VETERANS DAY: “Semper Fi Sisters” painting by Todd Krasovetz
If ever there was a Chesapeake family that deserves honoring at today’s Veterans Day ceremony at City Hall or Monday’s official holiday observance, it’s the Cottrells of Great Bridge.
Kyle Cottrell, a retired lieutenant colonel, is a 20-year Marine Corps veteran with eight years active duty and 12 years in the reserve.
She is also the executive director of Semper Sisters, a nonprofit whose mission is to “preserve and perpetuate recognition for the contributions, pride and esprit of women who serve the U.S. Armed Forces…” It includes special acknowledgements for disabled women veterans and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Cottrell’s husband Scott is a retired Marine colonel with 28 years active duty. Her oldest daughter Jayne is a 2nd lieutenant in the Marine Corp flight school. And her brother, Army Lt. Col. James “Jim” Joseph Walton, lost his life June 21, 2008, while on duty in Afghanistan.
While serving their country, the Cottrells moved 17 times in 24 years. They finally settled in Chesapeake after moving here from Seoul, South Korea.
But rather than bask in richly deserved adulation for their own sacrifices and service, Kyle and Scott gave back.
“Semper Fi Sisters” Painting
They did this with great artistic symbolism by commissioning a painting, “Semper Fi Sisters: A Legacy of Leadership,” a work created by the nationally lauded San Diego-based military artist Todd Krasovetz. The painting recognizes a century of service and sacrifice by women of the Marine Corps.
The painting depicts 13 Marine Corps women standing side-by-side in appropriate era uniforms from 1918 to the present. It was unveiled to great national acclaim Sept. 1 of this year at the Women’s Memorial at the Arlington National Cemetery.
Cottrell’s youngest daughter, 13-year-old Katherine, a student at Great Bridge Middle School, put together an inspirational video about the painting and depicting the unveiling attended by 300 people. An additional 500 or so watched on closed circuit feed .
“I was nervous, I hadn’t seen the painting, yet,” Cottrell said, recalling the September ceremony. “Classmates of mine and their families were there. When I finally saw it, I was overwhelmed.”
The painting then hung in the office of the assistant commandant of Marines in the Pentagon and is now on display at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico. It will later be exhibited at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
Walter Reed National Military Medical Center
Cottrell said she got the idea to commission a painting after viewing Krasovetz’s work “Wings of Hope,” a painting on display at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that depicts a Navy medical corpsman attending to a wounded Marine.
“After seeing that painting, I wanted something to remember a classmate of mine (Sherry Porter Tomley), a retired Marine who passed away,” said the Boston native who grew up in Rockville, Md, “Then the idea grew, to honor all servicewomen.
“Hundreds of thousands of women that volunteer are qualified and serve in the U.S. armed forces year after year, decade after decade. And after I met the gals in the 2017 class, my daughter’s, at the Naval Academy, I was further inspired. I told them ‘you’re a long legacy, a strong living tradition.’ I thought to myself they were us 30 years ago, so motivated, so gung-ho, so full of patriotism. And, you know? I see Chesapeake has many such numbers of young people doing that.”
The painting reference materials and composite, which took 3 years of work, and 1 year to paint, was financed by the Cottrells, along with help “from one generous (anonymous) donor who met us halfway.” A nonprofit sale of the painting’s prints was established to help recoup the cost of the commission.
But Cottrell recalled the defining moment at the unveiling when she knew the commission was worth the effort and cost.
Vietnam-era Women Marines
“My most powerful moment was when a Vietnam-era Marine approached the painting and stared,” Cottrell remembered. “She lingered until the others had drifted away, and then she shook my hand and said ‘it’s nice to be included, sometimes we’re forgotten.’ Honestly, that made it all worthwhile.”
As worthwhile as the service of the Cottrell family and of the thousands of women in the Marine Corps and other branches of the military who have served, sacrificed and endured in the protection of this country.
For more details about the painting or of women in the Marine Corps and military or to purchase a print of “Semper Fi Sisters,” visit www.sempersisters.or http://www.sempersisters.org.
To watch the painting’s Sept. 1, 2018, unveiling on youtube, go to https://tinyurl.com/yayy4d3r