Special portrait honoring fallen hero gifted to grandmother

COVINGTON, KY (FOX19) - Through her passion for painting, a local artist is giving the family of a fallen hero a handmade creation that'll last a lifetime.

The patriotic piece now belongs to a woman who lives at the Covington Ladies Home.

Mae Luster couldn't believe her eyes when she saw the portrait; it's a tribute to her grandson -- the late Marine LCpl. Justin Sims.

The Covington native and Holmes High School graduate died 12 years ago today, at age 22, while fighting overseas.

"The sacrifices they make are overwhelming," said Covington Ladies Home Executive Director Carrie VanDerzee. "It's the whole family that goes to war, not just the soldier."

Seeing Luster's love for the fallen hero inspired VanDerzee to connect with the Fallen Soldier Portrait Painters to see what they could do.

"I think her grandson meant the world to her and being part of a service family means a lot to her," VanDerzee said.

That's when Yvette LaFollette Mazza -- a part of the painting group -- stepped in.

Using a photo of LCpl. Sims, she created her masterpiece.

"It is an emotional thing, for us too as painters," Mazza said.

And they kept it a secret until Sunday, when they surprised Luster with the incredible gift.

It took a team effort to pull off the big reveal from the ladies home to the painting group to Custom Framing, which donated the frame. But all those involved say it was worth every minute.

"We'll be talking about this day for a long time," VanDerzee said.

"I'm just so happy that I can use my talent to make them feel good. It'll be with them and in their family forever now, and it just, it's a good feeling," Mazza said.

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