Texas artist painting Texas' fallen service members

Texas artist painting Texas' fallen service members

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LUBBOCK, Texas -

An 82-year-old Air Force veteran started on a mission seven years ago, to paint portraits of Texas service members who died in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So far he has painted more than 300.

Each stroke, tells a story of a Texan who was killed in action.

"When the families see the portrait, I think they really understand that it is the closest thing they are ever going to get to their son or daughter coming back," artist Ken Pridgeon said.

He gives a smaller copy to the families. 

"I had known nothing about it and I was told there was a guy in Baytown, Texas who was in his 80's that was painting portraits of every Texan who had been killed in the global war on terror and I couldn't believe it," Mark Cannon's father, Tom Cannon said. 

Each one includes the service member's personal details.

"It's just a lot of stories involved and to get those stories in the background, I have to do a lot of research, I have to check out their epithets and find out what they enjoyed doing best," Pridgeon said. 

"I just love this, it really is who Mark was. You can see the smile and the gleam in his eyes that he was happy doing what he was doing, he had a job to do and that's what he wanted to do," Cannon said. 

Petty Officer Mark Cannon enlisted in the Navy when he was 27. His father Tom said Mark had found his niche.

The Lubbock sailor volunteered to embed with the Army's 82nd airborne and an Afghan Unit with an embedded training team.

"It was that niche and his passion for helping others, that put Mark in the line of fire," Cannon said. 

"They were on a dismounted patrol and they were ambushed from about four different directions. His buddy, a friend of his that was a Marine in the same unit he was in was hit in the face, in the chest and I think in the leg and he immediately ran to him, tried to secure him and treat his wounds while firing back at the bad guys. He saved that young man, but in the process he got shot in the chest himself and was the only casualty of the encounter," Cannon said.

Pridgeon's portrait of Mark illustrates his love of helping others.

"He was a medic and he was trying to save some of his buddies here," Pridgeon said.

The portrait is also a symbol of the day every parent dreads. 

"You just fear that knock at the door and I got mine on a Tuesday morning at 9 o'clock and I looked around the door, it was open, the storm door was locked and I saw it was a Navy Lieutenant Commander and a Navy Chaplain in full dress blue uniforms, and I thought I don't want to talk to these guys and that's the first thing I said to them. I said I really don't want to talk to you and they said well sir, you have to talk to us and I said I know, come in," Cannon said. 

Mark had one year left in his contract, and had already considered re-upping. 

"I knew he was doing the job he wanted to do and he was proud of it and I was proud of him for doing it and the Commander even asked, 'are you surprised he ran out in the middle of all this?' And I wouldn't doubt he'd do anything differently. That's just who he was," Cannon said.  

Mark eventually received a Bronze Star with Valor, for saving Ian Parrish's life.

"They finally got around to giving Ian a Bronze Star for an event that happened one week exactly to the day Mark was killed. They came under attack in this little bunker they were hiding in, when they were under attack and Ian ran out and found a grenade launcher, and quelled the attack and saved everybody so he got a bronze star. This was not just Mark doing the brave things," Cannon said. 

The walls in the Cannon home are decorated with memories of Mark. 

"I miss him, but I could never be more proud of what he did," Cannon said. "His life was short, but he packed more into it than a lot of people do."

The walls in Ken's gallery are filled with the originals portraits memorializing each fallen hero.

"They are my boys and my girls and I love them dearly," Pridgeon said. 

Each one of Pridgeon's portraits can be seen in his Portrait of a Warrior Memorial Art Gallery in Baytown, Texas.  

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