Retired Air Force veteran stops in Wisconsin to take portraits for national project

LUXEMBURG, Wis. (WBAY) -- A nationwide project hopes to get veterans in front of the camera to honor their service, share their stories, and raise awareness about veterans' issues.

It is more than just pictures for Stacy Pearsall. A decorated military photographer, she medically retired from the Air Force after being injured in Iraq.

"It was a really tough time for me," said Pearsall. "I was physically and emotionally recovering from the traumas of war, and then I felt like I almost lost my career, and then now, I didn't fit into the community as a veteran young woman."

She found inspiration and hope in a familiar place: behind the camera. Soon after, the South Carolina veteran created the Veterans Portrait Project with a goal to capture veterans in all 50 states.

"I wasn't fixated on the pain I was in, and I wasn't harboring ill emotions anymore," said Pearsall. "Because with every veteran I was photographing, their stories were validating mine, and I wasn't alone in the feelings that I felt."

Fast forward 11 years, and she poses Green Bay Air Force veteran Renee Jackson for a photo at the Luxemburg Community Center.

So far, Pearsall has captured the portraits of more than 8,000 veterans across the nation.

"In spite of being a very humble community, whether begrudgingly or not, they've come, and they've helped me achieve my goals and to keep one foot in front of the other," said Pearsall. "Let me know that I have value, and I can still serve them in some way."

"I think it is huge for people to know that there are females that have joined the military, and we support each other," said Jackson.

More than two dozen veterans signed up to be part of the project in Luxemburg. They each bring pictures and wear uniforms that serve as reminders of the sacrifices they made in service to our country.

"I was an aircraft mechanic. I was fixing airplanes, but every night we had to run to the bunkers," said Dennis Langteau, commander of Ralph Kline American Legion Post 262. "The most memorable thing I can remember is that I could leave there alive. I was happy to go home. But, I don't regret it."

Only two states separate Pearsall from a 'mission complete' with the Veterans Portrait Project: Iowa and Nebraska. She plans to check them off the list by the end of this year.

The portraits she has captured can be viewed online and have been displayed in national exhibitions. The veterans each receive a free edited photo to keep and share.

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