 17th Security Force Squadron
Unit Base: Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas

SPC James J. Coon

Age: 21
Hometown: Rivera Beach, Florida
Date of Birth: March 26, 1984
Date of Passing: September 28, 2005
Incident Location: Camp Bucca, Iraq
Branch of Military: United States Air Force
Rank: Airman 1st Class
Unit: 17th Security Force Squadron
Unit Base: Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas

SPC James J. Coon

Age: 22
Hometown: Walnut Creek, California
Date of Birth: September 6, 1984
Date of Passing: April 4, 2007
Incident Location: Balad, Iraq
Branch of Military: United States Army
Rank: Specialist
Unit: 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division
Unit Base: Fort Hood, Texas

Cpl Mick R. Bekowsky

Age: 22
Hometown: Walnut Creek, California
Date of Birth: September 6, 1984
Date of Passing: April 4, 2007
Incident Location: Balad, Iraq
Branch of Military: United States Army
Rank: Specialist
Unit: 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division
Unit Base: Fort Hood, Texas

Cpl Mick R. Bekowsky

Age: 21
Hometown: Concord, California
Date of Birth: July 19, 1983
Date of Passing: September 6, 2004
Incident Location: Al Anbar Province, Iraq
Branch of Military: United States Marine Corps
Rank: Corporal
Unit: 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division
Unit Base: Camp Pendleton, California

SSG Jason R. Hendrix

Age: 21
Hometown: Concord, California
Date of Birth: July 19, 1983
Date of Passing: September 6, 2004
Incident Location: Al Anbar Province, Iraq
Branch of Military: United States Marine Corps
Rank: Corporal
Unit: 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division
Unit Base: Camp Pendleton, California

SSG Jason R. Hendrix

Age: 28
Hometown: Claremore, Oklahoma
Date of Birth: October 26, 1976
Date of Passing: February 16, 2005
Incident Location: Ramadi, Iraq
Branch of Military: United States Army
Rank: Staff Sergeant
Unit: 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division
Unit Base: Camp Hovey, Korea

Cpl Justin J. Watts

Age: 20
Hometown: Crownsville, Maryland
Date of Birth: February 15, 1985
Date of Passing: January 14, 2006
Incident Location: Haditha, Iraq
Branch of Military: United States Marine Corps
Rank: Corporal
Unit: 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Expedition
Unit Base: Camp Pendleton, California

PFC Karina S. Lau

Age: 20
Hometown: Livingston, California
Date of Birth: January 2, 1983
Date of Passing: November 2, 2003
Incident Location: Fallujah, Iraq
Branch of Military: United States Army
Rank: Private 1st Class
Unit: 16th Signal Battalion
Unit Base: Fort Hood, Texas

CWO Matthew G. Kelley

Age: 30
Hometown: Cameron, Missouri
Date of Birth: November 6, 1978
Date of Passing: January 26, 2009
Incident Location: Kirkuk, Iraq
Branch of Military: United States Army
Rank: Chief Warrant Officer
Unit: 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade,
10th Mountain Division
Unit Base: Fort Drum, New York

CPL Gary W. Walters

Age: 31
Hometown: Victoria, Texas
Date of Birth: May 14, 1973
Date of Passing: April 24, 2005
Incident Location: Baghdad, Iraq
Branch of Military: United States Army
Rank: Corporal
Unit: 1st Battalion, 9th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division
Unit Base: Fort Stewart, Georgia

SGT Eric L. Toth

Age: 21
Hometown: Edmonton, Kentucky
Date of Birth: April 16, 1983
Date of Passing: March 30, 2005
Incident Location: Iraq
Branch of Military: United States Army
Rank: Sergeant
Unit: 1st Battalion, 623rd Field Artillery Regiment
Unit Base: Tompkinsville, Kentucky

SPC Trevor A. Win’E

Age: 22
Hometown: Orange, California
Date of Birth: September 24, 1981
Date of Passing: May 1, 2004
Incident Location: Tikrit, Iraq
Branch of Military: United States Army
Rank: Specialist
Unit: 24th Quartermaster Company
Unit Base: Fort Lewis, Washington

PO1C Steven P. Daugherty

Age: 28
Hometown: Barstow, California
Date of Birth: May 16, 1979
Date of Passing: July 6, 2007
Incident Location: Baghdad, Iraq
Branch of Military: United States Navy
Rank: Petty Officer First Class
Unit: East Coast-based SEAL Team
Unit Base: Norfolk, Virginia

SGT Alexander J. Funcheon

Age: 21
Hometown: Bel Aire, Kansas
Date of Birth: March 2, 1986
Date of Passing: April 29, 2007
Incident Location: Baghdad, Iraq
Branch of Military: United States Army
Rank: Sergeant
Unit: 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team,
2nd Infantry
Unit Base: Fort Carson, Colorado

LCpl Roger D. Castleberry Jr.

