Local vet: “Not many people can say they're painted by the President"

T.J. Brooks poses with the portrait as it appears in the former president's latest book. ...
T.J. Brooks poses with the portrait as it appears in the former president's latest book. (Courtesy photo)(KWTX)
Published: Jun. 5, 2017 at 1:26 PM CDT
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There's a local tie to the latest exhibit at the Bush Presidential Center in Dallas of the original 66 oil paintings former President George W. Bush did of U.S. military members who have served the country since 9/11, which are featured in his latest book, "Portraits of Courage."

Marine Corps veteran TJ Brooks, an Oklahoma native, lost his leg after he stepped on an IED while serving in Afghanistan.

He's now a Baylor student living in Hewitt who says he still can't believe his journey in uniform led to a portrait by a former president.

"It's still processing," Brooks said.

"It happened so quick with the painting and the book. It's still processing to be involved in something so big and so great."

In 2011, Brooks was serving with the 1st Battalion 8th Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C.

“I was doing an early morning insert in Afghanistan and went into went a compound and the door was locked so we cut the lock on the door and when I stepped inside the door there was a pressure plate just behind the door frame. So when I stepped in I stepped on it and it immediately amputated the leg just below the knee,” he said.

“Through the recovery process they had to amputate further up because of the bacteria that's in the dirt and soil in Afghanistan,” he said.

But, just eight months after having his leg amputated, Brooks played in President Bush's annual "Warrior Open" golf tournament in Dallas and that's when a photographer snapped a picture of Brooks that caught the eye of Bush, who used the picture as the basis for an oil painting.

Brooks says the portrait the president produced tells a story that involves much more than just a day of golf.

"I would say resilience, you know keep pushing, that's one of my strongest traits is to keep moving forward," Brooks said when asked what he felt the president captured in his painting.

"So when I played in the golf tournament it actually was like seven or eight months after my injury. So after the amputation I probably shouldn't have been playing golf at that point in time. But I did compete that year."

Brooks says he was contacted about being featured in the book, but had no idea what the painting would be until he was mailed a copy of the book.

Brooks was later able to visit with Bush after the book's release and said the president told him he spent a full year painting the veterans and wanted to make sure he got it right.

"He referenced the picture, and asked me what I thought of it," Brooks said.

"And I said it was great. And he said 'oh I got that follow through,’" Brooks said.

"And he asked me about the scar on the left leg and if I noticed it and I said of course I did. It was all the details he was able to capture."

Bush appeared Monday at the Bush Center on the SMU campus for a book signing that featured Brooks.

The paintings will remain on display there from now until Oct. 1.

Brooks just saw his original painting for the first time at the library last week.

"When we went to the library and I saw the original, that's when I think it really hit me. To see what he was able to capture and I think that's what he did so well with all of these. That he captured so much uniqueness for each individual."

For now, Brooks says he's looking forward to turning 30 soon and finishing up a degree in finance at Baylor, but he says despite his life-altering injury, he wouldn't trade his experience in the military for anything.

"It means a lot to me to have a president, a commander-in-chief that would do something like this," Brooks said.

"To reach back to the guys who fought underneath of him and I know a lot of the guys, myself included, wouldn't change that for anything."

"Plus, not many people can say they're painted by the President."