Paintings on display at Veterans Gallery cover Bush’s career as Navy pilot

Artist Tom Stahl stands next to a painting of Leo Neadeau pulling John Delaney out of the plane that had to be ditched in the ocean. George H.W. Bush is in the background. The painting by Stahl is in the collection at the Veterans Gallery in Little Hocking. (Photo by Jess Mancini)

LITTLE HOCKING — The Veterans Gallery in Little Hocking is a walk through history with more than 120 paintings of the late President George H.W. Bush’s service as a Navy pilot in World War II.

Thomas Stahl started 22 years ago when he was commissioned to paint the USS San Jacinto, the aircraft carrier upon which Bush served. In the years following, he has painted events in Bush’s service, including when his plane was shot down by the Japanese and two crew mates were killed and his rescue at sea by a submarine crew.

The gallery held a ribbon cutting on Thursday. Bush died Friday night at the age of 94.

“It was a shock,” said Stahl, who developed a friendship with the late president through correspondence by letters and four telephone conversations.

Stahl said he developed an emotional connection with the late president through his research for the paintings and speaking to Bush’s contemporaries, many of whom served in the war with the president or during the same battles and missions.

A mission briefing with George H.W. Bush in the center aboard the San Jacinto in World War II. (Photo by Jess Mancini)

A highlight of the gallery is a 41-minute movie, “Grandma’s Story: Heroes, a Handsome Prince and Men who Fought the War,” that was written and narrated by Bob Welsh. The movie is about Barbara Bush telling her grandchildren about granddad’s service in World War II.

Many of the paintings by Stahl are in the movie and illustrate the narrative.

An open house will be held 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday, Stahl said. The movie will be shown during the open house, he said.

On Sept. 2, 1944, Bush led an attack on a Japanese radio installation at Chichijima. His plane was struck by enemy anti-aircraft fire.

Bush flew the crippled plane over the ocean where the crew would bail out. Bush was blown from the plane when he attempted to bail and the other two crewmen, Radioman Second Class John Delaney and Lt. j.g. William White, the gunner, were killed.

Stahl’s paintings depict the event, how the Japanese attempted to capture him while he floated in a life raft, how other Navy pilots strafed the Japanese boats to protect the future president and how he was taken aboard by a U.S. submarine, including a painting of a sailor who filmed Bush going aboard the sub.

The death of his crew had a life-long impact on the future president, who once started to cry during one of the four telephone calls with Bush, Stahl said.

The gallery includes letters from the president, the first letter dealing with the painting of the USS San Jacinto, of which the original hangs in the Bush Presidential Library.

“President Bush has No. 1,” Stahl said.

The last correspondence was in November through a secretary for the president as Bush by that time was incapable of writing, Stahl said.