16 October, 2021

"The Obstinate Owl II " - F-86F Sabre, 35th FBS, 8th FBG as flown by...

"Gawd.  You get to meet the most amazing people..."

Ever hear the phrase, "If you're the smartest/best/coolest person in the room, find another room"?

(cough cough)

Uh... my seat in the room of "...most amazing people" is hewn from solid granite with a foundation that sinks a mile into the earth.  I ain't moving anywhere.

It's a great gig.  But, it's spoiled me.  Perhaps rotten.  At least for the word, "Leadership."

To this point, the word often makes me blanch — what my generation passes as Leadership is (often) simply not.  At best it's naive.  At worst, it's a manufactured veneer.  Narcisism anyone?

To me, this photo represents the Bonfire of the Vanities.  

"Oooh.  That's a little negative, don't you think?" 

Nah.  Hear me out. (irony-alert!)

Need to experience this for yourself?  Clue into LinkedIn and read the myriad of posts stuffed with the pronoun "I," the bullet-pointed lists of assured success-tips, pontificated musings and the remarkable youth (of all ages) from which they're conveyed.

Will Rogers was a "National Treasure."  If he were alive today, I'd vote for him.  So would you.  Prolly.

Guilty as charged, too.

Nevertheless, the more I spend time with "...the most amazing people," the more I'm convinced that Leadership is a deep, personal void that one fulfills by using God-given talent, perfecting acquired skill and confidence that every human has a responsibility to the other.

Hmmm.  Maybe I should post that. 

(cough cough)


Have a look at the sketch at the top of this post — it's a North American F-86F-30 Sabre, circa Spring, 1953, South Korea, airfield "K-13."

The story that will follow includes bombs, rockets, risk, reward, the moon, a drunk executive and his grateful wife and the kind of cache that will make even the most distinguished hero straighten up, shut up and listen up.

And it involves The Brady Bunch.  Yes.  With Marcia, Greg and Florence Henderson ("Mike Brady" was kind of a 'meh' but that's another story).

So... ©CBS (I guess) owns the copyright to The Brady Bunch.

Jan vs. Marcia.  I was (and remain) TEAM JAN.  Marcia was too vain. (Oh! My Nose!)

But first, let's get the Geeky stuff out of the way.

• This is an F model (not an A or an E or an H and certainly not a fat-nosed D).

Significance?  The F model Sabre was the perfection of the breed.  Aesthetically, it's probably the most beautiful jet fighter ever made.  But Aerodynamically, it was almost perfect.   Though unable to sustain Mach 1 in level flight, it absolutely mastered its flight envelope.  Rumor has it that if the pilot (somehow) managed to get it in a spin, all one had to do was center the controls and it would return to normal vectored flight.  

Beautiful AND pleasant.  How's that for airplanes?!*

This is an F-86D.  I drew this for a family who loved their Patriarch.

Someone actually said, "The D-model is ugly!"  Bah.  They wouldn't know 'ugly' if it farted on their lap.

• The particular Sabre I'm drawing right now is an "F" model and part of the 8th FBG.   That'd be "Fighter Bomber Group" for those who don't care to know all the military acronyms.  And in case you're wondering about FBS, that'd be "Fighter Bomber SQUADRON."

But, back to the letter "B."

Significance?  "B" in the Air Force world means "Bomber."  Though her pilot "...thinks (he) saw a MiG, once..." (and would have loved to tangle with it), this F-86F was a ground-pounder, dropping bombs and strafing targets.  

So I asked him, "Did you ever want to get into a dogfight (with the North Korean** MiGs?)"

He replied, "Ah hell no. I liked bombing missions!  I could have flown around (on MiG patrol) all day and never see (MiGs)!  But when I was bombing, I was getting something done!  'Something happened' every time I took off and something happened every time I dropped my bombs."

So, I asked, "How'd you do hitting the target?"

He just glowered, coughed, looked away for a moment... then locked eyes and stated flatly, "I always hit the target."


I got his point.  The man never missed.  Which is good because... uh... never mind.  I'll hit that point in a later post.

"Major Tom to Ground Control..." © NASA

• The F-86F that I've been commissioned to draw represents the absolute apogee of the pilot's career (at least that's what he thinks).  But, you'd never, ever guess it because the pilot of this particular aircraft is an American Gawd.

Significance?   Well, that gets into this word, "Leadership" - at least how my generation has tried to promote it. 

So.  Back to that bonfire... Thank you @Cracked.com. 

Pour yourself a cup/glass of whatever you think is prudent and clear your December calendar.  The unveiling of this art will be live-streamed.

And you'll see (hopefully) that "Leadership" walks slowly, needs a cane (sometimes) and clears the room of poseurs. 


Clears the room?  How about... clears the space.

