Monday, July 12, 2010
I first met Ed LaPorta a few years back when a group I co-founded, Atlanta Fine Arts League, first exhibited the portraits we painted of GA's fallen soldiers from Iraq & Afghanistan. Our artists' paint the portraits and donate them to the soldier's family members. The National Museum of Patriotism hosted our "Art From the Heart" exhibit and invited some of their special patrons & heroes to help us thank, pay respect to & celebrate the lives of those who gave their all for our country. Two of the men I met there were Ed & Eddie LaPorta. They were very moved by the portraits. Since that event I have talked with them at other patriotic events and Eddie asked me about doing a portrait of his dad. I didn't want to tell him what I normally charge for portraits and I offered to paint the portrait as a thank you for his service to America. We chose a photograph of him from about 10 years ago and I incorporated his WW2 photo in his uniform. In order to know more about his life I went to his home where he showed me a basement museum with so many pictures, awards and his old uniform. He told me stories that were unforgettable. He also showed be the notice that was sent to his parents informing them of his death. He obviously wasn't dead but a P.O.W. Mr. LaPorta turned 93 on June 21, which brings me to the reason I'm writing this post in the first place. I had the privilege of being asked to be a part of a celebration of his life and I presented the portrait to him. I will post photos later of the presentation but I really just want to tell you about Ed right now.
Born in Italy in 1917, Ed LaPorta migrated to the United States with his parents when he was 16 years old. He later joined the United States Army in 1940 where he began his basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and helped to create the 1st Armored Division. LaPorta participated in the invasion of Oran, North Africa and surrounding areas for 3½ years prior to being captured by the Germans at Kasserine Pass, North Africa, by Rommel & Co. Remaining silent during interrogation other than giving his name, rank & serial number, he was beaten & sent to a slave labor camp for 6 mths. in Reggio, Italy, then on to Stalag 3B in Furstenberg Germany for 17 mths & finally on to Stala 2B in Bugenwald, Germany for 4 mths. until he was liberated in May 1945. As Ed tells it, he and a few comrades were known as "rabble rousers", always into some mischief. He does have many stories but I will tell you about the one he told today.
As a P.O.W. his partner in gaurd was a man named Robert Gearinger, better known as "Lefty". Lefty always talked about his wife Betty back home & his little girl, Patty, whom he had never met. Ed learned everything there was to know about his friend down to the street he lived on in PA. After about 24 months as a P.O.W., Lefty came down with diptheria and was put in isolation. The "hospital" was nothing more than a broken down shack, with no doctors or medics, no nurses, no windows & no bathroom facilities.
At night, Ed, would sneak out of camp & take his friend whatever food he could find to help keep his strength up. One day, the Germans found their underground room under their barracks floor where they had a radio receiver, small caliber handguns, hand grenades, an American flag & other contraband. The Germans ordered 25 of the P.O.W's, including Ed & Lefty, before a firing squad to be shot. Only by the grace of GOD & a little help from an air raid by American Bombers did they escape that situation. At that point Lefty had been in isolation for 6 days when a German officer informed them that they were being "transferred" to Stalag 2B in Bugenwald, an 85 mile march in the dead of winter. He informed them that anyone who could not make the march would be shot & killed wherever they fell. They also knew that Bugenwald was one of the camps with the ovens & gas chambers.
Ed asked the officer about his friend Lefty and was informed that if he couldn't make the march he would be shot or if he was left at the hospital he would starve to death or be shot anyway. He suggested to the officer that he (Ed) take care of Lefty. When they brought Lefty out, he looked terrible. He was too weak to stand, let alone walk. "So what do you do with a friend who is facing certain death and has never seen his little daughter? You do what any red blooded American would do, You carry him!" It was snowing heavily and was bitter cold. Ed got the bright idea to build a sled. He used 2 boards from the wooden bunks & put on a form of seat with a headrest & footrest. He tied Lefty to the sled with his belt so he wouldn't fall off and made a rope to pull the sled. At 9 PM thay headed out for the 85 mile march.
