Former President George H.W. Bush, Chuck Yeager, the first man to travel faster than sound; Dick Winters and other veterans of the Band of Brothers; members of the Flying Tigers and of the Black Sheep Squadron are just a few of famous military heroes who signed pieces of a private military art collection owned by a Dillsburg man.
Del Cunningham, owner of SOHO Computer Services, in Dillsburg, has collected about 70 military limited edition prints, paintings and photographs depicting scenes from World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War and Afghanistan. While not a veteran of the military, Cunningham said he is fascinated by America’s 20th Century military history. Recently, Cunningham exhibited his collection at Dill’s Tavern’s annual World War II event, in August.
“Most of the art I collected are out of print and only available through secondary markets,” Cunningham said. “Some are rare and hard to come by. I’ve been going to the World War II Weekend up in Reading for 20 years, where I began by buying small prints.”
Many of the prints were produced by Valor Studios, Cunningham said. The majority, 80-90 percent, represent military aviation history.
“I just have an interest in airplanes,” Cunningham said. “My dad, (the late Harvey Cunningham), had taken a few lessons and I took about eight-and-a-half hours of flying lessons. I’m fascinated with warplanes, and have read the stories by members of World War II bomber crews.”
It is difficult for Cunningham to pick out his favorite art work. Instead, he has several favorites, including a print called “Silencing the Guns,” which is signed by Major Dick Winters, (commander of Band of Brothers) who was featured in the best-selling book and HBO miniseries, “Band of Brothers,” which portrayed the role played by the U.S. Army’s Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, the first parachute company deployed by America during World War II.
“I started by buying Valor Studios prints signed by the Band of Brothers,” Cunningham said. “It just kind of grew from there. I’m up to about 70 pieces now. I have one called Avengers of the Philippines, signed by George H.W. Bush, a Navy Avenger pilot, who was shot down by the Japanese.”
The print by artist John D. Shaw illustrates aerial combat action on Nov. 14, 1944, over Manila Bay. In the print, Bush, then a Lieutenant, is flying a two-man Avenger TBM—one of the last combat missions he flew before being shot down by Japanese anti-aircraft fire about two miles north of Japanese-held Iwo Jima, according Valor Studios and www.HistoryNet.com.
“I like the P-51 Mustang,” Cunningham said. “I haven’t taken a ride on any but I’ve walked through a B-17 several times. I also had a chance to walk through a (British) Lancaster bomber.”
Of all his World War II aerial art prints, Cunningham has only one representing the German Luftwaffe. The painting depicts an ME-109, and was signed by German air ace, Gunther Rall, “the third highest scoring ace of all time, “who racked up 275 air victories during World War II. Of the total, 272 of dog fights occurred on the Eastern Front, Cunningham said.
Cunningham has one print signed by a World War I American fighter ace, George A. Vaughn Jr. A recipient of the Silver Star, Britain’s Distinguished Flying Cross and other medals, Vaughn, with 13 victories, was the second highest scoring American ace to survive World War I. The print depicts Vaughn flying a Sopwith Camel. Another unusual item collected by Cunningham is was piece of a wing of a World War I German plane that was shot down on the last day of the war—November 11, 1914.as
Among the prints of the Vietnam War, collected by Cunningham, is one that depicts a group of the iconic Huey helicopters. Titled First Boots on the Ground, the print is signed by Hal Moore, who was featured in the movie “We were soldiers.” Moore was the commander of the First Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, Third Brigade, First Cavalry Division, during the Battle of Ia Drang, Vietnam, on November 14-16, 1965.
Another Vietnam print of Cobra helicopters is signed by Franklin Township, York County, veteran Jake Flanagan. Cunningham said the helicopter piloted by Flanagan during the Vietnam War is on display at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center at the Army War College in Carlisle.
Cunningham has World War II prints with signatures of the members of the Black Sheep Squadron. In addition to the signature Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, the commander of the U.S. Marine Corps air squadron, and other members, the print is also signed by a Dillsburg resident, the late Glenn L. Bowers, who was also a member of the Black Sheep Squadron.
Another World War II print is signed by the members of the Red Tails. The Red Tails were P-51 Mustangs piloted by the Tuskegee Airmen, the African-American pilots who are featured in the Steven Speilberg movie Red Tails.
Another area World War II air force veteran, Paul A. Miller, of Mechanicsburg, who flew one of the last B-29 missions of the war, is represented in Cunningham’s collection. Other signatures include Chuck Yeager, a World War II P-51 Mustang pilot, who later went on to break the sound barrier on Oct. 14, 1947, while piloting the rocket-powered Bell X-1, Glamorous Glennis; Gen. James “Jimmy” Doolittle, who flew B-25s on the first American air raids on Japan; B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay pilot, Col. Paul Tibbets, who dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, on August 6, 1945; Memphis Belle pilot, Bob Morgan; and others.
A Valor Studios print, A Higher Call, by John D. Shaw, depicts an unusual incident of World War II that occurred on December 20, 1943, Cunningham said. A German Luftwaffe ace, Franz Stigler, flying a Bf-109, encountered a badly damaged B-17 Flying Fortress returning from a bombing mission over enemy-held territory.
Despite being an easy target, Stigler did not have the heart to shoot down bomber. Stigler, according to Valor Studios, “saw the faces of the dead and wounded crewmen. Then, Stigler’s eyes met those of pilot Charles Brown,” the print’s description explains.
Stigler, Cunningham said, escorted the American bomber to the North Sea, virtually protecting the B-17 for German anti-aircraft fire. When the planes reached the North Sea, Stigler saluted Brown and returned to his German airbase. Cunningham said that incident may be made into a movie in the near future.
For more information on Cunningham’s collection, contact Cunningham at his computer business or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.