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Paratroopers of the 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, gained a visible link to their historic past and recent combat deployment with the unveiling of the painting “At the End of the Day” by artist James Dietz at the post theater April 23.
In introducing the painting to his Soldiers, 3-509th Commander Lt. Col. Val Keaveny pointed to parallels between their service and that of their predecessors.
“If you remember, our forefathers in the 509th executed America’s first combat jump on 8 November 1942,” Keaveny said. “On 8 November 2006, you unfurled your colors and your guidons, for the first time in combat since World War II.
“The 509th in World War II were the pioneers – everything they did was the first,” he told the assembled paratroopers. “The 101st Airborne Division and the 82nd Airborne Division followed, and they took their cues from what your forefathers in the 509th did.”
The new print is the second Dietz has created of the 509th. His first, titled “You Have Your Orders,” depicts the 509th’s first combat jump in World War II – into battle during Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa.
“At the End of the Day” connects the 509th’s World War II service with today’s Soldiers.
In the painting a group of Soldiers tends to an injured comrade beside an up-armored Humvee in the dusky Iraqi twilight. Watching over their shoulders from both sides are ghostly figures in World War II uniforms.
“To effectively capture everything you did, in a single work, we knew we had to have a few key ingredients,” Keaveny said. “We had to show the faces of the men who had been in the heat of battle. We had to show the expressions, the heat, the filth, the physical exhaustion from wearing that body armor. And we had to show Soldier loyalty.
“It’s something you can’t describe, but you can see in the face and the posture of every Soldier,” he said. “We knew that we wanted to bridge the gap of history and show how similar you are to the heroes of World War II.
“We wanted to represent all of your exploits, all of your accomplishments and get something that every Soldier can relate to,” he continued. “Something that showed we were all in it together at the end of the day.”
Dietz spoke to the Soldiers after painting was unveiled to loud applause.
“I could never in one painting, in a hundred paintings, describe the effort that you men have done,” he said quietly. “I hope you find some bit of your service in my humble efforts to describe them.”
Dietz, whose son is also a paratrooper, was in Iraq and met with the battalion commander and command sergeant major. He said the inspiration was their description of wanting to capture the tradition of the unit, which had been recently reactivated but traced its roots back to the Soldiers of World War II.
“Luckily the skill level, the inspiration, the being at the right place at the right time with the right tools all worked in favor of this being, I think, one of the strongest paintings I’ve ever done in my life,” Dietz said.
That afternoon the artist spent hours autographing and adding personal messages to “At the End of the Day” prints for the 3-509th paratroopers. As the Soldiers came through the line he asked each to sign two copies of the print for his personal collection.
“A painting only goes so far in being able to capture some of the emotions these guys have after coming out of combat – good and bad,” Dietz said. “I like to think that in some way it touches a good point in what they want to remember about their service. If I can do that in a way that isn’t too maudlin, that isn’t too sentimental, that isn’t too overly heroic, then I’ve done my job.”
The original print is on display in the regimental conference room on the second floor or Bldg. 602.