It rises along the side of an unassuming grocery store, a tribute more than three years in the making.
Carlos Aguilar has spent hundreds of mornings spent climbing a ladder, balancing on a scaffold, to give names and faces to our veterans.
“I met this World War II veteran and I was so fascinated by his story, that left a seed inside my brain,” Aguilar said. “It grew and grew and, ‘I should paint a World War II memorial,’ and it grew from that.”
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Aguilar dedicated more than three years to his vision to honor the vets of Santa Ana’s Logan Street neighborhood.
People in the neighborhood bring him their pictures, and their stories, from World War II to Iraq.
He said he can’t turn anyone away because he honors their service and their sacrifice.
“You can imagine some that of these guys were 19, 18 years old,” he said.
You see names like Rodriguez, Gomez, Martinez. Some of the men were not even citizens, but on the battlefield, were simply Americans.
“I wanted to put them on a higher pedestal, to say ‘hey, they were dying alongside you guys on the battlefield,’” Aguilar said.
Aguilar has made his own sacrifice. He works odd jobs and construction to make ends meet, and to support his passion.
“I come out here and I find myself in the same situation as when I started three years ago, with no funds, no money, but I come away with something more than that,” he said.
Aguilar has planned for there to be 160 faces on this wall when it’s done, but the connections he has made through the process will keep it a work of living art even after the final stroke is painted.
“The impact of that and hearing the stories, that’s something I take with me. It’s going to be hard for me to let go.”