It all started with one drawing, my "Shadowed Commando". The title has a two-fold meaning. The Navy SEALs are known for the stealth and shadowy secret way they carry out their missions, thus "Shadowed".
Also, some of our warriors suffer from traumatic memories of their service, his mind is 'Shadowed' by PTSD. One day a Veteran friend of mine was telling me he experienced PTSD from his service in Vietnam. He explained that that was the reason he closed his shop on one day during the week. That was the day he went to the VA. I understood what he was feeling because I was starting to have symptoms because of a traumatic fire accident I was in. Strangely, it happened on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day. The emergency staff at the hospital teased me about the day being Pearl Harbor Day. It was their way of trying to cheer me up.
It happened at about 8 AM at a gas station. When I told my friend, he said he remembered it. I was shocked because it was in a different city and over 20 years earlier. However, he insisted and said he remembered because he had a shop just a few blocks down the street and he remembered the sounds and chaos of fire trucks trying to get through the "parking lot" traffic. He took note that it was on Pearl Harbor Day. I wanted to make him smile, so I did a sketch for him.
An Army recruiter saw the sketch and wanted me to create one for them to put on t-shirts to give to prospective recruits. The Navy Recruiting Command was next door and they forwarded my information to their commanders, who asked if they could use one of my drawings on their national recruiting shirt. I received many commissions after that. I owe many thanks to those who have helped me. This all just seems to come natural to me, and I feel it is exactly what I am meant to do. I am so grateful and honored to tell their stories in my sketches.
It is, perhaps, a coincidence that I started my "hero" sketching about one year before the Twin Towers and Pentagon tragedies which involved both military and first responders. As I look back through my life, there have been many things that have given me experience, information, or led to what I do today. It still amazes me that the tragedy that almost took my ability to draw led to what I feel is what I am meant to do. In the fire, my right hand was burned and the doctors were concerned that I might lose flexibility. That didn't happen. So, what could have ended my dreams, fulfilled them. The chance of it happening on Pearl Harbor Day, and now I illustrate about Military and First Responders.
Sometimes bad things can turn into good things. My experience with fire gave me a deep understanding and appreciation for what those HEROES face everyday. I could never fill their shoes; I can only draw pictures and hope others will see what I see: their selfless honor and courage, and patriotism.
I certainly have an understanding for what our firefighters face. It was an honor for the FDNY to use my sketch about them on their invitation to their Firefighter Ball in Dublin, Ireland.