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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘This is perfect’: VA remembers WWII veterans with special paintings for their families

Artist Antonio Romero, left, presents a painted portrait of Navy veteran Richard Grewelle to his grateful daughter Judy Secrest and her husband, Steve, during a Greatest Generation memory celebration ceremony on Friday at the Mann-Grandstaff VAMC in Spokane. Betsy Schieber, rear center, holds a painting of her father, Navy veteran Herman Huether.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

In the lobby of the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center Friday, a group of veterans, patients and staff watched as two women, Betsy Scheiber and Judy Secrest, were presented with portraits of their late fathers, who both served in World War II.

Secrest closed her eyes and kissed the frame of her painting and then flipped it around to show the room.

“It’s my daddy,” she said, voice full of emotion.

Her father, Richard Grewelle, was painted in his military uniform against a backdrop of stars and stripes. Scheiber’s father, Herman Heuther, was painted in a similar style.

Grewelle served in not one, not two, but three wars, Secrest told the room while holding her painting : World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

“He wore his uniform every chance he had,” Secrest reminisced. “He talked to sixth-graders every year about the real truth of the war.”

“He was just an amazing man, and it was hard to let him go, but we had to so that he could be with my mom,” she said.

Roughly four years earlier, Grewelle, Heuther and two other World War II veterans, Edward Moses and Norman Rubin, were celebrated in the same building.

Artist and Air Force veteran Antonio Romero, 62, attended that celebration and was inspired by the event.

“I was inspired to paint a portrait of each of them,” Romero said.

Romero has been drawing and painting his whole life. He said he has created hundreds of pieces of art, many of which have been donated to service members.

“He loves anything that’s veteran affiliated,” said his wife Anita.

“My purpose in doing this is not just for the fun, it is to recognize these veterans,” Romero said. “I think that the younger generation really needs to know, ‘Hey, these folks really sacrificed a lot for us to have the freedoms that we enjoy.’ ”

Upon finishing the paintings, which he created with digital art, Romero hoped to present the four paintings to the veterans themselves, but “I didn’t realize that they had passed.”

Instead, Brett Bowers, Public Affairs Officer with the VA medical center helped Romero try to get in touch with the veterans’ family members. The pair was only able to contact two families.

For Romero, that was enough.

“It’s been an honor to do this, and I’m just so glad that the families were able to be here in general,” he said.

If he is unable contact the families of Moses and Rubin, Romero said, he will likely donate the last two portraits to the VA.

Schieber said when she heard about the portraits she thought it was wonderful.

“Dad would have been so, so happy,” Schieber said.

Neither of Schieber’s siblings live in the Spokane area. She hadn’t yet told them about the portrait.

“I’m gonna surprise them,” she said.

Secrest had five siblings to consider. She planned to secure a copy for each of them.

Secrest was happy with how the portrait of her father turned out, and she was sure to tell the artist.

“Of course I’m prejudiced, but I think this is the best one,” she told Romero. “This is perfect.”

Roberta Simonson's reporting is part of the Teen Journalism Institute, funded by Bank of America with support from the Innovia Foundation.