More coming. :)

The quote is ©ME!.  If the Kardashians call me up and want to buy it, it will cost ONE MEEELION DOLLARS.  No... Seven.  No... TWELVE.   NO... 

Stand by.  This is going to get GREAT.   :)

*The Supermarine Spitfire is beautiful, pleasant and... amazing.

**Also (mostly) flown by Chinese and Russian pilots.  

21 September, 2021

Flown West: Eugene "Red" James. Are you supposed to read this?

Eugene "Red" James sits in his Corsair, VMF-311 sometime in August of 1945.

At some point, everyone must come to grips with the reality that life is personal.

There is a point to-it-all and there is a test.

* break break *

Years ago, “life” afforded the opportunity to learn about itself in the form of “old guys.”  Specifically, combat aviators from WWII.  

As a history geek, it’s one thing to actually meet the people who’d participated in the peaks and valleys of the human timeline.  It’s another to learn that real life is transacted, mostly, between those peaks and valleys.

In between dogfights, bombing runs and secret missions, life was common, if not mundane.  

These Old Guys, eyewitnesses to huge crescendos of humanity, mostly raised families, started businesses, walked to work, were married, divorced, hurt their children, were hurt by their children, made money, lost fortunes…. normal life. 

Life, however it is lived is a Process and Truth the result.

The process of sorting this “truth” is like the Prospector’s practice of panning for gold — swishing out the dirt and debris to leave behind the nuggets of value.  Hanging around “Old Guys,” especially those who’ve experienced much, can make someone rich. 

However, there’s that phrase, “Not all the glitters is gold.”  Conversely, “Not all gold glitters.”  In fact, sometimes the most valuable is hard, black, and so jagged, it draws blood.

Meet Eugene “Red” James. 

Red with his VMF-312 squadron on the CV, Badoeng Strait (CV-116)

As a fighter pilot, Red was a commoner of the extraordinary breed.  He was not an ace, neither did he partake in war-changing battles.  He did, however, accumulate an impressive tally of missions in WWII and the Korean War.   Years ago, I wrote a little .pdf about his life called, “Marine Red.”  It describes how he learned to master the famous fighter, the Chance-Vought F4U Corsair and wield it in mortal combat.  

You can read it by clicking here.  But not quite yet. Read on, ok?


“I just did my job,” he’d say after recalling a particular memory of this or that combat action.  Though he was highly decorated — The Distinguished Flying Cross is not handed out to just anyone — his modesty was sincere.  Utterly so.   He didn’t swagger, he didn’t brag, he didn’t boast… his participation in war was simply the result of circumstance, born at the right/wrong time with the right/wrong genes.

Later in life, he was content to poke around his small town, hands in pockets, making small talk, playing pinball and doting on his wife, Dorothy.  Bumping into him ‘at the store’ was an invitation for fifteen, twenty, thirty…minutes of friendly banter about ‘stuff.’

“See ya Red!”


And he’d putter on his way, leaving you/me the happier.

I got to meet Red by bumping into his grand daughter (in a fashion).  She was thrilled to talk about this representative of Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” to such a degree, she handed out her mom’s phone number.

“You will call my mom, right?  She’ll connect you with my grandpa!  He flew Corsairs!”

“Yep. Sure.”  A little weird to have strangers extract promises and offer family phone numbers… but life is weird.  So, why not?!

Besides, Corsairs are cool.  The greatest fighter aircraft of WWII?  Quite possibly.  But that’s not important here.  Suffice it to state, I got to know the Old Guy.  I think…we became friends of a sort, at least the kind of friendship that can happen between someone who’s twice one’s age and separated by huge distance.

Red's granddaughter, Red and me.  I made a presentation at the National Naval Air Museum about Red.  If you squint, you can see a checker-nosed F4U-4 in the background; Red flew that precise airplane, BuNo 97349

But, there was a moment when I wasn’t so sure he’d even tolerate me again.  

Early on in meeting Old Guys, I developed a set of patent questions that reached beyond the cockpit and into the vague, the personal.  Socrates wrote, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  As exiting as a Corsair is/was, once the data is known, it’s just a machine.  The pilot, however, is a life.  And there’s far more to life than war, right?

Anyway, Red’s daughter had warned me that in his age, some of his cognitive abilities  were like skips in a vinyl record.  I could always come back to a point but not to be frustrated if he couldn’t express himself so clearly.  The question, “What makes a man successful?” resulted in a poignant moment of frustration as he appeared to struggle with the answer.

As it turned out, the struggle was no fault of age but the churning through eight decades of life, sorting and distilling the answer in a way that I could understand. 

So, He told me a story.

