American Hope


“Children are hopes” – Novalis

I began work on the above illustration in 1999 through the advice of my then agent. It was all over the news at the time, that an immigrant family had named their newborn “America” in hopes of not being deported. The baby’s parents desperately wanted to give their child a better life than the one they had fled. My rep thought it would be a great way to capitalize on the event and draw attention to my art. I am a follower of directions and immediately began work on the illustration. Shortly after that, I parted ways with my rep, realizing we didn’t share the same vision for marketing my work. I didn’t abandon my drawing, though. I finished it knowing the baby wrapped in the flag wasn’t specific to one child but symbolized all of America’s children.

“See, there’s the land of America…which you have to defend. But there’s also the idea of America. America is more than just a country, it’s an idea.” – Bono

True, our nation’s physical beauty is vast. And although magnificent, it’s not what makes America, America. My ancestors didn’t leave County Cork, Ireland, during the potato famine to find a more striking landscape. What brought them here were the intangibles. They were under the thumb of English landlords and came to a new world that promised freedom for their families. Freedom meant opportunity and most of all hope. And like their sons and daughters, it must be cherished and protected at all costs.

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”Ronald Reagan

On June 9, 2014 a boy from the village of Mokena, Illinois, where I live, was killed in Afghanistan. Private Aaron Toppen was only nineteen and died serving the country he loved. He left behind a mother, sisters, a girlfriend and countless others. With him he took a piece of all our hearts. He was laid to rest in a casket wrapped in stars, stripes and the love of our community. In my mind’s eye, I can see Aaron’s spirit joining the ranks of a heavenly guard appointed to keep watch over our children. Once a soldier, always a soldier.


Aaron Toppen’s mother adjusts a medal before her son’s Turning Blue Ceremony.

Mokena honors Aaron Toppen

Mokena welcomes Aaron home.

*Click  to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free 5 X 7 print!

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.


10 thoughts on “American Hope

  1. You are right about Aaron. No way of getting around the heartbreak. I pray in time his family heals and adjusts. Glad you like the angel illustration. The tenderness in it was real. My niece modled for it with her newborn baby. I absolutly love the Bono quote too!


  2. Thank you for this tender reminder, Sue; I’ve shared it on my Facebook page. Private Toppen was the same age as my husband and I when we married toward the end of the Vietnam era. I cannot fathom how different my life would have been had he gone to war and never returned. My heart goes out to the Toppen family and the girlfriend left behind.


    • Aaron’s sacrifice hits us all in one way or another. My husband never served but the thought of losing one of my boys is heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing it on FB. The more people who read it the more prayers that will be sent Aaron and his family’s way.


  3. This is a beautiful way to remember a fallen soldier. He chose to join the service to help protect our country and keep it free. I know he has been blessed by God for the ultimate sacrifice. I, too, thank those who love him and miss him every day and send my prayers to them. He moves among the angels now and is healed.

    Once again, I love your drawing. It’s such a positive view of what America was, is and will be as long as we have men and women willing to protect us! The baby is so sweet looking i just want to hold and hug him/her!

    Thanks, too, for both quotes. They each are written with trust in God and in hope for our country, The United States of America!! I plan to share it on my FB page as well since today is Memorial day – at least where I live. For those further east, it is past, but it’s never too late to thank a service person!! Carol


  4. Beautiful! Thank you for remembering Aaron, and all the others who had to leave us willingly, to protect. We are forever grateful for them and their service. Aaron is missed more then I can ever explain. I can’t describe the holes that were left in our hearts but I know there is no other way he would have wanted to go to be with our lord. I lost my baby brother on June 9th, but since have gained faith in our community. Aaron has brought this community together. I’m sure he is amazed at the support and love Mokena continues to show. Thank You. Never Forgotten.

    Amanda Gralewski
    Sister of PFC Aaron Toppen


    • I’m so glad you saw this. Your brother is loved and missed by so many. Mokena will never forget his brave heart and the sacrifice he made for our country. We are proud to claim him as our own. God bless, Arron and those he loved.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s