November 20, 2006 12:00 PM

Kaziah Hancock, 58

Manti, Utah

It was a most unusual request. A few months after her 21-year-old son Howard, an Army private, died in an ambush in Iraq, Gloria Johnson received a letter out of the blue from artist Kaziah Hancock in Utah. “She asked if I’d allow her to do his portrait and told me to send several snapshots,” Johnson recalls.

She agreed. Months later, Johnson received Hancock’s 18″×24″ oil portrait of her son. “It brings me joy,” she says. “I can’t say ‘thank you’ enough.” It’s that kind of gratitude that has inspired Hancock to create 200 portraits—without charge—of fallen soldiers. “It is the least I can do for these kids who have paid the ultimate price,” she says.

An artist for more than 25 years—who raises goats and chickens to provide extra income—Hancock was in her studio in March 2003 when she heard a radio report featuring friends and family members recounting memories of a fallen soldier. “I was so saddened by it,” she says. “I wondered what I could do to help.” After deciding to paint the soldier’s portrait for his widow, Hancock later offered her services to the families of the first 80 casualties of the war. Says Hancock: “I thought I could do 15 a year. Never did I think this would go on like it has.”

Today, she and six fellow artists are part of the Project Compassion Soldier Fund (www.hero, which honors on canvas those who died during the Iraq War. Hancock has spent more than $20,000 on her efforts; she fields new requests each day. (The Department of Defense informs the family of every deceased soldier about her service.) “There’s nothing I’d like more than to not have any young guys to paint,” she says, “but this gives [families] contact with their fallen heroes, and that, to me, is the biggest reward.”

Know a hero? Send suggestions to HEROESAMONGUS@PEOPLEMAG.COM. Please include your name, phone number and return e-mail address. For more information on Kaziah Hancock, go to

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