It’s a good one!   The story involves an attack on an ocean port near Pyongyang, North Korea during the Korean War.  There’s flying into flak, taking battle damage, a fantastic crash landing and a host of circumstances that will make even the most cynical believe in the Divine.  Against all odds, Red brought his once-damaged Corsair back to the carrier, healed and whole.

I kid you not. You should hear it, but that will have to wait for another day.  Today,  it’s more important to get to the point... Red finished his story with his finger stabbing at my chest, his voice slightly raised and his blue eyes shooting icy cold condemnation, “…and that man was a coward!”  

I will never forget how that last word came out of his mouth, “…coward!”   He spat it as if it were the most repulsive filth he knew. A few seconds passed, a deep inhale, sigh and he sank back into his chair, defying me to break his stare.

Awkward?  Yes.   Uncomfortable?  Absolutely.  Riled-up old men are not at all pleasant to be around.  Still, the story he told didn’t have what I’d imagined as the traditional expression of Cowardice.

In Red’s story, no one ran away from battle.  There was no sobbing at the bottom of a war trench.  No cries for mommy.  But the word remained – a word that embodies perhaps the worst, at least for a man.  To be called a Coward is a curse of the worst order — to be known for failure, for fear, for worthlessness… “coward” is a bad word for sure.

Was this "the coward moment"?  Dunno - could be.  Does it matter?  Prolly not.  The best thing was that it was one of many over the years.  

Red remained simmering in his chair, a calm fury betrayed by a slight tremor of the hand and trembling of the jaw.

I gulped… perhaps a wiser person would have left well enough alone. But I wasn’t quite as wise as I am today.

“That’s a hell of a story.  But I have one more question.”

Red glared.

“That guy you called a coward.  He didn’t really seem like a coward to me.  A jerk, sure.  But a coward? What’s a coward to you?”

(Again, the story is pretty incredible.  You’ll have to wait for the details).

He leaned forward, placing his hands at the end of the seat as if he were going to leap onto mine and hissed, “A coward is someone who doesn’t do what he’s supposed to.”

Please.  Read that again.  

In a moment, his words blew through me like a cold South Dakota wind scours a stuffy, dank house.  Clarifying, shattering and sobering — in an instant.  There’s a reflexive action to slam the door and, “keep the cold out!”   But then, there, I knew better — Truth can be like that.  Icy, brutal.  And at times, necessary.

Of course, all the images, memories and moments of Cowardice, as expressed in my rich American life came to mind.  The failings of politicians, celebrities, business leaders, ministers of faith… friends, family and of course my own rap sheet were distilled in a simple, harsh paradigm that somehow, someway an Absolute was written onto a human’s soul and it alone was Judge and Jury.

To Red James, life came with a personal obligation and the obvious answer was to fulfill it.  Yet, any number of temptations and distractions could deflect our time.  Some small, some large but none inconsequential. 

What makes anyone successful? To Red James it was a personal calling, a fulfillment of responsibility that if avoided or ignored resulted in the condemnation of cowardice.  

“So what am I supposed to do, Red?”  Pssshhh!  Don't think for a second that I actually asked that question!   I’m so damn glad I had the common sense to keep my mouth shut — I knew damn well the answer was one afforded by the voice of conscience, the work of reason and the faith that the soul is hard wired for a thing greater than daily life.  

The answer to that question was mine and mine alone. 

Another quote came to mind, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36, NASB).

I have since stopped asking that question about "Success."  It's really none of my business.

Life is so short… it’s devilishly easy to get distracted by fame, pleasure, ease. I am extraordinarily grateful to Red for the sobering touchstone that life is a mission — a personal one — that transcends the temporary.

Yesterday, September 20, 2021, Red James died.  I’m certain he’s in the presence of Grace, woven into the eternal fabric of those giants that proceeded him, resting in the sweet peace that he did what he was supposed to…and one of those ‘supposed to’s’ was direct me.

Godspeed, Red James.

I believe I'm supposed to meet you again, too. 

Red leaves the train station, bound for WWII, some time in the summer of 1942.  He was 20 years old.

See ya, Red...but not before I've done what I've supposed to do.

Red's F4U-4 Corsair.  Not my best drawing but to me, it's one of my most important.

21 August, 2021

Profile 155: Hughes OH-6A as flown by Hugh Mills, C Troop, 16th Cavalry


One of the most impactful 'combat' photos I've seen is also the most nondescript.  In fact, it's so nondescript, 99.9% of humankind would think it a throw-away.

Have a look.

A careful ".1%" eye will notice that the trees are of a deciduous variety; the long, spindly trunks are (as any school child will tell you) Bishop Wood!  Though used for food (the leaves are edible and the fruit can be fermented to make wine), the tree is also known to be extraordinarily strong.  So strong, anyone with the time and inclination to scurry up trunk could easily reach their way into the lush, thick canopy that flourish as high as 60 feet off the ground (AGL - for you aviation-minded.)

