Published: Mar 07, 2013 9:56 PM EST
Updated: Mar 08, 2013 12:00 AM EST

COLLIER COUNTY, Fla - Twenty of Collier County's most decorated Veterans received a special gift Thursday night.

Thanks to a local artist with a big heart, they were featured through paintings. The Veterans Portrait Project began last year in Marco Island and came to an emotional end Thursday night at Hodges University in Naples.

With each painting comes a different, yet tremendous story of strength and bravery. "It brings back all the feelings you had when you went in," says Peter Thomas. "And it changed you completely."

World War II Veteran Peter Thomas, 89, served with the First Infantry Division in the Battle of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge.

Wayne Smith was a fighter pilot in Vietnam and survived more than five years as a POW. "I'm of the Vietnam era and most of these portraits are of people who really inspired me," says Smith. "I'm just thrilled to be here."

Marco Island artist Melanda Trick painted all twenty portraits in just 46 days. They've been on display since November at different locations throughout Collier County and Thursday night, each Veteran was presented with their own portrait to take home.

"I hope my kids who also live here in Naples and my grandchildren will someday have this on their wall and know that somebody cared enough to do this," says Smith.

Fifteen of the Veterans honored served in World War Two and the other five served in the Vietnam War.