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Army vets tour ‘Portraits of Courage’ exhibit with former President Bush at Nixon Library, including the portraits he painted of them

President George W. Bush speaks to veteran Daniel Casara next to the painting of Casara, top center, during a tour of President Bush's paintings for the exhibit, “Portraits of Courage:" A Commander in Chief's Tribute to America's Warriors at the Richard Nixon Library & Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, March 13, 2024. (Leonard Ortiz/Orange County Register/TNS)

Alex Glenn-Camden, an Army infantryman injured in Afghanistan, stood next to President George Bush looking at a portrait the former president had painted of him.

Though the Temecula resident has met “43” before at other openings of “Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors,” Glenn-Camden never before had the opportunity to view his portrait while standing one-on-one with Bush as he did Wednesday at the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum in Yorba Linda.

“In the beginning, you’re just kind of speechless,” he said of seeing his own image painted by a president. “It hits you that a president sat there for some time and painted you. It’s almost a little emotional.

“To know he saw something in myself and then to sit there and take his time and paint is extremely humbling.”

Glenn-Camden, who served from 2010 until he was shot in the neck in 2012 while deployed to Afghanistan, along with former Sgt. Daniel Casara, 49, of Ramona, who served in the Army from 1994 to 2008, enjoyed a private tour of the visiting exhibit with the former president Wednesday evening before it opened to the public Thursday. Both men are Purple Heart Medal recipients; Casara’s legs were crushed in 2005 in Baghdad when an antitank mine flipped the armored personnel carrier he was riding in, also killing fellow soldiers.

The exhibit includes 66 full-color portraits and a four-panel mural painted by Bush of 98 members of the U.S. military who served the nation since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and whom he has come to know personally since leaving office. The exhibit will be at the Nixon Library through May thanks to a loan from the Ambassador and Mrs. George L. Argyros Collection of Presidential Art at the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

“We are thrilled to welcome the display for its first showing on the West Coast,” said Jim Byron, president and CEO of the Richard Nixon Foundation, adding that the exhibit aligns with the library’s recent emphasis on helping students and the public understand the elements of civic engagement. “The exhibit fits perfectly into this framework.”

In addition to the private tour, the Army veterans took part in an invite-only dinner that also included the president and 300 library patrons. Nixon Foundation Chairman and former U.S. National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien interviewed Bush onstage during the dinner.

For Glenn-Camden and Casara, seeing Bush again was an honor, they said, especially because it was in their home state. Both have met the president before, first at one of his Warrior Open golf events, and Casara also participated in a Warrior bike ride the Bush Foundation put on.

Both men said they appreciate the former president’s down-to-earth personality and agreed he had a great sense of humor.

“I’m proud to be part of this event,” Casara said, adding that he is also extremely appreciative that there continues to be such interest in the portraits and in those who serve the country. The exhibit was first displayed in 2017 at the George W. Bush Presidential Center on the SMU campus in Dallas.

“It’s great seeing people out there that show their respect for the men and women who put on the uniform,” he said. He also credited Bush for his deep respect for veterans and his continued support of veterans programs through his foundation. Bush painted the veterans’ portraits from photos taken of them at events he held.

Casara said Bush has a tremendous memory and when the former president approached Casara as he waiting near his portrait, Bush immediately recognized Casara and called him by a familiar nickname: “Danny C, The Preacher.” (Bush even references the nickname in the description he penned to go with the portrait, saying about a 2014 address Casara gave at a dinner event, “He had the entire audience captivated with his story and its lessons. He was so good, I nicknamed him The Preacher.”)

“He then asked about my wife and my golf game,” Casara said of their brief reunion Wednesday evening. “Then we had a laugh and took some pictures.”

Glenn-Camdem, who grew up in Long Beach, said he had been lucky enough to be invited to a dinner table with Bush several years ago following a golf tournament. There, the 34-year-old said he was first introduced to Bush’s plan for painting veterans.

“His idea was, ‘Why don’t I paint veterans who made an impact on me or the community?’” Glenn-Camden recalled Bush saying. “He asked us what we thought, and we said we thought it was great.”

Discussing his project in a video accompanying the portraits exhibit, Bush says part of his inspiration came from a former art teacher, Sedrick Huckaby, who knew he had painted portraits of world leaders. Bush said the teacher suggested to him, “Why don’t you paint people no one knows.”

“It pretty quickly dawned on me painting wounded warriors would be an interesting project,” Bush said. “Interesting because I wanted to honor them and talk about their sacrifice to the country, and I wanted to remind the American people of what a tremendous national asset they were in the military and will be in the future of the country.”


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