He pulled the sled for 9 hours to an area where the snow was melting, so he could no longer pull the sled. The Germans were yelling for them to KEEP UP or be shot. So Ed took Lefty off the sled, put his arm around his shoulders and with his right hand held him by his belt and kept walking. Every so often Lefty would asked him to let him go & just take care of himself. Ed said "no way buddy, we'll make it together, you want to see your little baby don't you?". Ed says he left out the gruesome details of the march as that would be another whole story in itself.
They finally reached their destination, needless to say that the ones that made it were exhausted. Lefty told Ed that he owed him his life, that he could have never made it without him. He said his whole family would be grateful and he hoped one day that he would come to Bloomsburg, PA to meet them, especially his wife & baby girl. Ed promised him that their paths would cross again if they ever made it out of there.
They remained in Stalag 2B about 4 months until one glorious morning they woke up to no guards in front of the tent. They went outside and there were no Germans anywhere. The gates were open & unguarded so they picked up what they had and started walking through the American sector when they saw a convoy of American trucks coming to pick them up. The war was over!! They were taken to a staging area and a few days later they flew to Camp Lucky Strike in La Arve, France. There, they were put into groups according to what part of the U. S. each was going to. At this point, Lefty & Ed parted ways as Lefty was going to PA and Ed was going to California. They said goodbye and promised to meet again. They boarded different ships and headed to the good ole USA.
While in California he worked for Union Oil Co. but transitioning from war to civilization was very difficult. He had bad dreams and nightmares and put his fists through a few walls. Ed discussed all of this with his boss who was very understanding. He gave him 12 months leave of absence with the promise that if he returned within the 12 months he was assured any job he wanted in the organization. That Friday he got paid and went to the bank to get travelers checks, then home to pack 2 suitcases. That night he left.
He was on the road about 2 months, stopping in about 20 states visiting his P.O.W. buddies. After New Jersey he headed to Bloomsburg, PA to visit Lefty & meet his family. He never wrote or called to let Lefty know he was coming because he wanted to surprise him.
When Ed approached town he recognized all the landmarks Lefty had told him about during the war. Somehow, without directions, he knew just how to get to Lefty's house. He drove up , got out of his car and knocked on the door. A young mother & child opened the door and without a word spoken they just looked into each other's eyes. After about 20 seconds of total silence, she said O My God, it's Ed LaPorta! She just hugged him & cried and couldn't stop thanking him. "Had it not been for you I would not have a husband and my baby would not have a father". The little girl Patty was tugging on his trousers, he turned to her and patted her on her little head and said "Hi Sweetheart". She looked up to him and said, "Uncle Ed, thank you for my daddy!"
More than 60 years later, Ed remembers this vividly and says he will never forget & with everything he went through, this made it all worthwhile!
Ed LaPorta has won many medals and among them are 3 Purple Hearts.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Last night's opening of the Metro Montage X at the Marietta/ Cobb Museum of Art was a huge success. There were around 300 people there enjoying the beautiful works of art being exhibited. This is a "must see" show. The range of style and mediums offers something for everyone to admire. Most of the shows that I exhibit with are figurative or portraiture and of course this piece is a still life. It's so nice to exhibit with many genres of art using mediums which include photography, sculpture, oil, pastel, acrylic, even yarn. Sally Macaulay, the director of the museum, and the Board has done an amazing job with curating the permanent collections as well as the types of exhibits they have there. Next month the museum will have their very popular Martinis & Music, and I, for one, will be there to hear some good music - martini in hand.
Monday, July 5, 2010
I found an old black & white photo of my mom recently. The picture is one that I have always loved of my mother so I created this drawing from it. She was very young and worked in the office of a textile mill (Pepperell Manufacturing) in Lindale, GA when this was taken. I think my father snapped this picture. I love it so much because she looked so beautiful, innocent and worry free. I look nothing like her; She was part Cherokee with dark hair, brown eyes and olive skin which is nothing like me. My brother, Greg, looks a lot like her as does his daughter. She passed away 4 1/2 years ago. She had some serious health problems and didn't look much like the person in this picture. She was super caring & sweet and always put everyone before herself. Irene was the wonderful mother of 4, my 2 older brothers and my twin sister, Lynne. She also had 10 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. I miss her so much.