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Photojournalist captures loss of soldiers through snapshots of childhood bedrooms

  • Hunsbergerroom.jpg

    A photograph of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Travis K. Hunsberger's childhood bedroom taken by photojournalist Ashley Gilbertson. (Ashley Gilbertson)

  • Hunsberger1.jpg

    SSG Travis Kent Hunsberger is pictured here in uniform in a photo provided by his family.

  • Hunsberger2.jpg

    An undated photo of Hunsberger provided by his family.

The childhood bedroom of fallen U.S. Army Staff Sgt.Travis Hunsberger looks just as he left it, with an inflatable chair meant to resemble a giant soccer ball sitting next to his window and a military backpack hanging from his bed post.

A photo of Hunsberger's room captures the absence of a brave young man in a way no other medium could, according to Ashley Gilbertson, the photojournalist who snapped an image of it.

Hunsberger, a 24-year-old Indiana native killed in Afghanistan in 2008, is one of several fallen soldiers whose bedroom has been photographed by Gilbertson to convey the loss and also remember the lives of the men and women who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The bedroom gives a much more honest sense of what that absence feels like," said Gilbertson, whose book, "Bedrooms of the Fallen," was released last month. The collection of black-and-white photos show the bedrooms of 40 men and women, ages 17 to 28.

"To me, the bedroom is a way of showing people in a new and very intimate manner who these people were outside of their uniform," he told FoxNews.com.

"When you look at a military headshot, it's hard to connect because of the divide between those who served and those who didn't. When you look at the bedroom, you can immediately relate to that space and to the things that person loved," said Gilbertson, an Australian-born photojournalist who worked in Iraq from 2002 to 2009.

Over the past few years, Gilbertson has traveled to small towns and big cities across the U.S., as well as to foreign countries, photographing the bedrooms of U.S. troops and NATO forces whose lives were lost in both wars.

"The bedroom is a way of showing people in a new and very intimate manner who these people were outside of their uniform."

- Ashley Gilbertson, photojournalist and author

When Gilbertson entered the Goshen, Ind., bedroom of Hunsberger in April 2011, the veteran war photographer said he was deeply moved.

"On the left-hand side of his room was an inflatable sofa chair. His parents said, 'We're never going to deflate this chair because he blew that up with air from his own lungs,'" said Gilbertson.

"It took a lot of courage for an outsider to go into that space," he said.

Hunsberger, a member of the U.S. Army Special Forces, was killed by a roadside bomb on June 27, 2008, near Tarin Kowt in Afghanistan.

His room has remained virtually untouched for the last six years. A colorful caricature of Hunsberger hangs over his inflatable chair and a prized soccer jersey and poster of the movie, "Scream," remain just where he had left them.

A US. Army backpack "was thrown over the bed post as if he'd just come home," said Gilbertson.

Steve and Ronda Hunsberger, the soldier's parents, wouldn't keep the room any other way.

"We want to remember our son for who he was and what he stood for," Steve Hunsberger told FoxNews.com.

"He loved soccer," he said of his son, who graduated from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., in 2003.

"He was a young man who knew no stranger. He could talk to anyone. He just had that knack about him," Hunsberger said. "And he was always trying to hold up that individual who was struggling."

Gilbertson said he got the idea to photograph the bedrooms from his wife, after she viewed photos of fallen service members in The New York Times. Gilbertson was able to locate their families through Faces of the Fallen,a database created by The Washington Post.

Hunsberger's father agreed the bedroom photos of fallen soldiers resonate with the public in a way obituaries and other displays do not.

"It shows they're real people. They're not just a name," he said.

Click for more photos from Ashley Gilbertson's "Bedrooms of the Fallen."

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