Milwaukee VA Medical Center
Artist remembers Forgotten War
Although Mark Duran’s military service is more than six decades removed from the Korean War, the Army Veteran is using his artistic talents to help others remember the “Forgotten War.”
Duran, who was seriously injured while deployed in Afghanistan in 2005, recently completed a 4-by-6-foot painting for a Veterans Day ceremony at Aurora University in Illinois.
The work was commissioned by a student-veteran group, who donated the piece to a local American Legion.
Duran, who gets his care at the Milwaukee VA, was in the turret of a Humvee that was struck by a suicide bomber. He sustained several fractured vertebrae and other injuries and was medically retired in 2007.
Duran became acquainted with the student group at Aurora University through a guest speaking presentation on transitioning from the military to college life.
A professor put the student group in touch with Duran, who was classically trained as a painter in The Netherlands and has an art degree from the University of Alaska Southeast, as well as two master’s degrees, one in Education, the other in Recreation.
“Part of my presentation was that I do paint, and made somewhat of a career with that,” said Duran. “They contacted me in July and I was very honored to do a painting for Veterans Day.”
In 2017, the Veterans Day program focused on World War II Veterans, said Jonathan Birkey, an Army Veteran and president of the Aurora University Veterans Association.
“This year we wanted to do something for the Korean War,” said Birkey, who was an Army medic for seven years. “Considering that there are more Korean War Vets than there are World War II, we wanted to give something we could give to the community rather than individual recognition.
“I proposed the idea, ‘Why don’t we have a painting done, like a mural?” Birkey said. “Immediately, Mark Duran came to mind. We reached out to Mark, kind of pitched him the idea of doing a big mural … like a massive remembrance to the Forgotten War.”
Duran, who also teaches Zentangle to Veterans, offered to do the painting for free, creating a bit of an impasse with the student groups, who insisted on commissioning the work and eventually won out, Birkey said.
“He offered to do it completely pro bono, but based on my experience with Mark, I said absolutely not,” Birkey said.
The painting, which depicts various scenes from the Korean War, took about two months to complete.
The painting was unveiled at a ceremony at Aurora University. The original intent was to auction off Duran’s painting as a fundraiser, but instead was donated by the student organizations to the Aurora American Legion.
“We got zero financial gain,” Birkey said. “We donated it to the American Legion. They can auction it off to raise funds, or gift it to a Korean Veteran, or something where it will do some good, by all means, it’s theirs.”
Duran said he was flattered to be asked to do the painting, and hopes it benefits the Legion, or whoever ends up with it. He said it’s part of his continuing effort to make a difference.
“That’s why I’m here,” Duran said. “That’s why I teach Zentangle. That’s why I worked at the Regional Office for a while. My whole post-military goal is to help people like myself.”