Let freedom ring

Using a photo of a helicopter from a military officer, bottom,

Joe Kline’s aviation artwork shows his heart, touches families
of war heroes over time
GILROY — If you know Joe Kline, you wouldn’t be able to help
but know about his sense of patriotism and his true passion when he
isn’t working as the public information officer for the City of
Gilroy. But if you don’t know him, all you have to do is drive by
his Gilroy home to get a hint of it.
Joe Kline’s aviation artwork shows his heart, touches families of war heroes over time

GILROY — If you know Joe Kline, you wouldn’t be able to help but know about his sense of patriotism and his true passion when he isn’t working as the public information officer for the City of Gilroy. But if you don’t know him, all you have to do is drive by his Gilroy home to get a hint of it.

In the front of Kline’s home is a large American flag, a sign about patriotism and a mailbox in the shape of an airplane.

“I’ve always been very patriotic,” Kline said. “I’m glad to see a resurgence (in flags and other signs of support). I’ve always had a flag out there.”

What people can’t see from Kline’s front yard is the meaning behind all those symbols: the fact he was born in the nation’s capital to a father who was a B-25 bombardier in World War II, that he took on a love of flight and served the military in Vietnam, that he keeps a large, high-powered telescope in his backyard where he can get an amazing view of the moon – the fact that he was drafted into the military on the day the Apollo mission landed there – and the fact that he spends most of his free time creating works of art in the form of paintings of the military in action.

“I think people who went into the military understand (always being patriotic),” Kline said. “Something like 9/11 makes people who weren’t in the military appreciate their freedoms.”

Kline always has appreciated his freedom, and it comes out in everything he does.

As a kid hearing his father’s stories about being in the war, Kline wanted to take to the skies like his dad. He built models of different planes beginning in the 1950s – a few of them he still has in his collection of about 150 models of military airplanes, helicopters, aircraft carriers and NASA shuttles in his art room where he paints works inspired by his years in the military.

“I use the models for reference,” Kline said. “It helps with the lighting and with the angles (in my paintings).”

Even though Kline was a Gilroy High School graduate and was continuing his education, he decided to cancel his student deferment that could’ve kept him from joining in the fighting in Vietnam. He was drafted, and he entered the Army applying for huey crew chief. Kline saw the choppers coming in an out of running missions and wanted to be a part of it, so he asked for transfer to the 101st Airborne division, where he became helicopter crew chief/left door gunner, responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the helicopter while running the guns on the left side of the huey.

“I really, really enjoyed it,” Kline said of his experience. “Ninety-eight percent of it was fun and adventure, 2 percent was stark raving terror. … It was very worthwhile.”

After serving in the military for two years – 13 months of that time in Vietnam – Kline exited

the military but never forgot the

lessons he learned. He started a reunion association not only for the men who fought alongside him but for the families of those who died in Vietnam. And while it wasn’t easy at first, the Internet has made it much easier for Kline to make contact with former soldiers and their families.

“The Internet is putting us in touch more and more with families of people who died in Vietnam,” he said. “They find us.

“It’s really neat that the family members find that we think about them every day of the year. We didn’t stop thinking about them.”

And Kline’s ability to paint – along with hundreds of pictures he took while serving in the military – has given him another outlet to show his patriotism.

“I took all these photos, and I thought to myself, ‘One day this is going to come in handy,’ ” Kline said.

Kline also took some art classes at Gavilan, but he got some interesting criticism for his efforts – they were too lifelike.

“They said ‘If somebody wanted something like that, they’d just take a picture.’ But a lot of the things I’m painting, you can’t take a picture of,” he said. “I think I got the last laugh.”

Kline’s subject matter lends itself well to realistic-looking paintings – because most of his work details events no one ever took pictures of.

“The veterans may only have a black-and-white photo of their plane or something,” he said. “Usually they don’t come to me. Their son or family member does. … But when they see it in color, it’s very touching for them.”

Kline depicts choppers flying in and over over battle zones or on rescue missions and planes flying over national landmarks. And the key is in the detail.

“A lot of the people who get these usually know a lot about them,” said Kline, who creates about four or five original pieces each year and sells 1,000 limited edition prints. “You really have to know your subject matter – if I’m painting an aircraft in a right-hand turn, I have to have all the controls where they would be in a right hand turn. (If not) they’ll know, and I’ll hear about it.”

Kline uses the models and photos to make his pictures as accurate as possible. For one of his paintings, a picture depicting a scene of the rescue mission at the Battle of Mogadishu which inspired the movie “Blackhawk Down,” Kline requested and was granted information that was classified in order to accurately paint the scene. He said he was told he had to destroy the information given to him for the painting once he was finished.

“I’ve always been a military history buff,” Kline said. “You used to have a hard time finding information. Now, with the Internet, the challenge is cataloging it all.”

Kline also offers to do custom print jobs for individuals who want their own markings from their helicopter on the painting. Kline will ask about certain markings pilots made on a chopper or what unit they were in, and then he paints the markings on a print.

“Army helicopters really lend themselves to that because they were all green,” Kline said. “The markings were just different.”

Kline has done custom works for George H. Bush and George W. Bush, which he received a letter back from the former President along with a photo of him with the painting. He also has a copy of his painting signed by the former president and a printing from the rescue mission at the Battle of Mogadishu signed by its lone survivor, Mike Durant.

The custom paintings add a personal element for former soldiers.

“They really mean a lot to the guys who get them,” Kline said. “I get really nice comments on them. The vast majority of the prints will stay in the families.”

Joe Kline sells prints of his aviation artwork on his Web site www.joekline.com. For information about custom prints call 842-6979.

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