By Billy Cox, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
As he studied hundreds of photos for images to enshrine at Sarasota National Cemetery, art project leader Larry Kirkland kept coming back to a frame he could not shake.
It was a Defense Department portrait of a young woman in uniform, saluting as a tear ran down her cheek. She was an Air Force staff sergeant. Her name was Alicia Watkins. For six months, Kirkland tried in vain to seek her approval. But the trail was cold.
"We find that Alicia Watkins has retired," Kirkland recalled of his investigation. "Then we find she has been interviewed on the 'Oprah Winfrey Show.'"
He learned Watkins had been in the Pentagon during the 9/11 attack. And that she had deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. And that she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Then we find out that she was homeless," Kirkland continued in a measured cadence. "We get the last contact for her ... and after that, she just kind of vanished. Until the Boston Marathon bombing."
A dramatic pause. Then: "She gets interviewed. Local television. Phenomenal."
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