Skip
Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

2 minute read

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.

  • <p>Age: 32<br />
Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina <br />
Date of Birth: March 31, 1975<br />
Date of Passing: March 11, 2008<br />
Incident Location: Near Kishkishkia, Iraq<br />
Branch of Military: United States Army<br />
Rank: Staff Sergeant<br />
Unit: 3rd Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne<br />
Unit Base: Fort Bragg, North Carolina</p>
  • <p>Age: 21<br />
Hometown: Rivera Beach, Florida <br />
Date of Birth: March 26, 1984<br />
Date of Passing: September 28, 2005<br />
Incident Location: Camp Bucca, Iraq<br />
Branch of Military: United States Air Force<br />
Rank: Airman 1st Class<br />
Unit: 17th Security Force Squadron<br />
Unit Base: Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas</p>
  • <p>Age: 22<br />
Hometown: Walnut Creek, California<br />
Date of Birth: September 6, 1984<br />
Date of Passing: April 4, 2007<br />
Incident Location: Balad, Iraq<br />
Branch of Military: United States Army<br />
Rank: Specialist<br />
Unit: 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division<br />
Unit Base: Fort Hood, Texas</p>
  • <p>Age: 21<br />
Hometown: Concord, California<br />
Date of Birth: July 19, 1983<br />
Date of Passing: September 6, 2004<br />
Incident Location: Al Anbar Province, Iraq<br />
Branch of Military: United States Marine Corps<br />
Rank: Corporal<br />
Unit: 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division<br />
Unit Base: Camp Pendleton, California</p>
  • <p>Age: 28<br />
Hometown: Claremore, Oklahoma <br />
Date of Birth: October 26, 1976<br />
Date of Passing: February 16, 2005<br />
Incident Location: Ramadi, Iraq<br />
Branch of Military: United States Army<br />
Rank: Staff Sergeant<br />
Unit: 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division <br />
Unit Base: Camp Hovey, Korea</p>
  • <p>Age: 20<br />
Hometown: Crownsville, Maryland <br />
Date of Birth: February 15, 1985<br />
Date of Passing: January 14, 2006<br />
Incident Location: Haditha, Iraq<br />
Branch of Military: United States Marine Corps<br />
Rank: Corporal<br />
Unit: 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Expedition<br />
Unit Base: Camp Pendleton, California</p>
  • <p>Age: 20<br />
Hometown: Livingston, California <br />
Date of Birth: January 2, 1983<br />
Date of Passing: November 2, 2003<br />
Incident Location: Fallujah, Iraq<br />
Branch of Military: United States Army<br />
Rank: Private 1st Class<br />
Unit: 16th Signal Battalion<br />
Unit Base: Fort Hood, Texas</p>
  • <p>Age: 30<br />
Hometown: Cameron, Missouri <br />
Date of Birth: November 6, 1978<br />
Date of Passing: January 26, 2009<br />
Incident Location: Kirkuk, Iraq<br />
Branch of Military: United States Army<br />
Rank: Chief Warrant Officer<br />
Unit: 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, <br />
10th Mountain Division<br />
Unit Base: Fort Drum, New York</p>
  • <p>Age: 31<br />
Hometown: Victoria, Texas <br />
Date of Birth: May 14, 1973<br />
Date of Passing: April 24, 2005<br />
Incident Location: Baghdad, Iraq<br />
Branch of Military: United States Army<br />
Rank: Corporal<br />
Unit: 1st Battalion, 9th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division<br />
Unit Base: Fort Stewart, Georgia</p>
  • <p>Age: 21 <br />
Hometown: Edmonton, Kentucky <br />
Date of Birth: April 16, 1983<br />
Date of Passing: March 30, 2005<br />
Incident Location: Iraq<br />
Branch of Military: United States Army<br />
Rank: Sergeant<br />
Unit: 1st Battalion, 623rd Field Artillery Regiment <br />
Unit Base: Tompkinsville, Kentucky</p>
  • <p>Age: 22<br />
Hometown: Orange, California <br />
Date of Birth: September 24, 1981<br />
Date of Passing: May 1, 2004<br />
Incident Location: Tikrit, Iraq<br />
Branch of Military: United States Army<br />
Rank: Specialist<br />
Unit: 24th Quartermaster Company<br />
Unit Base: Fort Lewis, Washington</p>
  • <p>Age: 28<br />
Hometown: Barstow, California<br />
Date of Birth: May 16, 1979<br />
Date of Passing: July 6, 2007<br />
Incident Location: Baghdad, Iraq<br />
Branch of Military: United States Navy<br />
Rank: Petty Officer First Class<br />
Unit: East Coast-based SEAL Team<br />
Unit Base: Norfolk, Virginia</p>
  • <p>Age: 21<br />
Hometown: Bel Aire, Kansas <br />
Date of Birth: March 2, 1986<br />
Date of Passing: April 29, 2007<br />
Incident Location: Baghdad, Iraq<br />
Branch of Military: United States Army<br />
Rank: Sergeant<br />
Unit: 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, <br />
2nd Infantry<br />
Unit Base: Fort Carson, Colorado</p>
  • <p>Age: 26<br />
Hometown: Austin, Texas<br />
Date of Birth: October 8, 1978<br />
Date of Passing: August 1, 2005<br />
Incident Location: Haditha, Iraq<br />
Branch of Military: United States Marine Corps<br />
Rank: Lance Corporal<br />
Unit: 4th Reconnaissance Battalion, 4th Marine Division<br />
Unit Base: San Antonio, Texas</p>
  • <p>Age: 19<br />
Hometown: Marktown, Indiana <br />
Date of Birth: 20 August 20, 1985<br />
Date of Passing: 27 August 27, 2004<br />
Incident Location: Fallujah, Iraq<br />
Branch of Military: United States Army<br />
Rank: Private First Class<br />
Unit: 223rd Transportation Company<br />
Unit Base: Norristown, Pennsylvania</p>
  • 01 /20 | SSG Laurent J. West
  • 02 /20

    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

  • 03 /20 | A1C Elizabeth N. Jacobson
  • 04 /20

    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

  • 05 /20 | SPC James J. Coon
  • 06 /20

    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

  • 07 /20 | Cpl Mick R. Bekowsky
  • 08 /20

    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

  • 09 /20 | SSG Jason R. Hendrix
  • 10 /20

    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

  • 11 /20 | 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

  • 12 /20 | 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

  • 13 /20 | 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

  • 14 /20 | 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

  • 15 /20 | 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

  • 16 /20 | 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

  • 17 /20 | 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

  • 18 /20 | 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

  • 19 /20 | 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

  • 20 /20 | 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

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."

ARE YOU REGISTERED TO VOTE?
Register now to make sure you have a voice in the election.
loading