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Sgt. Justin Norton mural

Restored mural brings hometown hero back to life

Sgt. Justin D. Norton returns to Rainier.

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Losing a loved one is devastating beyond words and a wound that never fully heals. In June, 2006, Gary and Chris Warnock of Rainier felt that pain when they tragically lost their son, Sgt. Justin D. Norton, when he was killed by an improvised explosive device during a deployment in Iraq.

In 2011, Norton's brother, Josh, and two friends painted a mural on a train trestle in Rainier as a tribute to Justin on the fifth anniversary of his death. Last year, however, the mural was vandalized, bringing agonizing emotions of pain back to the surface for his family.

Eventually, the entire mural was painted over to hide the vandalism. The mural of Norton - one that people had saluted and honored each time they drove by - was gone. To Norton's family, it was like losing him all over again.

That was until artists Tammy Schroder and Adam Barr contacted the Warnocks. Schroder, a long-time resident of Tenino, knew what the mural meant not only to the family, but also to the Rainier community.

After almost a year of planning, the artists set out for the train trestle on Aug. 15 to begin work on a new mural. Band students from Tenino High School, along with their teacher Andy Bowerly, volunteered time from their summer vacation to help restore the mural as part of their community service project hours for Band Camp Week.

Although they had hoped for good weather, the artists and volunteers began their work in the steady rainfall as the Warnocks looked on with tears in their eyes.

"It's bittersweet," said Chris Warnock, Norton's mother. "To see your son's face come back to life. I'd give anything to have him back."

Norton's face again came to life in front of those who were watching or passing by.

"It is a nice tribute to the family as well as other soldiers," Schroder said. "This is something that has really touched our hearts."

The artists completed most of the mural but will need to return to do some touch-up work that the rain that day would not allow. But for the most part, Norton's face again welcomes visitors and residents to the city of Rainier. Those who never knew him can have a chance to see him and know how much he means to his family and community. But most of all, Norton's memory will never be forgotten.

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