To family and friends, Kyle Fernandez was an average local boy with an above-average sense of friendship, duty and generosity.
To the growing number of Americans who have viewed artist Julie Feingold’s Lost Heroes Art Quilt, now on display at the Hale Koa Hotel, Fernandez is the face of every Hawaii service member who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
A group of about 50 military leaders and personnel, and friends and family of Hawaii service members who died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, welcomed the arrival of the touring quilt at a ceremony yesterday at the state Capitol.
Fernandez, an Army corporal who died in 2004 while serving in Afghanistan, is one of 82 fallen U.S. military personnel, representing each of the 50 states, featured on the massive 17-by-8-foot quilt.
"The list of fallen heroes who declared Hawaii as their home is maybe a half-page long," said Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, the state adjutant general. "But (Fernandez) represents more than that. He represents everyone who had ties to Hawaii. They’re all part of our community."
Feingold, a mixed-media artist from Massachusetts, said she was inspired to start the project after viewing a list of casualties from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. A stark departure from the whimsical paintings for which she was best known, the black framed quilt features a series of squares, each devoted to one fallen service member. The military personnel are represented by a G.I. Joe uniform top specific to their branch of service and a childhood photo of the person. Surrounding the boxes are silk-screened fragments of testimonials about each person.
"I don’t have any connection to the military," Feingold explained. "I’m just an ordinary American who recognized that my fellow Americans had done something extraordinary."
Feingold said she used childhood photos of the fallen service members as a reminder to those who might see the quilt that each warrior "was someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister … an individual who touched many lives."
Feingold spent two years working on the quilt, a process made possible by the families of the fallen service members who contributed photos, essays and other remembrances of their loved ones.
Renald Fernandez, Kyle’s father, said it was a dream come true to have the quilt displayed in Hawaii.
"It took us a long time to heal from (Kyle’s) death," Fernandez said. "Meeting other military people and seeing other memorials was part of that process. To see this quilt, something so over the top that it will last forever — as a father, I just feel tremendous pride."
Kyle Fernandez died when the Humvee in which he was riding ran over an improvised explosive device. He was 26.
Fernandez’s sister Kehau remembered her brother as an avid skateboarder, a talented artist and a dedicated student of Hawaiian history and culture.
She said her younger brother’s natural generosity and sense of commitment made him a fitting choice to represent Hawaii’s fallen servicemen.
"He was the first one to befriend someone," she said. "He was the one who was always willing to help. If you had to paint your house, he was there. That’s who he was. The way that he passed, volunteering to serve his country, was like it was written. That’s what he stood for."
At yesterday’s ceremony, Fernandez’s cousin Ikena DuPont sang his original composition "Half Your Courage," which he had first performed at Fernandez’s funeral.
The Lost Heroes Art Quilt exhibition will continue to tour the country until Sept. 11, 2011, and which time the piece will be put up for auction. Proceeds from the sale will go to organizations that assist veterans and the families of fallen service members.