Blah blah blah blah. 

Just kidding.  Are these really Bishop Wood trees?  Maybe... I don't know anything about trees, especially trees in the forests of the Central Highlands of (former) South Vietnam.  Forgive me for the rabbit-trail as I simply wanted to put some verbal 'distance' into the before/after photo (so y'all wouldn't just jump ahead). 

The reality of this photo is that it's a life or death moment between the photographer and a North Vietnamese soldier.  In a tree.  With an AK-47.  Firing off his clip...

...straight into the face of the photographer; a helicopter pilot.

The picture was snapped in April of 1968 by Bruce Huffman(C-troop, 9th Cav) who was in a hover in a UH-, somewhere in the foothills West of Hue, South Vietnam.  He saw the poofs of smoke coming from the clattering assault rifle, a peculiar duel of shooting bullets vs. shooting film. 

Need some help finding the NVA soldier?

See below.

If you squint, you can see the smudge of gun smoke. 

"Ahhh.  I see it!" (you say).

"Yeah, and if this were real life, you'd be dead." (I say).

Frankly, it hit me smack-dab in the forehead how humans can create and survive such mortal environments.  It takes a lot of experience to look into the moment above and notice the difference between puffs of cordite and the sensory noise of everything else.

So, time-travel yourself to 1968 and put yourself in Huffman's shoes.

What would YOU have done?

For me, I think I'd just have gone slack jawed and stared until the slugs knocked me into either a field hospital or Jesus' knee. 

Anyway, I'm introducing my newest public commission - that of a Hughes OH-6A flown by one of, if not the, most heavily decorated helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, Hugh Mills.   I've been getting to know Hugh and will share what I'm learning in posts to come. Hopefully, I'll be done with this little power-egg by the first week of September.

In the meantime, here's my progress so far...

This is only my fourth helicopter.  The proportions and lines are still somewhat unfamiliar territory to my 'eye'... which leads me to the point of this post's intro.  This tiny, two-three crewed beast performed an extraordinarily visual role in the Vietnam War because its mission — as part of the U.S. Army Scout (or Aero Scout) mission — was to get down low and ID the NVA/VC in order to direct a Cobra helicopter to deliver its heavier firepower.

Quite literally, like a hunting dog sniffing out pheasants, theScouts kicked up the enemy...only instead of flying away like the game bird, the NVA/VC often hunkered down and shot back... at distances that were regularly (repeat, no exaggeration) point-blank. 

I remember a few years ago, I asked Bruce how they (Scouts) did their work and he described a process that involved flying 50-70mph at 6-10' off the ground (or tree canopy) simply looking for 'bad guys.' 

"What on earth can you see at 60mph, ten feet above the trees?!" I asked.

"Lots of things," Bruce replied.  "If you're thinking that there's a skill to it, there is.  Aero Scouts needed experience and a great sense of observation."

"Like what?"

"You see paths, footprints... sometimes people shooting at you.  And that's the point.  We found them."

Hmmmm.  When I read Hugh Mills' famous book, I initially thought the title, "Low Level Hell" was simply dramatic literary license, perhaps cooked up by some marketing weenie at the publisher.  No such thing.  It was Hugh's unit's (The Outcasts) slogan.

HEARTILY RECOMMENDED.  (geez not a single four-star or less review?!?). Click the pic.

Easily as awesome-of-a-read as Robert Mason's "Chickenhawk."

A LONG way to go.  But soon enough it'll be a (hopefully) perfectly accurate rendering of "Miss Clawd IV," the OH-6 shown below.


I got a little extra time recently to move it along... 

29 June, 2021

Profile 150: Boeing B-17G-20 as flown by Richard Bushong of the 390th BG, 569th BS


So.  What do you think meeting a 98 year old man would be like?

(Go ahead, wonder for a sec...)

Well, when the 98 year old man is a highly decorated combat pilot from WWII and the Vietnam War, it's pretty awesome!

Have a look at the artwork of the B-17 Richard flew on his last combat mission, April 13, 1944.  The mission was a "Hollywood Moment" that ended with three dead engines and ten crewmen grateful to be alive.

Want to know more?  Of course you do... and you have three options:

1. You can listen for yourself by clicking HERE, thanks to American Warrior Radio.

I'm the dork on the left.  American Warrior Radio host Ben Buehler Garcia is in the middle.
WWII B-17 bomber pilot, Richard Bushong is on the right.

2. You can listen and watch by clicking HERE, thanks to Military Tales.

3. Visit the 390th Memorial Museum (located in the campus of the PIMA Air & Space Museum)!  And, if you make it on a Thursday, you can meet Col. Richard Bushong yourself!

