Canadian Airmen And Airwomen In The Korean War

July 1, 2003 by Jennifer Morse

Dan Ryan’s painting Towards Their Final Destination.

In a new venture by author Carl Mills, 18 paintings were commissioned over the last few years to complement his upcoming book titled Canadian Airmen And Airwomen In The Korean War. All but two of these canvases were painted by members of the Canadian Aviation Artists Association. Mills also identified eight existing paintings that will be added to the mix to depict army and navy participation.

The author’s research for the new art was extensive: every detail is taken into account, from weather to altitude to terrain. He selected extraordinary moments in the Korean War, and ensured the historical accuracy of each painting.

For example, Canadian Pacific Airlines flew more than 700 airlifts for the United States army during the war. In July 1951, a DC-4–carrying 38 people–disappeared en route to Tokyo. No trace of the plane has been found. Dan Ryan’s painting, Towards Their Final Destination, has an eerie quality. Ryan uses a tranquil blue palette to capture the flight over the mountains near Juneau, Alaska, possibly moments before the plane was lost.

Free Fall Into Enemy Territory by John Walmsley.

The painting titled Free Fall Into Enemy Territory, by artist John Walmsley, depicts Captain Joe Liston dropping unconscious from his Auster VI aircraft. Liston came to during the fall, deployed his parachute and then landed bleeding only to spend more than a year as a prisoner of war. The artist captured the dramatic moment with a lively composition and high realism.

Another painting, Layne Larsen’s Navy Panthers Attacking Storage Area, illustrates Lieutenant Joe MacBrien on a bombing run against enemy warehouses near Pukchong, North Korea. Three times the Panther jets attacked at low level and they succeeded in destroying 12 warehouses. MacBrien, on exchange with a United States navy squadron, spent six months off Korea in USS Oriskany. He flew 66 combat missions and was he first Canadian to earn the U.S. navy’s Distinguished Flying Cross.

Don Connolly, one of Canada’s best known aviation artists, contributed the painting titled Operation Santa Claus 24 December, 1952. The painting, which presents an aerial perspective, shows wounded soldiers being unloaded onto a snow-swept Edmonton tarmac.

Operation Santa Claus, 24 December 1952 by Don Connolly.

After viewing these paintings, you can easily form the impression that the very precision needed to fly and survive in Korea influenced the style of every artist in this project. The similarity of the canvases is striking, especially when you consider that nine different artists contributed their talents. Attention to detail and realism are common threads, as is the size and medium. Almost every painting is 18 by 24 inches, and over half are acrylic or gouache or a combination of the two.

There were no official war artists assigned to the Korean War. World Wars I and II have been documented extensively in official war art programs. The Korean War was recorded after the fact with a relatively small number of paintings. Thanks to Mills and a group of nine aviation artists we have new illustrations to mark the Canadian contribution in that war.

Paintings for a new book celebrate the actions of Canadian airmen and airwomen in the Korean War. For more information about the art or the book, contact Carl Mills, 26 Clareville Crescent, North York, ON, M2J 2C3.

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