Portraits of Courage: Paintings of Military Heroes by President Bush

President George W Bush Painting lead image

They gave their all to defend our country -- and now a former president is honoring them through the art of oil painting.

"Portraits of Courage" is a best-selling, vibrant collection of paintings and stories by President George W. Bush that honors the sacrifice and courage of America’s service members and veterans. Growing out of President Bush’s outreach and the ongoing work of the George W. Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative, "Portraits of Courage" brings together 66 full-color portraits and a four-panel mural painted by President Bush of members of the United States military who have served our nation with honor since 9/11 -- and whom he has come to know personally.

The paintings are an honest, unpretentious look at the faces of our military and veteran heroes. In the introduction, Bush writes: “I’m not sure how the art in this volume will hold up to critical eyes. After all, I’m a novice. What I am sure of is that each painting was done with a lot of care and respect.”

It is President Bush’s desire that these stories of courage and resilience will honor our men and women in uniform, highlight their family and caregivers who bear the burden of their sacrifice, and help Americans understand how we can support our veterans and empower them to succeed. President Bush will donate his net author proceeds from “Portraits of Courage” to the George W. Bush Presidential Center, a nonprofit organization whose Military Service Initiative works to ensure that post-9/11 veterans and their families make successful transitions to civilian life, with a focus on gaining meaningful employment and overcoming the invisible wounds of war.

 Three of George W. Bush's Portraits of Courage
Three of George W. Bush's Portraits of Courage

Here are some of the heroes featured in President Bush’s bestselling book:

Sgt. Daniel Casara

Casara served his country proudly for nearly 15 years. He deployed in 2005, and on Sept. 23, his M113 rolled over an anti-tank mine. The explosion flipped his tank, killing two and injuring four. He suffered bilateral fractures to his right tibia and fibula, a shattered left tibia, shattered heel and ankle bones to both feet, and a dislocated right hip. To date, he has undergone 24 surgeries and countless hours of physical therapy.

Sgt. Casara is currently continuing his rehabilitation at Naval Medical Center San Diego (Balboa Hospital). Using sports and recreational activities to support his rehabilitation, he has continued to strengthen his legs.

Casara cycles, golfs, plays baseball and softball, and snowboards. Since the age of 2, he has played the drums and currently plays in a local band. He joined the Board of Governors at Morgan Run Club and Resort in Rancho Santa Fe, California, and was the chairman of the 2016 and 2017 Charity Classic (an annual nationwide charity event hosted by ClubCorp).

Casara is a 2016 graduate of the Golf Academy of America in San Diego, and he is currently pursuing a degree in criminal justice.

Sgt. Tim Lang

Lang was the turret gunner on a Humvee patrolling in Fallujah, Iraq, in October 2006, when his vehicle was hit by a roadside IED. Two of his comrades were killed in the blast, and several others were seriously wounded. Lang’s right leg was shattered. After more than 28 surgeries, doctors could not save his leg, and it was amputated below the knee.

Lang has taken his loss as a challenge and has excelled at numerous sports. In 2010, he was selected to participate in the inaugural Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he participated in wheelchair basketball. In addition, Lang received Scuba Diving International’s Advanced Open Water Certification through the Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba organization at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Golf is one of his favorite pastimes, thanks to the Salute Military Golf Association program at Olney Golf Park. Through this program, he has become an accomplished golfer. After several years at Walter Reed, he has returned home to Michigan and is pursuing a degree at Eastern Michigan University.

Cpl. Michael Politowicz

Politowicz grew up in Detroit. He has served with Combat Engineers Battalion, Wounded Warrior Battalion-East and now continues his military career with the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC).

He has been riding from a young age and turned to racing, because he couldn’t run when he returned from Afghanistan. With the help of The Bicycle Shop and Jack Kane Custom Bicycles, he has learned that better components and carbon frames can lead in improved efficiency and less joint and body fatigue.

His first triathlon was in Corolla, North Carolina. He finished his first athletic endeavor since being wounded in 1:00:56, placing fifth out of 35 competitors. Since then, he’s competed in multiple challenges, such as a 5K for the Patriot Charities; local races; the Marine Corps Marathon; and the Warrior Games.

