Utah Veteran Bringing Joy, Closure to Others By Painting Portraits of Missionaries

by Michael Freeman

It’s a sad fact many of our veterans come back from combat with emotional scars that may never heal. However, a Utah veteran finds solace by painting missionary portraits of those who have died.

In Huntsville, Utah lives a Vietnam veteran, JR Johansen. Traumatized by what he experienced overseas, he told KSL-TV he began painting as a sort of therapy. “I came back from my military service in Vietnam and it was pretty tough,” Johansen told the outlet. “I spoke with a therapist and they asked me what I liked doing, if I had any hobbies, and I said, ‘I like to paint.'”

Because of that, Johansen began painting and five years ago, he decided to paint missionaries who passed away. “I’m honored. I think I’m alive today because of painting portraits of the missionaries. I believe in service and service has kept me alive. This brings such joy to me to know that families appreciate it so much.”

As of now, JR Johansen has painted 125 portraits. Every year, he has a type of reunion with families of the people he’s painted. Just last weekend in Huntsville he held a gathering for a group of people who have lost missionaries. The missionaries all served for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who died during their service.

A gathering attendee, Derrick Jack, lost a brother who was a missionary. Standing next to a portrait of him, he talked to KSL-TV. “I love how JR has honored my brother,” said Jack. “He painted him truer than life, bigger than life.”

Johansen dubbed his project “Angels Among Us.” If you have any names or families for him, he says you can reach out via Facebook.

Local Minnesota Man Draws Attention to Veteran Suicide with 100-Mile Journey

Besides the emotional toil veterans endure, a huge problem among them is suicide. Knowing this, a local Minnesota man went on a 100-mile journey across the state to raise veteran suicide awareness.

Caleb Wedger is the person in question and surprisingly, despises running. Nonetheless, he (mostly) ran 100 miles through Minnesota to draw attention to the roughly 100 veterans who commit suicide each year in the state. Speaking to KARE 11, he talked about his state-wide trek.

“I took one little 20-minute nap. I sat down a few times to eat something. But other than that, we’ve pretty much been going,” he said near the end of the trip. “We were able to run a lot of the first 50 [miles], but now my legs are so torn up that we’re shuffling our way to the end.”

A veteran himself, Wedger knows all too well how serious an issue this is. He began the journey last Friday along the Hardwood Creek Trail and did a 100-mile round-trip run/walk back by Saturday.

Calling the effort “100 Too Many,” he raised $17,000 for the Freedom Fishing Foundation.