America Supports You: Artist Brightens Day at Naval Hospital
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 21, 2005 A well-known artist visiting the nation's capital for the dedication of the "Extra Mile" monument celebrating volunteers went an extra mile himself last week.
Artist Thomas Kinkade presents a copy of his painting "Coming Home" to United Service Organizations Director Elaine Rogers (left) following a tour of the National Naval Medical Center, at Bethesda, Md. A copy of the painting was also presented to the medical center. Kinkade visited injured sailors and Marines and their families at the hospital. Photo courtesy of United Service Organizations
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Thomas Kinkade -- known as the "Painter of Light" for his depictions of light-filled buildings -- and his wife, Nanette, visited with nine servicemembers recovering from injuries at the National Naval Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md. The United Service Organizations helped arrange the visit and accompanied the Kinkades.
"It was the highlight of our trip. We visited with nine (servicemembers), and the stories we heard were amazing," the artist said.
While talking with the servicemembers, Kinkade told American Forces Press Service in a telephone interview, he met a Marine who had received a Thomas Kinkade pocket watch from his mother. Though the guys in his unit gave him good-natured grief for his use of the rather old-fashioned timepiece, it was the first thing they looked for after their Humvee was hit by an improvised explosive device.
"The driver lost control and ... (the Marine) was ejected from the Humvee. It literally rolled over him and rolled into the canal. The backpack he was wearing got ejected off his back and went into the canal," he said. "Once he shook off the dust and looked around, he saw his guys jumping up off the ground and jumping into the canal, trying to get his backpack."
They never did find that keepsake, but Kinkade has made arrangements to replace it for the Marine, who suffered a broken hip in the incident.
After visiting the injured servicemembers, Kinkade said their desire to return to their units inspired him to continue what he's doing to try to bring some joy to servicemembers.
"I have a vision, as yet unrealized, that I want to find a way to send a miniature copy of 'Heading Home' to every soldier serving overseas," he said. "We can take this painting and send it as a gift from an artist who has not been there physically, but I'm with those guys in spirit."
A piece of that spirit will now hang in the reception area at the Bethesda facility, as Kinkade donated a copy of "Heading Home" to the medical center. The painting depicts an American servicemember walking into an "ethereal" background, he said.
The nondescript background is not the result of a lack of inspiration, the artist explained. Years ago, Kinkade painted a piece called "Coming Home," which depicted a soldier coming home for Christmas.
"I took the same soldier from that painting and recreated him in a setting much more ethereal so that it wasn't a specific home because people come home to all sorts of homes," he said. "You see the soldier walking into the field of mist, and ... it could ... suggest the homecoming of soldiers who pay the ultimate price overseas or it could be the soldier who is coming home to a future -- his future -- which is always a mystery."
Kinkade said he developed a great reverence for servicemembers early on. His father was in the Army during World War II and never lost touch with the men in his unit. It was this bond that drove the artist to reach out to servicemembers.
"As an artist, I've always thought there might be a way to link whatever talents God had given me to the armed services to provide inspiration and help to those who serve," he said.
His painting "Heading Home" has done that. He has a stack of letters as testimony that his art has been sent far and wide to servicemembers as reminders from loved ones that they will be coming home. That show of support from back home is crucial, he said. Americans' support of the troops reaffirms the validity of their fight for freedom, he said.
"Peace and safety go hand in hand. The joy of living is the joy of freedom. Without freedom, there is no joy in life," he said. "I paint a world free from war, free from terrorism, free from fear and hatred and anger. The world I paint, I think it's very affirming of the beliefs of people in this country and of the servicepeople who are overseas waging a war to protect those beliefs."
"The Extra Mile -- Points of Light Volunteer Pathway" is a new monument dedicated to the spirit of service in America, according to the monument's Web site. A series of bronze medallions forming a one-mile walking path honors the heroes of volunteerism. The monument is just blocks from the White House.