Ex-Marine in Hamilton on a memorial 'mission' for families of fallen Marines in Iraq


Herald-Whig Staff Writer

HAMILTON, Ill. -- For Robin Carel, this project goes beyond that of a mission.

It is a calling.

Carel, a 55-year-old ex-Marine, works in conjunction with a friend in Iowa to make memorial plaques that are given free of charge to the families of U.S. servicemen who have died during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Enduring Freedom is the name of the U.S. military action that began with the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Carel, the owner of Lake Cooper Mill Works on Ill. 96 outside Hamilton, and Robert Sawyer, owner of Creative Edge in Fairfield, Iowa, are the partners in this patriotic offering.

So far, their effort has produced 106 plaques in a quest that began about a year ago.

"We already have plaques that have gone all over the country," Carel said.

He talked of soldiers honored with memorials whose families live in Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Jersey, New York, Washington, Idaho ... the list of states is already impressive, totaling about 20.

"We're on a mission," Carel said.

And at times, it is not easy.

"There is one plaque that I made that always comes to mind," Carel said. "The young soldier was 20 years old, holding an M-16 (rifle) in and ... I can still see the look on his face. He was just looking out into the distance. He was just a kid with an M-16. It was probably the last picture taken of him."

A family of a service member killed in the line of duty supplies Carel with a picture of the son or daughter to have it copied on to the plaque, plus other pertinent information. Families reach Carel and Sawyer primarily through a variety of nationwide support groups in a movement that is just now beginning to pick up steam.

The intricately detailed memorials include a lasered image of the late soldier, plus all personal and military information the family would like to include. The plaques are black granite, cut in foot-square blocks three-eighths of an inch thick. They cost about $185 to make, engrave and ship.

Fundraisers have begun sprouting up in and around Hamilton to support the project, most recently a poker run that was promoted with fliers that included numerous pictures of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The flier also included the words "GONE, BUT NOT

Carel said he hopes the project eventually will honor all U.S. soldiers killed in both Iraq and Afghanistan in the past six years.

Through Monday, 4,329 American soldiers had died in Iraq and 684 in Afghanistan.

Those who would like more information on the project or who would like contribute to it should call Carel at (309) 221-2272.

-- seighinger@whig.com/221-3377