Operation: Home Ties is an ongoing volunteer mission by portrait artist, Gina Johnson and her brother Paul Roth honoring the memory of ALL our fallen servicemen and women, starting with those who have ties to Massachusetts and served since 9/11/01, by replacing each name with a detailed pencil Memory Portrait, presenting the original portrait to their family and sharing the images on a Traveling Tribute Wall called “Faces of Remembrance” as a grateful reminder that we remain land of the free because of our brave.
The project’s inspiration came to Gina in December 2007, after seeing an online tribute to our Massachusetts Fallen Heroes. Accessing the links to photos and articles, Gina – a self proclaimed “volunteer-aholic” and mother of two, made a personal connection as she looked into each of their eyes and read the heartfelt message repeated by their parents saying that they did not want their son or daughter to be forgotten. It was at that moment that she felt compelled to reach out using her artistic touch to pay it forward to each family by presenting them with a hand drawn memory portrait of their loved one as a gesture of support and healing.
While discussing her project with the owner of a popular Woburn restaurant in April 2008, Gina suggested the idea of possibly setting up her table easel one night a week to share the progress of the portraits with his customers. Without hesitation, Peter Mamakos agreed to join forces to make “The Restaurant” at 489 Main Street – home base for Operation: Home Ties where Gina can be found every Monday night from 5:30 to closing since their official kick-off date on May 5, 2008.
Accessing photos of the fallen heroes from either newspaper articles or directly from families to draw the memory portraits, Gina had completed 44 portraits just as the elections were taking place to elect our 44th President. Thanks to an offer of help from her brother Paul, the suggestion was made and plans put into motion to display all the hometown heroes side by side for the first public exhibit of “Faces of Remembrance”, which was held on January 30, 2009 at the Burlington American Legion Hall. That night, State Senator Ken Donnelly, who was in attendance, resolved to bring this exhibit to the Massachusetts State House; a promise that he kept on June 10, 2009 when he co-hosted an event with Senate President Therese Murray. Since that day, Gina and her brother have remained dedicated in their efforts to share the positive message of this memorial as a celebration of these hometown heroes’ lives by bringing the Traveling Tribute portrait exhibit to towns and cities across Massachusetts. For Gina, the eyes have always been the focus of her portraits, which she believes are the mirrors of the soul. And it is through the eyes of each memory portrait that Gina hopes to capture the attention of every person who views the exhibit so that these hometown heroes’ names and images will be forever etched in their hearts and minds.
It is the wish of all involved in this heartfelt mission, that this tribute display continues to be a living memorial to highlight and recognize not only the ultimate sacrifice made by these fallen heroes but also those men and women who are still serving, those that have served, those who continue to recover from related physical or emotional injuries…AND their families. They are all true American heroes.