When Gordon Sage finally decided to turn his Pearl Harbor memories into a painting, he wasn’t expecting much of an audience.
Now his interpretation of the attack is headed for a prestigious showcase — the National WWII Museum.
“I feel humble and grateful,” Sage said Tuesday afternoon as he prepared to say goodbye to the painting.
Humble because “you feel like you played a small part” in responding to the attack on Dec. 7, 1941, he said.
And grateful because “you like to see your work displayed,” the 94-year-old Vancouver resident said.
Did You Know?
• The National WWII Museum is in New Orleans because that’s where the landing craft that brought U.S. soldiers ashore in every major amphibious assault of World War II were built. It originally was founded in 2000 as the D-Day Museum.
Sage, a World War II veteran and retired Evergreen High School art teacher, created the painting about 20 years ago. It was a notable project for several reasons:
• It’s the only WWII-themed painting he’s ever done.
• He painted it more than 50 years after the attack.
• It’s a big canvas, measuring 5 feet by 7 feet.
• And hardly anyone has seen it.
That will change soon. Thanks to some work by a friend, Sage’s painting came to the attention of the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. Assistant collections director Toni Kiser said Tuesday that the museum has its own reasons to consider it a notable work.
“Gordon’s art represents such an iconic WWII moment,” Kiser said. “We thought it was very dramatic.”
The fact that Sage was there is what closed the deal. If the artist had not experienced the Pearl Harbor bombing, “we probably would have passed,” Kiser said. “That made the big difference for us.”
In 1941, Sage was a 20-year-old Marine serving aboard the USS Maryland. He was an orderly for Rear Adm. Walter Stratton Anderson, commander of battleships in the Pacific Fleet. The Maryland was tied up alongside the USS Oklahoma on “Battleship Row,” one of the primary targets of Japanese attackers who sank the USS Arizona.
The Oklahoma was mortally wounded and rolled onto its side. That scene is the central image in Sage’s painting, which was the subject of a Columbian story on Dec. 7, 2015.
WWII was just a portion of Sage’s 21-year military career. He retired in 1961 and entered another career, teaching art for 20 years at Evergreen High School and what then was Covington Junior High.
Through all his civilian years as an artist, Sage never painted anything about WWII experiences.
“I move from one area to another and forget about it,” he said.
Sage said he still isn’t sure why the smoke and flames of Pearl Harbor took shape on his canvas.
“It may have been festering for a while,” daughter Donna Sage said.
Like a lot of Sage’s work, the Pearl Harbor painting was never shown in public.
“Only family members have seen it,” she said, and a handful of her father’s friends.
One of those friends, fellow teacher James Gorman, decided to find a suitable display space for the painting. He started with the USS Missouri. The battleship, which hosted the surrender ceremony that ended WWII, now is a floating memorial at Pearl Harbor. The painting was too big for the ship, Donna Sage said.
Then the National WWII Museum entered the conversation, and its collections committee approved the acquisition
“We will display it as soon as it gets here,” Kiser said. “The space is ready.”
That space is just outside two meeting rooms that have been named in honor of the USS Arizona and the USS Missouri, Kiser said: “The start and the end of the war.”