Major Kent Solheim

Solheim has served in the United States Army for more than 18 years and has deployed six times in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was wounded in July 2007 in Iraq when he sustained three gunshot wounds to his legs and one gunshot wound to his left shoulder. He lost his right leg as a result of his injuries.

Solheim began competitive road cycling when he was 16 years old. He raced for seven years, first as a junior and then as a Category 1/2 cyclist. Among his many accomplishments are placing fourth in the Ontario (Canada) Junior Summer Games Team Time Trial, winning a Regional Cycling Championship, placing fifth in the Ontario Category II Provincial Road Racing Championships and competing in the 1992 Cycling Olympic Trials.

During his time in the Army, Solheim was running competitively and was selected to compete on the Fort Hood/III Corps 10-mile running team. After his injury, he returned to athletic competition to help in his recovery. He competed in sprint and Olympic distance triathlons, winning a Regional XTERRA Paratriathlete title, placing second in the 2011 New York City Paratriathlete open division category (third-best time in the Below the Knee Amputee National Division) and qualifying for the Paratriathlete World Championships. He also earned a top three finishing time in his age group, competing against able-bodied competitors.

Solheim continues to be on active duty and currently resides in North Carolina.

Sgt. Leslie Zimmerman

Zimmerman was born and raised in Utah and joined the Army at age 18. She deployed to Kuwait and entered Iraq at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom as a medic. She received an Army Commendation Medal for her actions while deployed.

Upon her return from deployment, she attended Primary Leadership Development Course (PLDC), graduated on the commandant's list and received the leadership award. She continued her medical training during this time and became an EMT-intermediate. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress and honorably discharged from the Army as a sergeant.

Zimmerman lives in Utah with her husband and three children. She enjoys racing mountain bikes for Continue Mission, a veteran support organization.

David J. Smith

Smith joined the Marine Corps in 2003 and served as an infantry rifleman and team leader with Alpha Company “Raiders” of the 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. He was deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During his service, his unit was engaged in some of the heaviest fighting of the war to date, including the battle of An Najaf in August 2004. Smith was honorably discharged in 2007, but upon his return to the states, he experienced severe symptoms of PTSD.

One event, in particular, hurt him the most. During an intense gunfight one night, he caught movement and muzzle flashes out of the corner of his eye coming from a nearby alleyway below his position. He didn’t have his night-vision mounted, because his team had been clearing through the building. Acting on instinct, he shot into that group of targets moving toward their position. It turned out to be a group of Marines, and Smith wounded one of them. That warrior was sent home and had part of his foot amputated. Smith lost contact with him for many years, and he didn’t know how well he was doing. It was the single most painful, regrettable moment of his life. Knowing that he had injured one of his own “haunted me for years,” in his words.

“I had a very hard time admitting that something was wrong," Smith said. "Instead of taking responsibility for my transition like I should have and asking for help, I tried to ignore it all, because it was painful and embarrassing and I didn’t want to appear weak. Ultimately, I found myself staring down the barrel of a shotgun. That’s when I realized, I just couldn’t fix the problems on my own, and I needed help.”

Smith participated in his first event with the Bush Center in 2012, riding in the W100K -- a high-endurance mountain bike ride -- just a month after he had contemplated suicide. At that time, he remembers feeling like his heart was going to explode every day from all the emotions he was finally feeling again, as he had the chance to bike and laugh with fellow warriors.

Since then, Smith has worked toward providing transition assistance for fellow veterans and eliminating the stigma of post-traumatic stress. In February 2015, he participated on a panel discussion with President Bush and three other veterans about transition in hopes it helps others avoid the same big mistake he almost made: “Seek the help you need, and you’ll respect yourself for it.”

Today, Smith is a great example of life after post-traumatic stress. After graduating from UC Berkeley, he interned on the New York Stock Exchange, delivered disaster response with Team Rubicon in the Philippines and traveled to almost 30 countries on missionary and humanitarian projects. He finished those projects in December 2014 and moved to Norway, where he lives with his fiancee and works as the chief marketing officer for a software start-up company.

“Day-to-day life is amazing,” Smith said. “I don't struggle with depression and anxiety, I'm not afraid to fall in love or show my emotions, and I work hard to be a great man every single day. I refuse to let past failures or experiences shape the way that I view the world. I’ve never been happier, healthier or more at peace than I am today.”

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