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A Hallway of Heroes
Portraits unveiled at program honoring campus veterans
By By Jill Meier
Challenger editor

November 11. 2013 7:46AM
Tears welled in up in the eyes of Dan Finch last week as he stood before a wall decorated with 40 portraits of American heroes.

“It brings tears to your eyes,” said the longtime U.S. Navy veteran. “I’m proud of it, very proud of it.”

The 40 portraits – one of which was of Finch himself – were unveiled following a Veterans Day program staged last week at Bethany Meadows/Bethany Home – Brandon. The portraits, which will remain on the walls of the “Hallway of Heroes” through early January, were the realization of a yearlong dream that was realized with financial assistance in the form of a grant from the Sheldon F. Reese Foundation and the talents of local photographer, Kara Hansen.

“It (the portrait display) means I’m part of America, and I’m proud of it,” Finch went on to say as he made his way past the portrait exhibit. “I’ve seen a lot of countries in years, but there’s no place better than America.”

Trevor Guthmiller, Bethany’s director of development, said the portrait project was simply to honor the veterans who reside at Bethany.

“When we first started talking about this … to see this crowd today and to see families taking pictures of their loved ones with their portraits, is just so wonderful,” he said.

Guthmiller said the portrait project surfaced following Veterans Day last year. With a hallway of bare walls linking Bethany Meadows to Bethany Home – Brandon, Guthmiller and staff put the portrait project into motion.

“Once we had that space out there … it came to me that we have a lot of veterans who live out here, and it would nice to honor them,” he said. “These are a special group of people representing all branches that gave their service to this country.”

Earlier this year, Hansen spent about a week at Bethany photographing the veterans in a patriotic setting – some in uniform, some in their Sunday best. She, along with Bethany staff also listened to the many amazing stories the veterans shared of their military service careers. They also came with photographs from their military service, of which one was imposed into each of the portraits, along with their name and branch of service.

“What was fun is when they came in we got a chance to talk with them and hear about their military service,” Guthmiller said.

At the conclusion of the exhibit, the portraits will be given to the veteran and/or their family.

There was much more to last week’s Veterans Day program at Bethany. Prior to the opening of the portrait exhibit, the capacity crowd heard from Rev. Norris Einertson, who gave 29 years of service to his country as an Army chaplain, Lt. Col. Reid Christofferson of the South Dakota Air Natonal Guard.

Christofferson explained that military personnel “are bound by images. … The first cameras on the battlefield brought back images, and it’s those images that capture so much,” he said. “But today we have an opportunity to walk down the hall and see the portraits of veterans.

“They say a picture speaks a thousand words. The pictures that will hang in these halls will speak volumes of words.”
Two Bethany residents – Elmer Cohlmann, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946, and Wendall Hanson, a man who survived 35 missions in a bomber over Germany – crash-landing three times – shared recollections from their military service. Hanson talked of a fellow pilot, Thomas J. Smith, whom he still refers to as “his hero” today.

“He was one of the best,” Hanson said of Smith, who hailed from a small town in Arkansas named Happy Valley. “In flight training, I never met anyone who could step into a plane and feel of the life of that plane.”

Smith didn’t make it home, Hanson said, as his plane went down while on a mission.

Residents and family members take in the portraits of veterans on display on the "Wall of Heroes" at Bethany Meadows/Bethany Home-Brandon. The portrait exhibit was unveiled last week following a program honoring the veterans who reside on the Bethany campus. The portraits will be on exhibit through early January. Photo by Jill Meier

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