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Mercer Co. Vietnam veteran uses art to honor those who have served

Harry Humes,central Kentucky Vietnam veteran, uses his art to pay tribute to his fellow service members.
Published: May. 30, 2022 at 5:41 PM EDT
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MERCER COUNTY, Ky. (WKYT) - On this Memorial Day, as we pause to honor the men and women who have died fighting for our country, many find their own ways to honor those who have sacrificed so much.

WKYT’s Amber Philpott has the story of how one central Kentucky Vietnam veteran uses his art to pay tribute to his fellow service members.

Most people capture the moments of their life in photographs. Memories frozen in time to remember people and places.

And then there are folks like Harry Humes, who prefer his paintings to capture the life he’s lived and the people he’s shared it with.

“Each one of these, I put on the names of people that I know that I served with that died and friends. You can’t hardly read them, but they are personal to me. And almost everything that I do there is something personal,” said Humes about one of his paintings.

You don’t have to look far in this 74-year-old’s Harrodsburg home to know he’s a proud veteran. Humes served in the Navy during one of the country’s most tumultuous times, the Vietnam War aboard the USS Kishwaukee.

“I went in in 1966 and came out in 1970, then went in again in the Navy reserves, but I came on active duty as a recruiter,” said Humes.

It was often Humes’ hobby of doodling that helped get him through those long nights halfway around the world.

“The cartooning was a real escape mechanism,” said Humes.

While he found some humor in his cartoons, what wasn’t funny was his return home to the states. Like so many Vietnam era veterans, there was no welcome home for Humes.

“I had grown up with my Boy Scout master who was a World War II vet and I knew how we respected those people so much and I kind of thought there might be a little bit of that, but it wasn’t that way,” said Humes.

For a man who loved serving his country, but saw firsthand his country not love him for serving, sent him into a spiral of depression.

“It took me a long time to realize we were fighting for something big, in the fact we were fighting for freedom,” said Humes.

What got Humes through some of those days serving, eventually pulled him out of his depression.

“But in order to help get past that, I started to paint and that’s where some of these paintings come from,” said Humes.

With no real formal training, Humes started painting and he’s never really stopped. What he chooses to put on paper is often times sentimental and a way for him to stay connected to those who have served.

“Chief Murillo, all these different people that I try to represent on these stones, they died young,” said Humes.

Three years ago, Humes found a new medium and a new place to showcase his art. He wanted to create a lasting piece for the countless veterans who visit the Lexington VA Hospital at 1101 Veterans Drive.

So, he spent his own money and purchased a fiberglass horse and set out to paint perhaps one of his most meaningful pieces.

“I saw a need for this as a way of individually saluting these people for the encounters, the places they were in, so I tried to make it personal,” said Humes.

He and “Duke,” as he calls him, became quite close over the nine months he spent painting.

“He actually fell on me once,” said Humes.

He hopes the veterans who pass by Duke find a little something of their own story in the brush strokes.

“I had veterans, when we did it, I had one veteran, I have picture of it, he came up and started crying on my shoulder, and I had other ones that I have pictures of that went out and saluted it,” said Humes.

Duke is a one-of-a-kind horse, sort of like Humes. He admits painting keeps him going, but we found that it’s really another veteran that has allowed this artist to paint all these years.

“Carol, was significant. This is Carol,” said Humes.

“I have Carol’s heart. Carol was a parachute rigger, she actually got to parachute into Grenada,” said Humes.

That’s right, Harry Humes is alive to this day because of veteran Carol Edwards. He received her heart when he needed one most.

Carol’s fatigues now hang in Humes’ art studio.

For a man who paints so personally, it’s his connection to keeping her around.

“It’s been 22 and a half years since my transplant. One of the longest, I’m in the 3% of survivability,” said Humes.

And that allows Harry Humes to continue doing what he loves, honoring the fallen and painting from a heart that beats proudly for his country.

“I was very proud and honored to have served,” said Humes.

You can see Humes’ horse Duke outside the Lexington VA Hospital at 1101 Veterans Drive in Lexington.

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