PITTSTON — A piece of World War I history spent decades in the closet of JoAnn Kyttle and her family, but they decided it was time for it to be seen by everyone.
Kyttle, 65, and her family recently donated a painting of WWI soldiers being tended to by American Red Cross volunteers on the battlefield. The painting was done by Kyttle’s great-uncle Harry Gerald Spears.
“It was what he saw in his last days in the service,” said Kyttle’s daughter Jaime Mervin.
The painting now resides at the Pittston American Legion Post 477 as Kyttle, unable to attend the interview for this story, stated in a handwritten letter about why she wanted to donate it.
“I wanted to donate this to an organization that’s members would cherish the meaning behind it,” she wrote. “I hope they enjoy it and take pride in it as much as my family did. God bless.”
As Kyttle’s family was looking for somewhere to donate the painting, they ran into Joe Savokinas selling poppies at Schiel’s Family Market.
“We kept it covered in our closet because we didn’t want it hanging because we didn’t want it ruined,” she said. “We moved a few times and, when we came up here five years ago, we wanted to donate it to a legion or VA hospital, but we saw Mr. Joe here and figured we’d talk to him about it.”
Savokinas said the painting will be put into a glass case and eventually displayed in the American Legion.
“We want to preserve it,” he said. “We don’t want to get dust on it or anything.”
Spears served in WWI until 1919 and did the painting at the conclusion of his service. According to Mervin, he painted that exact moment because it was the one thing that stuck out to him during his tenure.
“When Harry Spears was in the service, his last days were when the Red Cross was coming to help the injured soldiers and that’s what he most remembered,” Mervin said. “It was very traumatic because he had friends or people he fought with, but him remembering that was the most traumatic part of him being in the service.”
Shortly after he finished the painting, Spears died from the Spanish flu epidemic. He was 19 years old.
After his passing, Mervin said, the painting was given to Spears’ brother, Francis, who then gave it to Kyttle before he died.
It was restored in 1992, but only the wooden frame it currently sits in was polished as the painting itself remains in terrific shape.
Now, the painting sits with the American Legion, and Savokinas is thrilled to have a huge part of history in the building.
“I think this is a great honor for our Legion and we’re very, very proud to display it,” he said.
Reach Jimmy Fisher at 570-704-3972 or on Twitter @SD_JimmyFisher