AYDEN — Artist Mark Brown is hoping his mural honoring a World War II flying ace will send send knowledge of the Ayden native’s accomplishments soaring.
Brown’s painting depicts Lt. Col Sammy A. Pierce of the U.S. Air Force, who was born in Ayden on Aug. 25, 1921, to Sam and Burruss Sauls Pierce.
The mural project began when Brown was contacted by Ayden Planning Board member Eric Walls about the possibility a project to enhance downtown.
Ayden native Sam Jones agreed to commission a mural and provided the canvas for Brown’s creation.
The mural is part of the Artist in Residence program that was established by Ayden’s town board for the 2020-21 fiscal year.
The mural, located on a building Jones owns on Lee Street, commemorates Pierce’s service in World War II.
Pierce graduated from Ayden High School in 1938 and joined the Army National Guard.
He attended North Carolina State University shortly before entering the Army Air Corps. Pierce was a pilot training in Enid, Okla., when Peal Harbor was bombed.
Pierce completed training and was promoted from a corporal to flying sergeant and was assigned to the 8th Pursuit Squadron in the Pacific Theater.
Pierce attained three confirmed kills and two probables flying P-40s before bailing out a P-40 due to weather over the Owen Stanley Mountains in New Guinea.
Landing between two Japanese divisions, Pierce evaded capture by traveling at night and managed to reach an Australian beachhead.
After time spent healing from a shoulder injury, Pierce converted to flying P-38s and was promoted to second lieutenant. He flew his remaining campaigns from New Guinea throughout the Philippines to Japan and achieved four more confirmed kills and three and a half probables.
In total, Pierce flew over 270 combat missions and attained the status of ace.
He received the Distinguished Service Cross in 1945, the Silver Star in 1943 and the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1943, two Purple Hearts and five Air Medals.
Following WWII, Pierce attended the U.S. Air Force engineering school and spent the next 18 years of his life flying P-51, B-17, B-25, T-33 and C-47 aircraft. He also built and maintained airbases and facilities through the states, Europe and North Africa.
Pierce retired in 1963 as a lieutenant colonel and soon after took a civilian job as an engineering manager for Tompane Co., serving as a contractor to the Air Force.
During this time, he was responsible for building and maintaining air bases in Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Pierce’s businesses interests expanded as he helped a friend grow his restaurant business and helped to establish a retirement home for Air Force personnel in San Antonio.
Pierce later retired to Ayden and died on Jan. 9, 2010 at his home.
After learning about Pierce and his legacy, Brown wanted to honor the Ayden native who also was Ayden’s first Eagle Scout.
“He was a really interesting character who I learned about,” Brown said, adding he wished more people knew about Pierce and his legacy.
“I hope people (will) know who Sammy Pierce is a little better. He’s worth knowing,” Brown said.
To create the mural, which features Pierce flying his P40E aircraft, Brown used photos that he received from the Ayden Historical Society.
Though hidden from view from the street, the mural is located in the alley on Lee Street that connects with the parking lot of Ayden Town Hall. Ayden is working to establish the area as a pocket park.
Brown has been painting for the majority of his adult life and has a bachelor’s in fine arts with a concentration in painting from the Art Institute of Chicago. This is not the first time Brown has highlighted historical people with his art.
Brown recently completed a mural for the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum. The painting features Washington shipbuilder Hull Anderson. Brown also created the mural inside Cindirene’s Southern Emporium.
Brown was excited to develop and create the mural for his hometown and is working to establish more artworks in the town.
“(Murals are) visible and they are signs of visible life,” he said. “When you have art it indicates you have something going on there. We have plenty of brick walls in Ayden so there is plenty of opportunity for art.
“I’m from Ayden. I’ve been around the world making art,” Brown said. “It’s good to be home helping out the flavor of my hometown.”