A conversation at a friend’s house inspired Jose Torres of Cataula to commission a painting to honor a Navy helicopter pilot who medevaced him from sniper and mortar fire in Binh Thuy, Vietnam.
Retired Army Sgt. First Class Jose Torres, 77, presented the oil painting to Denny Holmes of Atlanta last month, almost a year after the two men realized they both served in the area where Holmes was flying soldiers out of the hostile region in April 1970. The conversation about Vietnam came more than 35 years after Holmes may have flown a wounded Torres to safety.
“Our world is not that big,” Torres said Thursday. “We can lose each other and find each other all over again.”
Torres owes the chance meeting with Holmes to his wife, Kathryn Torres, who has been meeting for years with girls she attended school with as an Air Force brat in Bitburg, Germany. Her friend, Sharyn Holmes of Atlanta, is married to Holmes who was a commercial pilot after serving as a Navy pilot in Vietnam.
Torres thought about paying tribute to Holmes and Navy pilots as they drove back to Cataula.
“I thought somehow I had to pay tribute not just to him but to all the chopper pilots who put their lives on line to get us out of there,” he said. “I thought about doing a project to honor him and all the other pilots in his units. They were called Navy Seawolves.”
To create his vision, Torres contacted the Art Department at Columbus State University. There he was connected to Jeremy McCrary, a student in the department and an Army veteran. With a little research on the pilots and Holmes, McCrary finished an oil painting of a scene related by Torres.
“Look at the painting and it tells a story about what happened,” he said. “They put their lives on the line to get the soldiers out.”
Torres presented the work to Holmes and his wife last month.
“Everybody choked up, everybody cried,” Torres said. “It’s just a strange chain of events that took place, but I thought I had to honor this fellow, and not just because I think he may have been the guy, but all the others pilots. That’s basically what happened.”
McCrary, 37, of Columbus said recreating a scene means a lot to veterans.
“The best thing about this project is the fact that he didn’t know that person was the person who actually saved his life,” he said. “It just shocked me that someone would honor someone not knowing that if he was the one. In doing this, he honored many more helicopter pilots.”
McCrary said veterans are overlooked and undermined without the job they had in the military.
“It’s just bringing some light on the person like that,” said McCrary who served 10 years in the Army.