Former homeless veteran's mural highlights the journey of a soldier

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CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (WEAU) -- A once homeless veteran is revealing some of the struggles faced by soldiers returning to civilian life through his work as an artist.

A mural unveiling was held Thursday at Klein Hall in Chippewa Falls.

Klein hall provides housing and programming for homeless veterans and Veterans and Housing Recovery Program member James Heber said he wanted to give back to the facility by using talents he's been perfecting since he was 8-years-old.

“This to me is something to give back to help people understand that there's more than one type of person who is a veteran,” said Heber.

Heber said painting the 36-foot long and 6-foot high work of art took more than 800-hours but said each brush stoke was therapeutic.

“Spending time at night just peacefulness of painting it to help me understand where I've been and where others have been,” said Heber. “I've heard stories of people who have been here of what they've went through so it's just been an very amazing journey.”

The mural aims to really paint a story from a soldier’s enlistment to basic training to battles with homelessness and addiction to finally recovery and even home ownership.

“I hope people understand what it means. We all need help. We can't just ignore the fact that there are veterans don't get the help they need and this place is an amazing place to do that,” he added.

At an unveiling ceremony held for Heber, secretary for the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs Dan Zimmerman said the mural also shows how efforts like ones at the Veterans and Housing Recovery Program help bring out individuality.

Zimmerman explained, “Here what we see is really celebrating the individual, the uniqueness of the individual, and then helping that individual overcome whatever challenges they may have faced in life.
This program doesn't do what basic training does, it does the opposite. So where we pound the square peg in the round hole in training we instead celebrate the uniqueness of the individual
and I think that's what you see behind me.”

Heber said he hopes the mural stands the test of time and helps to break down stereotypes some veterans face.