Painting displayed in Johnstown honors fallen Pa. National Guard aviators
Franklin County artist Larry Selman has completed many commissioned artworks of military events, but a portrait displayed on Saturday in Johnstown stirred in him emotions of sadness, humility and a desire to honor two heroes.
“Gun 23” — a 6-by-4 foot painting depicting two Pennsylvania National Guard helicopter pilots flying a reconnaissance mission in Afghanistan — was dedicated at the 1-104th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion hangars at the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria Airport.
The battalion hosted a memorial and painting dedication in memory of Chief Warrant Officers Matthew Ruffner of Harrisburg and Jarett Yoder of Mohnton, Berks County, who were killed in April when their Apache helicopter crashed in eastern Afghanistan.
“First of all, these two men were from Pennsylvania too, and lost their lives at only 26 years old for Jarett, and just 34 for Matt,” Selman said.
“Rather than painting an event from 1803 or 1812 where you don't really know anyone, working on something like this really smacks you in the face with the realization how current it is,” he said.
“Also, knowing it's going to be displayed for a very long time after we're all gone ... it has to tell their important story to future generations,” Selman said.
“It's the largest portrait I've ever done,” said the 55-year-old artist, who has won marketing design awards for commercial illustrations for GI Joe boxes.
The portrait shows the Apache attack helicopter with pilots Ruffner and Yoder circling over Nangarhar Province.
The soldiers were members of the 104th contingent based at Fort Indiantown Gap, but were working in Afghanistan with about 270 National Guard members from the Johnstown unit.
Ruffner, who was born in Punxsutawney, was the son of Charles and Diane Ruffner of Glen Campbell, Indiana County.
Ruffner, who joined the military in 1997, graduated in 2003 from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor's degree in criminology. He worked as a full-time Apache helicopter instructor pilot for the Pennsylvania Army National Guard at Fort Indiantown Gap.
He was buried with military honors in Burnside Cemetery in Burnside, Clearfield County.
Yoder was a 2005 graduate of Oley Valley High School who attended Reading Community College. He joined the military in 2005 and moved into aviation in 2010.
S1 NCOIC Annamaria Grunza, 34, worked with both Ruffner and Yoder. She said the ceremony on Saturday was “very humbling” for the soldiers of the battalion.
“The way Larry (Selman)described the painting, it wasn't just about memorializing Matt and Jarrett … we were all part of the painting,” she said. “In some way, everyone that was a part of the battalion was a part of the painting.”
Selman said he painstakingly worked on the project once he received a call from a friend of Ruffner's.
“I cleared my schedule when Capt. Ernie Carlson of the Erie area called to ask me if I would do it,” Selman said. “It's been eight months.”
Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or firstname.lastname@example.org.