“Why did you have to die?” the old man asks.
The old man is Alex Yawor, and he’s asking this question of the painting he just created. It’s a portrait of a man in uniform.
For the past seven years, 93-year-old Yawor has painted portraits of men and women who’ve served our country — men and women who have given their lives for the US.
“I cry a lot while I’m painting,” he told Reader’s Digest.
And he paints a lot.
Yawor goes to the American Gold Star Mothers, an organization for mothers who’ve lost military sons or daughters, to find subjects for his paintings. One of those mothers was Norma Luther, whose son, Army Captain Glen P. Adams Jr., died in 1988 in a helicopter accident in Germany.
“I hung up the phone with Alex thinking I had just received the best New Year’s present since 1988,” said Luther. She remembers her 27-year-old son as “a soldier of soldiers.”
So, of course, Yawor painted a portrait of Glen.
To an extent, Yawor knows what it’s like for these fallen soldiers — he’s a World War II Marine veteran and has fought in Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima.
“I don’t like to talk about my service,” Yawor said.
“When I came home from service, I didn’t leave the house for a whole year,” he told Legiontown.org. “I had a problem, and I didn’t want to go outside. Finally, I went outside and I got a job. Then I started dating my so-called high-school sweetheart. I was in love with her, but I didn’t think she knew I was around. We finally got married and I was still not myself, and so I decided to start a hobby. I decided on painting.”
Despite the difficulty of his past experiences, he still wants to give back, even though he doesn’t have the steady hand he once had. RD reports that he’s painted 111 portraits (16×20) of deceased warriors, all based on photos of the subjects that parents have sent him. Each painting takes roughly a week to complete.
“A uniform with medals, badges and ribbons takes longer to paint than a plain one,” Yawor told Trib Live.
But it’s well worth it. The parents who receive these paintings appreciate his hard work, both in the military and on the canvas.
Luther keeps the portrait Yawor painted of her son in her living room as the centerpiece of the room.
“When you first get the painting, you just want to sit and cry for about two hours,” said Luther. “I cannot put into words the comfort it has been to have his picture smiling at me every day.”
Yawor, after finishing his art for the day, says good night to the soldier on the canvas. Soon, he’ll frame and ship the painting to the family who requested it.
Or “send him home,” as Yawor says.