Central Texas Heroes: Von Otto

WACO, Texas (KWTX) When you think of a military veteran, artist may not be the first thing that comes to mind.

But a local airbrush expert named Von Otto brought his colorful work into the tough, rigorous lives of active duty service members.

Even from a young age Von had an artistic eye.

"I drew so much in class that my mom and dad almost forbid me to draw," he told us.

But as he grew the war in Vietnam ramped up and he felt the call to serve.

"I wanted to go, my dad was a medic during World War II," he told us, "of course my dad was my hero, that's why I went in the Air Force."

Still, that creative spark never vanished.

And by the time he joined the Air Force in 1973, he had his sights set on a future in photography.

But Uncle same had a different idea.

"They put me in doing weapons, weapons mechanic," he said, "I worked about just everthing with their gun systems."

And Von was compelled to serve in Vietnam.

"I put in for every duty station that would get me close," Von told us, "they sent me to Iceland."

Again, it was not what he expected.

But Von's job in Iceland was an important one, maintaining aircraft weapons systems.

"If the Soviets were going south or north down the corridor between England and Iceland, we would send our planes up, the English would sent theirs and just sort of kept them in a corridor," he told us, "we intercepted tons of Russian airplanes."

But looking around the country, he was inspired by its beauty.

"If it was warm weather it'd look like Hawaii, beautiful water, black beaches," he said, "I'd go out and just sit and draw, look at the scenery of base, you could see the little town with the boats and little harbor and Mount Hekla way out to the west," he said.

People noticed his flair and tapped him for some jobs on base.

The walls of the rooms and buildings were his canvas.

"With a brush and pens and pencils, markers, whatever I could find," he said, "in the NCO club it was dancing and diferent things like that, related to Iceland. "

He had a rare opportunity to bring color and comfort to a strict military universe far from home.

"Did a lot of stateside things in the USO Club, because the USO Club is where you're suposed to go have a little piece of home wherever you're at," Von said, "beach scenes and mounain scenes."

Von painted and drew, leaving works at every base where he served.

"The more I drew they more people saw it and the more I did," he said.

And by the time he left the Air Force in 1977, a career he could never imagine awaited him.

We'll explain how his career bloomed and how he never forgot to give back in our next Central Texas Heroes report.