(Aiken County) February 23, 2007 – It’s become one of the toughest stories journalists have to report, cover the death of an American killed in war. Many times, people watching at home wish there was something they could do to say thank you to the families that sacrificed. WIS’ Angie Goff was there when one man took a trip to pay tribute to one of South Carolina’s Bravest.
With the wind, it feels like 40 degrees, the cold hitting one man harder than those in his company. Jim Middlebrooks says, “My shoulders feel like they’ve been beat with a baseball bat.”
At a ceremony to honor heroes, Middlebrooks braves his RSD: a severe pain disease that makes his body burn in weather like that. “Most of all, it’s a feeling of fire ants all over my hands.”
For 45 minutes the Irmo native forgets about his pain. Because now meeting the family of a patriot is more important.
Lt. Colonel Rob Dillon with his father dedicate Aiken County’s new Purple Heart Memorial, a tribute to those wounded in war. “Let’s not forget these heroes and the sacrifices they continue to make today and always.”
One of those heroes was their brother and son Marine Corporal Matthew Dillon. The 25-year-old was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq just before Christmas. Matthew’s father, Neal Dillon, says, “I think he would have looked down at this ceremony today as one he probably respected the most.”
WIS first met the Marine’s father right after he learned he lost his son. We were invited into his home where he shared pictures and memories with us so we could tell the story of who Matthew Dillon was.
Middlebrooks was one of many watching who wanted to reach out. Despite his disability, he decided that December day he would use his gift of drawing to help a family heal. “I’m homebound and it give me a privilege to keep my arm working and to think about other people.”
With only a picture of Dillon, the artist would sketch the Marine’s portrait. At most, he managed drawing only three hours a day, stopping when the wrath of his RSD was too much. “I think about the valor, the courage and the honor these men died for. It’s the least I could do.”
It took Middlebrooks two months to finish the piece of art. The final product is a powerful labor of love that the parents of the man in the picture didn’t even know was in the making until now, 60 miles away in Aiken County near the Marine’s hometown.
To the crowd and Dillons’ surprise, the ceremony ends with an unrehearsed presentation, “I’m grateful for what your son did.”
Middlebrooks says, “When I heard of Matthew’s death I wanted to give something special to his parents and to his family.”
The gift moves Lucy Dillon, “To give to our family, to have something to cherish in his memory, it’s just very special.”
Rob Dillon is also impressed, “He was an American and he saw another, Americans hurting and in need and he felt compelled to do something and my message to him is I thank him very much.”
Middlebrooks says, “I got a little sentimental there at the end cause I could see the joy in their families’ eyes.”
Mr. Dillon already has a spot picked for the portrait, “For him to take the time with his handicap and do that for our son, that picture will go at the top of all the plaques we’ve gotten because it’s a personal thing on his part.”
Middlebrooks hopes the work carries a message, “I hope they walked away with the feeling knowing there are people out there that care that they don’t even know.”
Middlebrooks wants to continue using his talent to help other families. He has already started the portraits of two other South Carolina soldiers. The only thing he needs help with is framing the pieces.
If you’d like to help fund the framing you can make donations to:
c/o Ramco Framing
7581 Saint Andrew Rd.
Irmo, SC 29063
Reported by Angie Goff
Posted 6:07pm by Chantelle Janelle