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Retired Lt. Col. Oscar Fitzhenry, a World War II pilot who flew 64 combat missions in a B-24 Liberator, donated and unveiled a painting at the Air Force Academy last week. During his service in the Solomon Islands, Fitzhenry flew several important passengers, including Lt. Gen. Hubert Harmon, who later became the first superintendent of the academy.

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World War II veteran Oscar Fitzhenry wanted Air Force Academy cadets to learn a lesson he picked up during 64 combat missions aboard a four-engine B-24 Liberator bomber.

War and life, the retired lieutenant colonel said, are a team sport.

“It’s better to resolve those decisions between two or three people than just one.”

Cadets will have that lesson reinforced with a painting donated by Fitzhenry that shows a formation of Liberators, used on some of the longest bombing missions, and highlights how the 10-man crews worked together to survive.

“The Raid” by artist David Teuling shows the bombers over the Solomon Islands in the Pacific, where Fitzhenry served as a 21-year-old pilot.

While unveiling the work at the academy last week, Fitzhenry, who traveled to Colorado Springs from South Carolina, told cadets he wants them to think about the costs of war and the team of supporters they have back at home.

“Remember the families and those men who gave their lives,” Fitzhenry said.

“And the families are the ones who gave me comfort with PTSD.”

“The painting, completed in 2001, will be on display inside the academy’s Arnold Hall for generations of cadets to view. The highly detailed work will keep those cadets busy spotting the drama within the painting, from traditional nose art to gunners braced to repel enemy fighters.

The nephew of the artist, Ben Faltinowski of Monument, attended the unveiling ceremony and said the painting breathes life into an era too easily forgotten.

“The fact that it heralds back to an era of war,” Faltinowski said. “Events like this help bring us back to what these guys did.”

Faltinowski spoke of the freezing conditions the airmen experienced in aircraft back then that lacked pressurized cabins. The painting shows the heavily clad airmen in sheepskin clothing.

”We might as well send people to the top of Pikes Peak in the middle of December for five or six hours,” he said.

Contact the writer: 636-4809 @leslie_m_james



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