PLAIN CITY — Nine-year-old Jase Brostrom leaned forward in his chair seemingly transfixed.
With his classmates, he was watching a slideshow of family photos that showed him with his father, 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2008. The photos showed Jase and his father swimming, goofing around on the couch and at other family activities.
The show was part of a big day for the nine-year-old, who was about to see another dipiction of his late father. At the slideshow's end, Texas artist Phil Taylor unzipped a large black folio case, and pulled out a portrait Jonathan Brostrom.
"Is there anything you want to say?" Taylor asked the near-speechless third-grader standing in front of his classmates and family at Plain City Elementary School.
"I got nothing," the boy said.
Jase had been clearly overwhelmed since he'd been summoned to the classroom door to meet Taylor several minutes before. He knew something was up when he spied his mother, grandparents and other family members, along with the photographers and reporters who had gathered to witness the presentation.
He whooped, jumped, laughed and danced and ran to hug his mother and other family members. His faced flushed with excitement, a grin spread across his face in anticipation of the painting's unveiling.
Jase had experienced similar attention when he'd accepted the Silver Star awarded posthumously to his father.
"It just makes him happy that so many people care," said Jase's grandmother Kay Spargur.
The boy's father had been killed July 13, 2008 at Wanat, Afghanistan, along with seven of his comrades when Taliban fighters overran the unit's position. In 2009, the Army awarded him the Silver Star for his actions that saved the lives of fellow soldiers.
Jase last saw his father two weeks before he died. They spent time together while Bostrom was on R&R in Hawaii.
Taking pride in his father's life has become an important way for Jase to deal with his father's death, his mother said. And when others recognize Brostrom's life that means a great deal to him, she added.
"I don't want to say it makes it worth it — but it makes him feel proud."
Taylor has been traveling the country since 2006 hand-delivering portraits of soldiers like Brostrom to bring comfort to their family members.
It started after a childhood friend had been killed in Iraq. In tribute, Taylor painted a portrait and sent it to the family.
The grieving parents' response ignited his quest: "You brought my son home," they told him.
Taylor began delivering each painting personally after he had completed the first few. Now, that's what keeps him going, Taylor said.
"The only way I do it is by reconnecting with the families."
He's completed over 100 portraits, painting about 35 a year. Each soldier's face is painted in acrylic on canvas in black and white, only the eyes are in color. In red, white and blue, stars and stripes make up the background.
Brostrom's likeness took six attempts before he felt it was just right, Taylor said.
"I just can't believe how his picture's so real — and not just real — but his personality," Jase's mother told the artist. Besides the Silver Star, Brostrom's family had received a folded American flag and other honors, Johnson noted.
"It means so much more than all those things, because it's personal."
Return to page one to view the full photo gallery.