So that's Richard explaining the design of the B-17 to me. 
He shows up every Thursday and holds court to whoever wants to listen.

Many thanks to the Distinguished Flying Cross Society for their work in promoting the idea that "History is Nutritious!"  Do yourself a favor and go to the DFCS website and click on their "Teachers & Educators" tab.  The downloadable .pdfs are pretty awesome...

And.  They tell me that there are a few more prints of "A greater mission remains" available for sale — of course, you're not doing this on my account as Richard personally autographed each one and 100% of the proceeds go to the 390th Memorial Museum.  

Good days to be a History Geek don't you think?  

16 June, 2021

Profile 153: TWENTY YEARS LATER...North American P-51B Mustang as flown by Robert "Punchy" Powell, 352nd FG, 328th FS

Twenty years of progress, five years too late.

This post is a little light in History but heavy in appreciating its value.

Twenty years ago, I began — in earnest — my practice of “interviewing old guys and drawing their airplanes.”   Of course, I’d been drawing airplanes since I was able to fist a crayon.  But by 2001, technology provided a whole new paradigm.   Thanks to WWII ace and American hero, Clarence “Bud” Anderson, I was given extraordinary access to the fellowship of WWII pilots and aircrew.  It didn't take long before realizing the value of these people’s lives stretched far beyond the skies of war...

It didn't take long before collecting a group of amazing friends and mentors that changed my world-view. They became the grandfathers I never had.  

Today, those influences are the bedrock to my psyche as well as providing me the means to affect many, many, many others.

That's me with "Third Greatest Fighter Pilot" (in the Universe) Bill Creech.
One of over 150 "old guys" interviewed.  

Funny anecdote - one day, Bill called up and commanded, "You've been interviewing me six years!  When do I get to see it?!?"

"Hmmm.  When I get it right!"

Bill Flew West in 2012.  And I'm still working on the interview.   

What started as a lark to learn leadership has turned into something unexpectedly greater.   I've drawn over 200 specific-moment airplanes and in some fashion, told their tale.  

True story - four years ago, I was spotted in an airport and asked, "Are you that guy who draws airplanes?!"  Since then, the recognition has only increased...and in the world of aviation artists, I'm not even one of the most popular!

"History" is becoming legit. :).  Good times, eh?

Anyway, I remember getting dogged at a Veteran’s event in 2005 by a sharp-eyed critic who pointed out that my drawings weren’t  anywhere near as good as other aviation artists, especially when it came to how I drew the most crucial aspect of an aircraft - the wing.  He said they looked like knives.  


Yeah, well... he had a point.  I explained that sometimes deadlines to make an interview rushed things and wasn’t the real value of the art the pilot's signature??

    “Your wings look terrible!”

    “It doesn’t matter.  Punchy autographed it.”

    “Maybe.  BUT.  Your wings look like knives!”

Whatever.  Thankfully, a career in advertising had thoroughly beat my ego to hell.   I persisted with the interviews, the stories, the visits…and drawing their airplanes.  

Nevertheless, last year, the (gobsmackingly awesome) photographer John Slemp contacted me to use one of the very first printed drawings I’d done for a book he’s publishing featuring the iconic, painted leather jackets worn by so many airmen of the era.

He wanted to use my drawing of Lt. Robert “Punchy” Powell’s P-51B, “The West ‘by gawd’ Virginian.”

The answer was easy.  “Absolutely-freaking-NOT.”

    “Why not?”  

    “Because it’s awful.”


    “The wings look like knives!”

Punchy with a piece of the actual nose art from his WWII P-51.  He was involved in a horrible accident right after take off that resulted in most of the airplane burning up.  Crew Chief Bob Lyons salvaged this piece of history and gave it to Punchy as a token of his good fortune. 

©John Slemp

* Break break *

Let’s be real.  I’m no Troy White, Marc Poole, Robert Bailey, Rick Herter… and I never will be.  And Punchy Powell helped me realize that when one afternoon we ended up talking on the phone for over an hour and never brought up WWII or aviation once. The art wasn't my passion.  The person, however, was.

The pilot of The West ‘by gawd’ Virginian was no longer just a hero.  He was a buddy.   

You know how fantastic it is to share friendship with someone who’s got three times the life experience that you do?  IN ADDITION  to duking it it out with the enemy at 25,000 feet?!

Jealous?  Stop it.   Do yourself a favor,  pick up the phone, write an email…and make time for coffee/beer/whatever with your own gray haired heroes.   And don’t stop.  Stick with it.   You’ll find that the secrets to success are as universal as they are pin-pointedly personal.

