Need some inspiration? The Portraits of Courage exhibit at the George W. Bush Presidential Library will remind you that your physical limitations and obstacles are pretty minor compared with what some people face every day.

The exhibit features oil paintings of wounded, post 9/11-veterans, painted by George W. Bush. It also includes their stories. There is an app you can download to hear or read the stories, or you can borrow one of their hand-held devices. There are four rooms in the exhibit, each with several paintings. There are also photographs, letters and memorabilia from past Team 43 Sports events. The Bush Institute holds two sporting events with injured veterans as part of their rehabilitation process. The W100K is a high-endurance, three-day bike ride (led by President Bush) and the Warrior Open is a competitive golf tournament, including a Professional-Amateur component. Since 2010, more than 140 warriors have participated in Team 43 Sports.

Sergeant Major Christopher Self

President Bush met Chris Self not long after the end of his time in office. An Army Special Forces amputee, Chris was at a rehabilitation center in San Antonio, getting a new cycling prosthesis made. Three days later he was mountain biking with the President, and the idea for an annual veteran bike ride emerged. A program called Operation Rebound can be credited with helping Chris get moving again after his injuries.

One W100K participant wrote to President Bush:

“Physically wounded veterans need role models that have succeeded physically and mentally, because the two rehabilitations are not mutually exclusive. If every injured service member could meet and learn from warriors like Chris Self and Melissa Stockwell upon discharge, there would be a lot less speed bumps and detours along the way.”

The W100K high-endurance three-day mountain bike ride lead by President Bush

There are a pair of portraits hanging of Captain Christopher A. Turner. Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, Chris had a lot of anxiety. According to the guide at the museum he was not taking good care of himself, and was drinking a lot. The first portrait of him is on the left. “He used golf and fitness to reduce his stress and increase his well-being. He studied post-traumatic stress and learned a lot about how to cope with it. And after working with a therapist, Chris says: “I have accepted the fact that this will always be a part of who I am. It’s up to me to make it a positive part of my life.”” (from Portraits of Courage, George W. Bush)

The portrait on the right was painted after President Bush received a letter from Chris, who expressed that the Warrior Open helped him feel comfortable sharing his struggles and triumphs.

As you read the stories, and see the portraits, you can’t help but be moved by their courage and sacrifice.

Admission to Portraits of Courage is included with admission to the museum. The book Portraits of Courage is for sale in the gift shop, and I saw it in the West Plano Costco. I don’t recommend this exhibit for younger kids as you need to focus and read in order to get anything out of it, so keep that in mind if you opt to bring children. Also, there is a large September 11th exhibit in the museum, including a lot of video. We found it extremely sad and I was glad my children were not with me as I needed time to process it without their questions. My teen would get a lot out of these exhibits, but not his eight-year-old brother.

Here are some tips shared at the end of the exhibit:

  • Change the way you think about the invisible wounds of war: post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. Eliminate any pre-conceived notions or stigmas. Understand that with effective treatment and support, these injuries can be overcome.
  • Take the time to understand the issues facing veterans in your community, and share what you learn with others.
  • Hire, develop, retain and support veteran employees and their spouses.
  • Learn about and support, with your time or your money, effective organizations that help veterans.
  • If you know a veteran who is transitioning out of military services and needs support, encourage them to visit BushCenter.org to find helpful resources.

Portraits of Courage
through October 1, 2017
George W. Bush Presidential Center
2943 SMU Boulevard, Dallas
$19 adults, $16 age 62+, $17 ages 13-17