Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Profile 48 - 511417 as flown by Joe Foss


Oh man, if I could do it over...!

Recently, I was fortunate enough to get a rare Commission - to do the suite of aircraft flown by the South Dakota Air National Guard.   If there's one dominant feature of the gig, it's that WW2 ace and Medal of Honor winner Joe Foss started the unit back in 1946.

For those who aren't familiar, Joe was a bigger-than-life person who lived a life so full of superlatives, I won't even try to list them.  In fact, just click here.

However, in 2002, I asked Joe for an interview and he cheerfully agreed with the caveat that I provide prints of his Grumman F4F fighter plane to be used as a fundraiser for the NRA.  Sure.  Easy enough.

When given the Air Guard commission, I dug up the tape from the interview and was at once thrilled to relive the moment and astonished at what I didn't think to ask the man.  (sigh)  Oh, I've got the combat stories.  But now, nearly ten years later, there's so much more that I want to know about life, business, America, history...and who better to ask than a guy who lived it all to the HILT.

And all I could think about was dogfights.  Like I wrote, if I could do it over!*

Each new day, I grow more convinced that our nation, our society isn't so much in an economic or cultural crisis as we are in a Wisdom crisis.  We've done it to ourselves with things like "retirement" and the franchising of the family to ridiculous schedules and urgent expectations...

Oh well.  Watch this blog because I'll be posting progress on Joe's F-51 fighter plane - the one he flew while pioneering South Dakota's aerial force.  And, in spite of my amateur attempt, I have a few more clips to share, too.




*Joe died shortly after this interview on January 1, 2003.  He aged pretty well from his auspicious start in 1942.



Saturday, May 14, 2011

Profile 46 - "Satan's Chill'en" as flown by W. Mannix and "Dick" Rostrom


Satan's Chill'en is alive.  I have much to write about this airplane, but the bulk will wait.

Two weeks ago, Dick Rostrom was leaning over a draft of his old aerial office, trying - at least to me - to hold back a wry smile and perhaps the satisfied laugh that comes from seeing something good.

My artwork "good"?  No.  It was the memory.  Next to the airplane was a printout of an unpublished photo of the crew - Dick's finger tapping on the jackets of each man, recalling his name and the role he'd played aboard the bomber.  "...and there's Thompson. Radio Operator.  He saved my life.  And there's..."

Until he got to the man in charge - Satan's Chill'en's pilot, William C. Mannix.  There, Dick's finger hovered for a moment, then tapped. And tapped. A few seconds passed, the bombardier's eyes fixed on the photo, momentarily lost to the present... "and that's Mannix.  He was our pilot.  And he..."  Tap tap tap tap.  "And he was a good one. A good leader.  A good..."

You know, I started this blog post fully intending on writing about the half-naked girl on the nose but Dick's distinct memory of Mannix took precedent.

And therein lies the incredible experience that the study of History provides those who care.  Watching Dick go back in time over a forgotten photo, remembering the positive influences in his life, sharing them with me, is gawd-damned priceless.

I fear our culture's reliance on entertainment has perforated our value of History, punching out the human substance, leaving a skeleton of dates and places.  Thanks to Dick and so many others, I can never look at a WW2 warbird without thinking of the pilots, the crew, what happened 'after the war'...

And there I go off on a tangent!  Let's focus on the pinup! (laughs)

When I started this bird, I had poor photographic reference of the topless devil-woman - a small black and white photo with no color, no definition, no detail.  Darn. ;)

Well, the response to my call for help in figuring out what "she" really looked like was fantastic.  Little bits from around the world trickled, adding suggestive peeks until a relative of one of the gunners emailed, "My wife still has her dad's bomber jacket with the girl on the back."


SCORE!


The only thing worse than my artwork of airplanes is my artwork of PEOPLE.  Especially nude women. Remember, I started sketching airplanes as a pre-schooler.  Having teachers crab about my doodling of warbirds on homework was bad enough.  Practicing pinups as a 3rd grader would have undoubtedly charted a different history for me!


Anyway.


With the jacket photo and the new crew photo, I was able to piece together a plausible rendering of Satan's girlfriend enough to finish the piece.  For those of you who are interested in purchasing a signed print, realize this - most of her is hiding behind the engine cowling.  I know, I know...


To Dick, the prurient parts are all but forgotten.  But the memories of those he served alongside remain clear.  "Let me tell you another story about Mannix.  What kind of a guy he was.  See, we were..."


Tap tap tap.

Thank you to R.C. for taking the time to photograph the jacket.
Oh.  One more thing.  Mannix is the short guy, middle of the back row, under the engine.  Dick is on the left, squatting down, first row.