"When we look at the portrait, we see our son looking back at us," said one visitor to the exhibit. "I wish he was here. I wish he wasn't in the photograph."
There are more than 180 portraits included in the exhibit, which means one for every Illinois serviceman or woman killed in the line of duty since September 11, 2001.
The portraits will be on display at the Schaumburg Public Library for the next several days, serving as a grim reminder of the price of war.
"Every single person who dies for our country is not a statistic. It's not a story in a newspaper that goes away. We carry them in our hearts every day," said Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn.
The portraits, sketched by Mattoon artist Cameron Schilling, travel throughout Illinois. Thousands of people have seen them already.
Eight Gold Star families were present at Friday's opening.
"He said, 'I didn't do anything special. I just did what my heart told me to do,'" said the family member of one service member.
"He [the artist] captured it perfectly. He had the twinkle in his eye, the lock of hair. It blew me away," said another visitor about the portrait of her loved one.
The exhibit opening came a few days after the news that the number of casualties in Iraq has surpassed 4,000. But despite severe criticism of the war, the families at the exhibit told ABC7 Chicago their sons and daughters would not have had it any other way.
Lance Corporal Philip Frank was across the river from New York City in New Jersey on September 11.
"Phil stood on the shoreline, watched them burn. [He] watched the first tower come down. He told us that day that if the President declared war, he needed us to know he was going to join," said Georgette Frank, who lost her son in Iraq.
"Jimmy was in the Army because he believed in it. He believed in his country. He died doing what he wanted to do and the way he wanted to do it," parent Fred Hoffman said.
The Portrait of a Soldier exhibit will remain in Schaumburg until next Thursday, after which it heads, downstate to Taylorville and then to Tinley Park for the month of April.
Friday was the first time the exhibit was shown in the northwest suburbs. Organizers say their goal is to take it to every county in the state.