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Memorial unveiled for fallen "Darkhorse" Marines

3 Jan 2006 | Cpl. Mark Sixbey

The memory of fallen Marines lives on in a new painting at the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment's command post in Camp San Mateo.Gary Morris, an artist and retired Marine officer, unveiled an original painting dedicated to the memory of 2nd Lt. James Patrick Blecksmith, a platoon commander who was killed in Fallujah during Operation Al Fajr in November 2004."It's the hardest painting I've ever done," said Morris, a 63-year-old resident of Irving, Texas. "This is the one I'm most proud of, because it's for the Marines."The nearly three-foot tall painting is a depiction of a photo taken of a noncommissioned officer during the battle in Fallujah. The image captured displays 20-year-old Cpl. Joseph Zolnai, one of Blecksmith's Marines. He's seen standing, uniform bloodied, holding his rifle. Morris explained in the original photo, he saw the "warrior spirit" or determination in fighting the enemy. He added the idea of determination related to what he knew of Blecksmith. Blecksmith, 3rd Platoon Commander for Company I, was killed in Fallujah leading his Marines and the painting depicts the squad leader doing the same. Blecksmith, from La Canada, Calif., was 24.Morris, who has painted for 38 years, said he spent 126 hours carefully painting the image, capturing the Marine's expression. He explained the mural was dedicated to Blecksmith's memory, but also to honor the battalion's 19 Marines killed in battle."It's fitting that this painting depicts an NCO," said Lt. Col. Pat Malay, the battalion's commander during the Fallujah battle. "They are the backbone of our fight on the ground."Blecksmith's parents, Ed and Pam, attended the unveiling ceremony. "I wish he was still alive," said Ed Blecksmith, James' father and also a former Marine officer. "But to put J.P. in the same breath as all Marines who made the ultimate sacrifice is gratifying. I've been amazed at the recognition J.P. continues to get, and all the lives he has touched."Morris met the Blecksmiths in 2003, while attending a class reunion for his officer basic school, which fell on the same day of James' graduation from The Basic School at Quantico, Va. The Blecksmith family and Morris have remained friends ever since. "It's fitting that this painting now resides with the warriors that inspired it - 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines," Blecksmith said.After the ceremony was over, Morris gave each lieutenant in the room a silver Kennedy half dollar for good luck. The gesture was one he received prior to deploying to Vietnam. "My father gave me one the first time I deployed to war," Morris explained.Third Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment is scheduled to deploy in January to Al Anbar Province, Iraq.