I remember Punchy describing how he felt that 80 years old was a new plateau for him; he’d just joined a medical research project to measure whether geriatric patients could build muscle mass. He and I walked Omaha Beach at low tide for nearly an hour — he described the D-Day landings from his vantage point, from take off to landing… and a press photographer following us had to stop on account of being exhausted trying to keep up.  

Could geriatrics build muscle mass?  Uh... yeah.  Thank gawd I don't skip cardio or else I'd been left in the dust, too.

Back to Slemp and his request.

Could he use my artwork?  No, at least not that one.  But if he would wait, I would do a new one.  Last week, I finished and  day'um...twenty years of practice has paid off!

The color is better...

The lines are more accurate...

The nose art is more accurate...

The markings are more accurate...

The wings don’t look (nearly as much) like knives...

Have a look — I've added a bit of time-lapse effect so you can see the difference yourself.


But.  The progress, though obvious, has lost much of its luster in that Punchy and SO MANY of that initial cohort of WWII vets have “Flown West” as they say.  

On 22 June, 2016, five years ago, Punchy did just that.  I got the wretched honor of writing his (somewhat famous in that it went viral) obituary… read it for yourself, here.

You know, it's a shame that sometimes the inspiration for a thing doesn't get to see it's fulfillment.   Frankly, I think it's probably just-as-well that so many of "that generation" isn't here to see the anger, division and self-absorption that's come to represent America.   But I'm optimistic that the fruitlessness of our self-absorption will make itself known and we'll do the hard work to get back to more reasonable behavior.

But.  I hope it doesn't take twenty years to notice the difference. 

BLUE SKIES, Punchy Powell!   Tell the rest that we're all still working on it!*

Robert "Punchy" Powell in his leather jacket.  I've seen the galleys and it's going to be an AWESOME BOOK.   Look for it next year!  (Photographer John Slemp is still working on it...)

©John Slemp.

*I'm SO NOT religious but the Bible's Philippians 4:8 has some good words that I know Punchy would approve.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.   MSG

06 June, 2021

Profile 152: Martin B-26B Marauder as flown by Donald Wolfe, 391st BG, 575th BS


How cool is this?!?  — "You'n me" are partners in a priceless artifact of history!  

'Tell you what I’m doing to celebrate — I’ve got a date on the deck with some great friends, an adequate bottle of Willamette Valley Cabernet… and the weather weenies tell me that it'll be a gorgeous day.  If you've never experienced the sweet sun under the canopy of South Dakota skies, there's nothing like it!

Proof below.

A Canadian Harvard Mk. IV perched under a canopy of South Dakota BLUE. 
"No it isn't!  It's a T-6!"
"Uh, no it isn't!  It's a Harvard!"
Oh the stupid things we argue about, eh?
(it's a Harvard, btw)


Ahh... fat, happy and rich.  That's the way we roll, eh?

Anyway, back to that priceless piece of history that you and I own together.  It's not the red-tailed Harvard Mk.IV trainer in the photo above.  That's the proud possession of a buddy who cares for it like the treasure it is.  He'll never sell, either.

Neither is it the artwork of the greenish Martin B-26B Marauder with the peculiar black & white stripes* on the fuselage.  That's actually the bomber that South Dakota native Don Wolfe flew during WWII.  It was commissioned by two guys who wanted to honor the man and his family.  

Actually, the priceless piece of history that we own is the darkly ominous photo shown below.  

Our priceless artifact!  Yay!
This photo and everything about it is public domain.  What does that mean for you and me?  It means that the 'rights' to this moment in time are shared by EVERYONE.

Feeling rich?

It's a photo taken from a landing craft that had just deposited E Company of the 1st Infantry Division onto "Omaha Beach," during the Normandie landings of D-Day.  History nerds will know the day well - 6 June, 1944, seventy seven years ago.
Someone named the photo, "Into the Jaws of Death" and rightly so — in a few moments, over 2/3rds of the people depicted will be casualties of war.  A few months later, at the close of the battle (generally agreed to be the end of August, 1944) — well over half a million casualties, including 20-30,000 civilians, will have been killed or wounded. 

So, um...yeah.  The photo above is the "priceless artifact of history" we all own.   How so?  As a the photographer, Robert F. Sargent,  was serving as a photographer in the U.S. Coast Guard at the time, he surrendered his legal ownership to the image as part of his military service.   Thus, this photo falls under a legal metric called "Public Domain."  This means that the rights to this photo is assigned to the general public — so, we all share in its ownership with rights to value it as we wish.

Please have another look at the photo.  A whole lot of people paid for it.

Oh.  That got heavy quickly, didn't it?

The hand-off.

The past meets present, patron meets pilot; proof-positive that 'young-people' care about their past.

©2021 used with permission from patrons.   

