Gene was born in Brooklyn and one of his first brushes with military aviation history was when, as a child, he knocked on a stranger’s door to ask what the gold star meant on the small service flag hanging in the window. As it turned out the star was in memorian for Colin Kelley, the famous war hero who stayed at the controls of his B-17 long enough to allow his crew to bail out and who died in the process. The resident in that house was Colin Kelley’s widow. Gene, of course, grew up like many of us during the war years so it was natural for him to maintain a life-long interest in World War II. Although Gene never had any formal education in art or military history in the years following the war he developed in depth knowledge of both areas by reading and researching. He also became an accomplished pilot along the way. At one point, Gene had a chance encounter with Robert Taylor in a gallery where Taylor was exhibiting and Gene bought his first four Taylor paintings at that time and, to paraphrase Humphrey Bogart’s comment to Claud Rains in Casablanca, “[I]t was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” As a result of Gene’s interest in the history of aerial warfare, his love of airplanes and his association with Robert Taylor for whom he often later served as patron, he became one of America’s premier collectors of and authorities on art depicting air combat.
Eisenberg was not content to just buy paintings for the pleasure of owning them. He was also motivated to learn and record military history in part by getting to know first hand many of the individuals who were combatants and iconic military heroes of the wars of the twentieth century. Many of these associations came about as a result of Gene bringing together the men who participated in the history behind his paintings for in-person signings of a given art work that Eisenberg, the Patron, had commissioned. For example, Gene knew well Jimmy Doolittle and the Doolittle Raiders, the Wake Island Survivors and many other of our heroes as well as the heroes of America’s enemies like some of the great German Luftwaffe Aces.
The collection of historic aerial combat paintings in this book was assembled over the last quarter century by Gene Eisenberg. The book reflects not only the life’s passion of an inveterate collector and history buff but also Gene’s commitment to preserve some of the finest military aviation art ever created. Thus, when you tour Gene’s collection in real time with him as your guide, you immediately sense Gene’s love of and passion for his paintings and his other artifacts, and are impressed by his depth of knowledge of the events. Fortunately, for all of us the book and the collection will become a permanent record of history. The world has turned over many times since this collection was built and the men who were a part to this history are becoming fewer and fewer, meaning the circumstances underlying the creation of this collection may never again be possible.
The entire history of the ‘Fight in the Sky’ from one of the first flimsy Wright aircrafts to the German jet propelled fighters seen late in the war are represented in the images of this book. This book, then, is a tour de force of the history of the airplane and its use in war.
Although there are several fine aerial combat artists such as Grinnell, Trudgian, Phillips, Stark, Cohen, and Shaw; Robert Taylor is considered to be the best of the best; so he is thus acclaimed to be to aerial combat paintings as, for example, Montague Dawson is to seascapes and ships. In fact, if there were ever to be a military aviation equivalent of the Louvre or Metropolitan, the Taylor art works in this book would be in the treasure vault of such an institution as would some of the collection’s paintings by others, the importance in part of these works of art is that they capture for the ages the intensity and exhilaration of mano a mano aerial combat of the type that often left the American And British Royal Air Force pilots returning from A mission totally spent, the ground crews finding them asleep in their harnesses after they taxied to a stop at their home bases. Life and death decisions were not dictated by a computer for the lone fighter pilot of the world wars but by individual skill and heroism; thus it was man that resolved such clashes not technology. The aerial combat of world war II stands in contrast to the often sterile, impersonal dogfights of today when a plane might be destroyed from afar by an unknown and unseen enemy.
Collectors from all countries have an important role in preserving history. This is especially important to America because there is no American race, and therefore, America is defined entirely by its history such as the founding documents and other records such as correspondence, art and books. As President Reagan wrote:
“So, we’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion but what’s important: Why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those thirty seconds over Tokyo meant. You know, four years ago on the fortieth anniversary of D-Day, I read a letter from a young woman writing of her late father, who’d fought on Omaha Beach. Her name was Lisa Zanatta Henn, and she said, “We will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did.” Well, let’s help her keep her word. IF WE FORGET WHAT WE DID, WE WON’T KNOW WHO WE ARE. I’m warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. Let’s start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual. And let me offer lesson number one about America; all great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven’t been teaching you what it means to be an American, let ’em know and nail ’em on it. That would be a very American thing to do.”
There is another quote that is relevant to the gravamen of the argument that there is a nexus between individual collectors and the preservation of history as follows:
“He who controls the past, controls the future; and he who controls the present, controls the past.” ———-George Orwell
Orwell wrote in his classic 1984 that to establish a tyranny you first need to destroy a country’s history. Remember the protagonist in 1984 was Winston Smith whose job in the Ministry of Truth was to keep rewriting history so that the government would always be right. Winston Smith represents the historical revisionists of today. If you accept the proposition that America and American Exceptionalism are defined by our history, it is important that future generations have access to the true historical record that has been preserved in part by individuals citizen-collectors, and not by the government.
The importance of individual collectors like Gene Eisenberg in preserving and protecting American history in particular can not be overstated. In the past the press, at least in the United States, could be counted on to serve as ‘watchdogs’ in such matters but now our thoroughly corrupt main stream media serves more like cuttlefish discharging their ink into the waters of public discourse to help further their own leftist agenda. If you require evidence that our politically correct media is now aiding and abetting in the rewriting of American history just examine their treatment of the Reagan years. And so, citizen-collectors like Gene Eisenberg and other citizen history buffs have the charge to establish private repositories of our history as reflected in art, artifacts, documents, correspondence and books so that future generations will understand what their country is and what it stands for. The nexus between our history and our freedom and freedom everywhere deserves more thought and discussion.
The importance of history cannot be overemphasized. Without it, there is no real past. The present has no meaning. And the future, what future. Preserving history is therefore paramount, and understanding as well as “experiencing” it just as important. This collection of Gene Eisenberg does just that, it preserves a part of America’s history. Now its your turn to “see” it for yourself, with my most high recommendation!
By Elwin E. Fraley, M.D.
The History Buff, Incorporated