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Wadena native honored in D.C.

We all express love and remembrance in our own way. Karen Hunnicutt's skill as an artist, though, gives her an especially unique way of honoring her Navy veteran father's legacy of serving.

Hunnicutt specializes in photography, and through special computer programs, makes photos seem as if they were vibrant, ultra-realistic paintings. Periodically, she'll make one specifically in memory of her father, William Hunnicutt. Such was the case with "A Sailor's Christmas," which was a photo of a wreath from her father's gravesite superimposed on an image of a large anchor from Duluth harbor.

That deeply personal remembrance of William eventually became a symbol on the national stage. "A Sailor's Christmas" was chosen by organizers of the U.S. Naval Band's Holiday Concert to represent the theme for the entire event, held in Washington, D.C. at Constitution Hall on Dec. 15-16.

Hunnicutt was first contacted in October by Petty Officer First Class Amanda Polychronis, who had seen the tribute to William among the countless images on Flickr, a photo-sharing website.

"I saw this photograph and I knew instantly that I wanted it to be the title image of my concert," Polychronis said. "It made me think of our sailors who are serving that couldn't be home for Christmas."

Polychronis showed the image to the executive officer of the U.S. Navy Band, Lt. Commander Walt Cline, who recognized the image's power as well.

"It just epitomized what we want to show, what represents American sailors being forward deployed; the sense that there are some of those that aren't going to get home this holiday season," Cline said.

As Hunnicutt told the Navy representatives her father's story, they were even more intrigued. William was orphaned during the Great Depression, but his aunt gave him a place in the world when she altered his birth certificate so he could join the Navy at age 15. The orphan boy from Wadena wound up in the middle of World War II, taking direct part in the desperate tussles between the German and American Navies in the North Atlantic.

The sub chaser William was stationed on was attacked by a U-boat, and his ship came so close to disaster that both Germany and the U.S. believed it to be sunk. William's ship survived the battle, and miraculously made it back to port in Philadelphia without making any radio contact with friendly forces.

When he came home, William found a gold star hanging in the window, which meant someone in the family had died in combat - in this case, himself.

As well as the close call in the Atlantic, William's naval career included his taking part in the liberation of Norway, visiting Japan and the Korean War. He eventually retired after 21 years of service in the Navy, becoming the Wadena County probation officer and later county commissioner.

When Karen came to the district for the concert, she got to see her father's story on the back of every program handed out to the audience. She also viewed the set before the show started and witnessed her photo in the middle of it all. When she opened up the program herself, it was an old photograph of her father that moved her.

"When I saw my dad's picture, that was all it took. I was in tears," she said.