The history of the Tuskegee Airmen will forever have a place in the halls of some the nation’s most prestigious military museums, thanks to a McComb, Miss., native who now calls Hattiesburg home.
Clint Martin, 68, learned during the summer that his original artworks will be displayed in the Pentagon, the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, and the Mississippi Museum of Art.
He also is applying to have them displayed in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans.
“It’s a real honor to be in some of the most prestigious museums in the country,” Martin said as he worked on a pastel drawing depicting the 99th Pursuit Squadron airplanes flown by Lt. Col. Clarence Jamison and Lt. Col. Charles Dryden.
“It’s been a heck of a ride. I never would have thought my artwork would have sent me to the top like this,” the artist and Korean War era Air Force veteran said.
The Tuskegee Airmen were the nation’s premier black combat aviators who flew largely in North Africa and Italy during World War II. While just under 1,000 graduated from flight training school and 450 went overseas for combat, only about 130 survive today, Martin said.
And for the few that remain, Martin, who is a familiar face at reunions and other events featuring the airmen, is keeping their legacy alive.
“I just saw him two to three weeks in Atlanta, and it was a pleasant surprise,” Jamison, 89, said in a telephone interview from his Shaker Heights, Ohio, home. “I wasn’t too familiar with his work before that, but he gave me a picture of the 99th Pursuit Squadron.”
That conversation, along with a separate conversation with Dryden at the same conference, led to the inspiration for Martin’s current work.
“He told me what he wanted to do about getting a picture of my airplane and Charlie Dryden,” Jamison said. “The Red Tails (332nd Fighter Squadron) receive so much of the publicity that we seem to have been almost forgotten. It was a pleasant surprise to see him doing this and drawing attention to the original 99th.”
Martin said his fascination with the Tuskegee Airmen began at an early age, having two of the 10 Mississippi men who joined their ranks hail from his native Pike County. They were the late Oliver Dillon of Baertown and Walter Downs of Magnolia.
“Both are deceased now, but I got to know them quite well over the years. And I knew Oliver Dillon since I was knee high to a duck,” Martin said. “But I’ve always liked airplanes since I was 4 or 5 years old.”
He began building models with a 10 cent balsa wood plane he bought at the hobby store in McComb during World War II.
And while his love of model airplanes carried over into his adulthood as a dentist in the Los Angeles area, Martin said his experimentation with charcoal, paints and pastels didn’t begin until later in life after making contact with several Tuskegee Airmen in California.
“I had always known these guys were some of my heroes, but I didn’t really get into it until reading an article in the Los Angeles Times in 1979,” Martin said.
“About 13 years ago, I decided I wanted to experiment with art and my initial endeavor was to do black and white pencil sketches,” he said. “I really didn’t like the outcome because there was no light to it.”
And because the 332nd was nicknamed the Red Tail Black Angels, he decided to experiment with paint and chalk.
“I did four that came out OK, but not as well as I was hoping for so I redid them,” he said.
Today, he has eight finished artworks, all historically accurate depiction of the aircraft and combat situations, a credit as a historical adviser in the HBO movie “The Tuskegee Airmen” that starred Laurence Fishburne and Cuba Gooding Jr. and is working on two additional artworks.
But having his work displayed in the museums is the top honor.
“Of all the things I’ve done to pay my respects to these guys, this is the apex,” Martin said. “It has been an honor for me, but more of an honor for them. And it’s easy for me because I like to do it.”
Information from: Hattiesburg American, http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com
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