Age: 26
Hometown: Austin, Texas
Date of Birth: October 8, 1978
Date of Passing: August 1, 2005
Incident Location: Haditha, Iraq
Branch of Military: United States Marine Corps
Rank: Lance Corporal
Unit: 4th Reconnaissance Battalion, 4th Marine Division
Unit Base: San Antonio, Texas

PFC Luis A. Perez

Age: 19
Hometown: Marktown, Indiana
Date of Birth: 20 August 20, 1985
Date of Passing: 27 August 27, 2004
Incident Location: Fallujah, Iraq
Branch of Military: United States Army
Rank: Private First Class
Unit: 223rd Transportation Company
Unit Base: Norristown, Pennsylvania

Co.Create

Lest We Forget: Retro-Styled Posters Personalize Fallen Soldiers

Artist—and member of the U.S. Armed Forces—Poto Leifi puts a new, poignant face on classic WWII posters.

Poto Leifi designed belts, blue jeans, shoes, and vintage jazz posters, but what he really wanted to do, in post-9/11 America, was join the Army. The only problem: Leifi, in his mid-thirties, was too old.

So he did the next best thing and crafted graphic tributes to members of the U.S. Armed Forces who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The resulting collection, Freedom’s On Me, exhibited Friday through June 1 at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, features the faces of deceased soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and National Guardsmen as the focal point for retro-styled posters imbued with Norman Rockwell-era optimism.

Modern War, Retro Graphics

In 2005, Leifi said, "I updated all these World War II posters with this traditional, Americana art direction, and then I started looking at body counts online to see how many body bags were coming home. I put the face of one soldier on a poster, and the minute I did that, the artwork came to life. It was haunting. I thought, This is it."

Modeling his art on photographs found on Legacy.com's compilation of U.S. war dead, Leifi made samples and sent them to families of the fallen soldiers. Word spread, Leifi says. "They started taking their posters to Gold Star meetings and rallies, and another mother would see it, and she’d be like, 'I want one of those for my kid.'"

When families contact Leifi about creating a piece, he asks for a few photographs and seven words that best summarize their son or daughter’s personality. Leifi says, "Gruff? Nice? Smiley person? Sense of humor? That’s all I need; seven words to describe their essence, and I’ll take it from there."

Leifi adds, "I tell the families, these are not portraits; these are like World War II vintage recruiting posters starring your loved one. When it’s presented in this way, a connection happens."

Artist in Uniform

Unexpectedly, Leifi finally got his chance to enlist when the U.S. military lifted age requirements. In 2006, at age 39, Leifi joined the U.S. Army Reserves. Sent to Iraq and later to Afghanistan’s volatile Kandahar province, he’s continued to work on posters in between deployments. "It’s actually good that I joined the military because I learned about the colors, how the uniform is supposed to be, what the dress blues look like," Leifi says. "It’s kind of nerdy, and I used to think it was like Boy Scouts on crack, but now I’ve gotten to the point where I understand why it’s so important to get those details right."

Making it Personal

Leifi provides each participating family with free Freedom’s On Me posters and sells additional copies of the 16-by-20-inch pieces online at $25 each. Revenue goes toward expansion of the initiative. More than 7,500 members of the military have died this century in Iraq and Afghanistan. Leifi wants to make those losses personal.

"When you go to a Memorial Day service, they might unveil a stone or plaque or memorial brick, but stone and granite feels too cold," says Leifi. "My job is to create the piece so it brings out the personality of who the person was. I bring it to the point where strangers are intrigued and want to be part of it. I tell the families, nobody’s forgetting anyone."

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2 Comments

  • Pfcleifi

    Thanks for a well written and great looking article.  We had the opening yesterday and it had a great response.  Thank you for what you've done, it is a tremendous support.  Gold Star Families need our help so I am very grateful to you. 

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