Guilt-trip?  Not a bit.  Guilt is a dumb choice as it just makes people depressed and unproductive.  However, living up to ones legacy is a smart choice as it inspires us to live up to what we've been given.

So, tell you what.  Today, let's you and me put the glass of wine/beer/soda/fizzy-water down for a few moments, look towards the northern coast of France and remember the day when leaders and followers of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Greece, Denmark, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway and France put self-interest aside and charged into the maw of tyranny.

Then, lets toast to our good fortune...and if we end up weeping for the souls that paid the tab, so be it — in the currency of humanity, tears outweigh gold.

Today is a great day to think deeply about what it means to (as the title of Don's artwork states) "Live as if you'll never be forgotten."

*Those black and white stripes are commonly called, "Invasion Stripes" and were hastily applied to aircraft flying over the Normandy area so nervous gunners would know friend or foe.  

17 May, 2021

Profile 150: (UPDATE) Boeing B-17G-20 as flown by (Shhhh) of the 390th BG, 569th BS

This post is in response to two reader's recent questions regarding my work. 

Q:  How many people does it take to draw an airplane?

A:  It depends.  But in this case, seven!

I can't name-names but on a typical-bases, here's the break down:

1. Patron(s)

Click here.  It tells the story of "Patrons."

You've heard the expression, "Starving Artist"?   Yeah, well being an artist is great.  Starving only works for super-models.  So, I work to get paid, hence my appreciation for the word, "Patron."

But the Patron does more than simply bankroll the project.   The Patron is actually the vibe-setter which, is  absolutely as important as having a check that 'clears.'

Patrons are individuals, organizations — sometimes families — that originate the idea that "we need to make sure (insert name) gets memorialized.  Nevertheless, most of what people have heard about 'creative types' is true; we can be mercurial, capricious and (sometimes) clueless.  Thus, a Patron also establishes "Why" the project is important as the "why" is the bedrock that supports getting the project started and completed (on time).

In this particular case, the Patron is an organization that desires to honor a living WWII veteran currently playing an extraordinary role in his community.  More on that later (and you'll like it)!

Nevertheless, when a Patron contacts me for a project, he/she/it begins what is called a Commission.  But, Commissions are simply marching-orders.  The 'work' needs to begin!

2. Promoter(s)

That'd be "Heath'uh."*
She's the grand daught'uh of WWII ex-POW Chris Morgan.
To me, she personifies "Promoter" as she connected me with Chris
and has been a tireless supporter of his story.  She's shown in Burma (Mayanmar)
at the grave of Chris's friend, Jim Drake.  Click the link, watch the film.  Don't be "...dead by Christmas", ok?

Promoters are the support-folk behind the Patron.  They're employees, family, friends that help make sure the Commission proceeds as desired, as needed. 

Promoters help with research, obtaining reference material (historical photos, artifacts, lining up conversations...).  Promoters also end up with making sure the desired audience is aware of what's going on.  Sometimes that means email blasts, social media campaigns, media interviews... and sometimes putting a lid on the whole deal.

True story:  a Patron (whom I never got to actually meet) told one of his/her/its employees to "...have (me) draw my airplane as a gift for "Tom Smith."  I ended up working with a woman who had no idea what I was actually drawing but had a perfect idea of what needed to be done.  She was firm, direct... and when the drawing was completed, she let me know in no uncertain terms that 'this project' would be kept wholly secret and forever (otherwise) unknown.   Hmmm, a mystery! 

Secrecy or not, without Promoters, the art doesn't stand much of a chance to get anywhere beyond my desk.

In this case however, the Promoters definitely want to make this B-17 drawing a big deal. Once completed, there will be NO mystery.  But for now...  (nothing to see here, move along)

Except someone's got to make sure it's right, right?  After all, B-17s had purple tails, right?

Uh, say hello to...

3.  Rivet Counters(s)

94.36% of the time, Rivet Counters become the crucial players in a project.

Out in public, Rivet Counters are otherwise-invisible people we pass in the grocery store aisle, ignore at the intersection stoplight or never really engage at the office.  Faceless and nameless, they putter through life doing this/that until...

...their precise, technical, historic encyclopedia of knowledge is needed!  Then, they spring to power like the superheroes they are. In this particular case,  three RCs have provided crucial commentary to ensure that the coloration** is correct.  The markings are correct.  They weathering is correct.  The shape is correct...

Bottom line:  without the RCs, my artwork stands a great chance of being far worse than it looks.  True-story:  the RCs that help with my projects are diverse and legion; they're located in England, Ireland, Finland, France, Germany, Vietnam, Hungary, Australia, Japan... and of course the United States.

I love RCs.  They also drive me nuts.  Especially when they reveal a fatal flaw two hours before a press check! Just for the record, I have a few RC tendencies but there's a reason I like the full-blown versions hanging around the Studio.

