Paintings honor veterans at Minnesota cemetery

Little Falls, MN

The Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery committal hall is getting a unique memorial: five 8-by-10-foot oil paintings representing the five different military branches.

The Army painting is finished and displayed; the Navy painting is almost finished; and the artist, Charles Kapsner, is making plans for the upcoming Coast Guard project. The project, which will take nearly a decade to complete, is funded totally by donations.

This year, the American Legion in the sixth district of the state has taken it on as its fundraising project.

The paintings are a tribute to all American veterans, from the Revolution to the present. Kapsner said for him, the project especially honors his father, who served in the Persian Gulf during World War II.

Raymond Stumpf is a Navy veteran, former Seabee underwater construction diver and model for the "lone sailor" depicted in the Navy painting. For him, it's the honesty of the paintings that makes them so appropriate and so beautiful.

In the Naval painting, there is a sailor hugging a little girl. It's images like this that really hit home for Stumpf.

"I think of my two daughters and how many times I've done this coming and going."

But the pictures don't stop portrayals at bittersweet - they push. The Army painting includes a homeless veteran, which Kapsner, the painter, said is important to the overall integrity of the work.

From the beginning when Kapsner was approached in 2008 to create the art for the memorial, he was adamant about showing all aspects of military life.

"When I was first approached about this, I said, 'If you're looking for the person to paint all the toys of war, you've got the wrong person,'" Kapsner said.

Because the family doesn't go graveside for the final burial, the importance of the paintings is amplified because of their placement. The space they hold in a chapel setting must be both honest and appropriate, he said.

"This is where the final goodbye is for veterans," he said.

"I just think the project is marvelous," Stumpf said. "(Kapsner) focuses on the people and the job - the human element. Not just the toys."

On a more personal note, Stumpf, who is receiving palliative care for terminal cancer, said the painting will offer loved ones a way to see him when he is gone.

"When my family visits, I'll be in the Naval painting, which is an honor."

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