Distinguished Legion Members:
Not long ago I became involved with solving an intriguing mystery. I found it as a suggested post on Facebook, and as an Air Force brat, I quickly became intrigued and decided to try to help.
Not long ago, a new donation was made to the National Museum of the Mighty 8th Air Force. It is an oil-on-canvas portrait of an unidentified 8th Air Force navigator. The portrait was purchased on eBay by a Georgia businessman and art collector in honor of his father, a veteran of World War II. It was donated to the National Museum of the Mighty 8th Air Force in Pooler, Ga.
Dressed in his World War II uniform, he stands with arms folded so that his 8th Air Force shoulder patch together with his medals and navigator wings are clearly visible. Behind him is a map showing England, France and Germany to remind all who view his portrait that the 8th Air Force stationed in England flew B-17s and B-24s in a strategic bombing campaign to destroy Nazi Germany’s ability to wage war. The two Overseas Service Bars on his left sleeve denote 12 months' service overseas in a combat theater. His navigator wings reveal his duties on bombing missions. His Air Medal with two Oak Leaf clusters shows that he completed 15 combat missions, and his Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf cluster reveals that he was wounded twice in combat. His European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two service stars denotes that he fought in three campaigns. His rank is that of Flight Officer.
The artist was Norman F. Burnett (1898-1985), who lived and exhibited his paintings in Baltimore. With an eye for detail, he worked as a portraitist and an art restorer. In 1933 he began teaching at Baltimore City College, adding summer classes at the University of Maryland. In 1945 he started this portrait of an unnamed flight officer but did not complete it until 1947. This is revealed by both dates under the artist’s signature. One wonders if this flight officer also lived in Baltimore.
I hate the idea of this distinguished officer languishing without being named. I am hoping that someone might be able to identify him, or at least tell me where I might check for further information.
I have attached a picture of the artwork.
Michael W. Michelsen Jr.