Nevertheless, there's a time when the critique must be closed and the artwork sent to...

4.  Vendor(s)

The TBF-1C I drew as flown by Ben Phillips, VMTB-134.
It has JUST come off the XEROX 800 press. 

My style is not "fine art."  As much as I'd think it'd be amusing, there will never be a private exhibition/wine tasting/Ferrari Concours to 'feature' my work.  What I do is made for (low) quantity production. And, as it's a representation of a physical, defined object (as opposed to impressionist or abstract artwork), "it is, what it is." 

But, that doesn't mean the artwork doesn't have extraordinary value. People put it on the wall for their own inspiration — oftentimes, for totally different reasons:

"Grandpa's airplane."
"I love America!"
"A time when people came together."
"I love (insert aircraft name)!!"
"Something to remind my clients of..."

The moment I get Commissioned, my first thought is, "How many people will want this piece?"  To that point, I become dependent upon the technology, skill and quality of various sorts of printing operations.  

Ink formulations, paper composition, packaging are technical details that have a boggling number of permutations that totally affect the finished piece.  The vendors that reproduce my artwork are among the very, very best in their professions, having experience that span decades.  Additionally, they're people who truly share the passion for what we're all trying to accomplish.

True story: a partner of a particular vendor came into work on a Sunday morning to supervise a particular job to meet a particular deadline.  Remarkable?  Yes.  But that he was in the middle of excruciating chemotherapy and needed help getting into the shop from his wife is even more so.  RIP, Terry***.  You will never, ever be replaced...

Nevertheless, after the printing press ceases its work and all the prints are nicely 'jacked' and sealed, my airplane drawings are about to meet their moment of glory via...

5.  The Story.

Ben Phillips, pilot of the last TBF Avenger produced by Grumman, signs
my prints.  They were once ink-on-paper. 

Now?  They're historical artifacts.

At last count, my art is in museums, galleries and collections in fourteen countries.  Is it because I'm a brilliant artist?


Do you know how many people draw airplanes?  Lots.  Do you know how many are better-at-it than me?  Lots.  Four names come immediately to mind — Marc Poole, Rick Herter, Ian Garska and the AMAZING ROY GRINNELL...   

The power behind my distribution is fueled by the STORY behind it.  And that story is embodied in the signature of the person who made the story human.  There is no mistake: this is what Patrons (and their audience) truly want to see.  I could draw an airplane with a Q-tip™ dipped in nail polish and if the eyewitness-to-history signs it, the work steps out of 'art' and becomes an artifact.

People want to be inspired by this real connection and that's way beyond  anyone's involvement.  Frankly, it's especially great for me because it makes sure that any artist-ego I have is rightfully checked at the door.  

We stand on the shoulders of giants, eh?  A humble spot, but from here, if the sky's clear, we can see for miles!

So, that all being said, you should see the next "Progress Update" on this B-17!

Many hours span the distance between the progress-shot at the top of this page vs. the one below.  But if I've held your attention, you'll also see that those hours have included a terrific group of people, hand-to-plow, for the purpose at hand.

So... when will it be finished?  

In the next post, I'll show the next-to-last update as well as delve into the actual history of the aircraft. 

It will also be the the last one before The Event.  There won't be exotic cars on the lawn, exquisite Bordeaux or impossibly dressed art-types.   But, there will be grateful souls coming together to remember a fantastic moment in history and the life-long service of a remarkable man.

You're invited and there'll be more than a few that will like to meet you — the fact that you're reading this post at all means that somehow, some way, you're already part of the team.  

Please put the 390th BG Museum on your to-do list for 26 June, 2021.  And if you can't make it to Tucson, we'll see about live-casting the moment.

Details in the next post.


An RC totally trashed this to the point I had no spiritual recourse other than to redo it.

The next update is better.

Promise.  You can go back to your lunch, Bob.  Thank you.  And go away.  For now.


*Chris Morgan spoke with a (very) New Yahk accent.  True story - he left a message for me on my phone a few weeks before he died.  I have kept it and periodically listen just to bring back the powerful memories of a good man.

**Coloration.  Ha.  Don't get me started on what-color "Olive Drab 41" really was/is.  History writer/pundit Barrett Tillman once told me, "Nothing is true in markings!"  Paint two P-51s with the same lot of 1943-spec Olive Drab paint, ship one to rainy, cool England and send the other to muggy, hot India and in two months, the airplanes will look like they're world's apart.  Which they were. 

***What is it with Printers in that they simply can't stop working?!?  If you know one - especially the old-schoolers who have real ink jammed up their (oft tobacco stained) fingernails, send them some love & appreciation.  But hold your critique; they'll never slow down.  Ink is in their blood.