Iraq memorial to grace train station plaza

What may be the first monument in the state dedicated to those killed in Iraq will be installed at train station plaza later this month.

The Broken Hearts Memorial will be installed by Aug. 29 with an opening ceremony planned Sept. 12.

Local artist Jim McKeon said there are monuments to individual soldiers killed in action in the Middle East but “nothing on this scale dedicated to all of them.”

McKeon is founder of the rahway art hive, an art studio and co-op gallery on East Cherry Street, where he and others have been working on the monument this summer. He’s been mulling the idea for about a year after conversations with friends who have family serving in Iraq.

The monument features 19 interlocking, nine-foot panels that stretch more than 36 feet when fully assembled. Each panel has a silhouette of a soldier covered with 127 hearts, totaling more than 4,000 — one for each U.S. soldier killed in Iraq. The wall is shaped like open hexagons — “vulnerable when standing alone but strong when placed back to back.”

Each heart will bear the word “MOM,” McKeon said, making an “iconic tattoo image into something powerful.” A heart will be added for each soldier killed, making it a kind of living tribute.

The memorial is constructed to be permanent or temporary. McKeon expects it might be in the plaza for about a year and hopes to make it a traveling exhibit to display in other towns. Between volunteer time and some contributions from the city for materials, he estimated the monument cost about $7,500. But the Broken Hearts campaign is also aiming to raise $43,000 for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, for a new hospital in Bethesda, Md.

A ribbon cutting ceremony will be Sept. 12 when the public will be invited to participate by painting one of the thousands of hearts, with the word “MOM” already stenciled in. After the opening date, public participation will be accepted on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and by appointment.