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Photographic display honors those who fought for our freedom

November 1, 2016 GMT

HARLINGEN — They each have their own story to tell.

For some of them, it’s a story they’ve never told anyone. At least until now.

Harlingen photographer Janine Marie Campbell has spent the last four years taking compelling portraits of veterans and in the process heard their stories.

Now, all that work has come full circle and will be on display at the Harlingen Arts & Heritage Museum through Nov. 18 with a reception set for 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3.

For Campbell and the veterans she’s had at the studio, it’s become more than just a photography exhibit.

“In a gentle, but respectful way, I am inviting them to go back to battle in a dark room, while I take their photo and the flashes of light from the camera somehow mimic what they remember,” Campbell said.

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Sgt. Maj. James Kuiken, who is one of those photographed, told Campbell the importance of what she is doing.

“I asked him if I was hurting them,” she said. “He said, it’s OK. I will tell you this, you are asking for us to go to battle with you. You emotionally take us to a place where you have gone with us. You are not easy to forget and you can see that in some of their eyes.”

She also said the experience has changed her as well.

“I don’t take being an American for granted,” Campbell said. “I think a lot of people do. I didn’t think I did, but you wouldn’t think of yourselves having that attitude. But this, combined with some other travel experiences overseas, has.”

She said there’s pain and the word sacrifice is overused.

“A majority of these men have suppressed, suppressed and suppressed,” Campbell said. “The pain and anguish of these men has been suppressed.”

What started out as a project because of the pride she had in her late grandfather, has become a passion for Campbell and it is obvious.

“I got into this because all of my grandfather’s stories gave me a mad respect for every branch of service, for every person who has dared to put their life aside and become something bigger than themselves,” she said. “Not everyone can say that.”

She started the project while at a Veterans Day ceremony. She asked if she could take a photo of a veteran at the Marine Military Academy. The cadets had officially folded up an American Flag. That flag appears in all of the photos.

That’s why some of the veterans are in uniform, others in polo or dress shirts and there may even be a couple in tank tops.

Regardless of what they are wearing, Campbell says it’s a tremendously emotional exhibit that can’t be missed, especially by fellow veterans of all ages. It also will be a book and Campbell is already working on the second volume.

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She would like to meet more veterans so she can collect more portraits and urges all vets to come out and experience this exhibit. She said they won’t be disappointed and they won’t be ignored.

“I want them to come so they feel as though they are not alone,” Campbell said. “If you suffer in silence, we have you. If you suffer in silence and that’s why you haven’t left your home, we have you. Come out of your house for a day so I can shake your hand and thank you for your service.”