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Heroes exhibit a must see

A Denton County resident’s unique tribute to fallen American heroes has inspired a powerful exhibit at the Courthouse on the Square.

“Ornamental Honor: The Art of Bryson Gappa” opened with a special presentation Aug. 21. The exhibit explores the personal goal of Denton County resident Bryson Gappa to honor every Texas soldier who died during the Iraq War.

Over a period of years, Gappa documented each fallen hero on a small, wooden panel. The panels were then made into ornaments and attached to an oak tree in the front yard of her Lewisville home.

“I started it in 2004 after I had seen a story in the newspaper that detailed the first 101 Texas casualties, and it had their pictures all in a row,” Gappa told us during a January interview. “They became very real people. I started identifying with them. One looked like my brother. One looked like the kid who mowed my lawn. One had a smile during the picture; you had to wonder what he was thinking about.

“Other people needed to see their faces like I did so they could see real people — so their absence could mean something.”

Personal artifacts, including uniforms and medals, supplement the ornamental plaques in the museum exhibit. Surviving veterans and relatives of the deceased have contributed their time and perspective to help bring greater context to Gappa’s work.

Peggy Riddle, director of the Denton County Office of History and Culture, said those involved in planning the exhibit reached out to Denton County employees who have lost loved ones, and the families have provided a variety of items to add to the tribute.

“They were absolutely wonderful,” Riddle said.

The family of Denton County fallen hero Ernest Dallas Jr. provided his uniform. Other items on loan include uniforms from the families of Johnny Craver, Ryan McCauley and Peter J. Courcy.

Talking to the families and gathering the personal mementoes was an emotional experience, museum staff members said, and the resulting exhibit is both powerful and poignant.

The exhibit can be viewed during regular museum hours: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. The exhibit will be at the museum through the end of November. All Courthouse on the Square Museum exhibits are free.

When the display leaves the museum, Riddle said she would like to take it “on the road.” She is now trying to find suitable buildings in other Denton County communities where the exhibit can be put on view.

“If they contact me, I would love to partner with them so we can share this with the community,” Riddle said.

“I see this exhibit as expanding. It’s a subject we need to expand on.”

We agree, and we encourage all Denton County residents to visit the museum during the weeks ahead, not only to pay tribute to our fallen heroes, but also to remember that many other young Americans remain in harm’s way.

The Courthouse on the Square Museum, located at 110 W. Hickory St., has handicapped parking and accessibility through the north entrance. There is an elevator available for public use.