Days after the NAS shooting, the folk artist Scott Stanton — better known as Panhandle Slim — painted portraits of the three slain men: Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, Airman Mohammed Haitham and Airman Cameron Walters.
He delivered the paintings to his friends, Scott Satterwhite and his wife, Lauren Anzaldo, asking them to find a way to publicly display the paintings as a memorial to the young men slain on Dec. 6, 2019. The pandemic hit not too long after, putting a hold on their plans. After almost a year of sitting in the house, the paintings have found a home at Pensacola Museum of Art, just before anniversary of that tragic day. The exhibit is titled “In Memoriam.”
“We talk a lot about how we'll never forget the sacrifices of our armed forces, especially their families, but as a society we often move on quickly past these tragedies,” said Satterwhite. “I didn't want that to happen.”
Now based in Savannah, Georgia, Stanton is a Pensacola native who was part of the local skate and punk scene for years before he was known as an artist. While his work is primarily of public figures, he also paints everyday people and has paid tribute to others through his art, like the nine victims of the 2015 Charleston church shooting. For Stanton, these portraits were personal.
“He is a compassionate, creative person, and painting portraits to honor these men was personal for him,” explained Anzaldo. “Pensacola is his hometown, and this event affected him. As he painted each portrait, I know he meditated on the brief life of each of these sailors and on the pain of their families and the possibilities that were cut short because of their deaths.”
Anzaldo worked for the Navy as a social worker and was on her way to work the morning of Dec. 6 when she got a call warning her about the shooting. Later that day, she was part of the crisis response team of Navy chaplains and Navy corpsman, and mental health professionals.
“Observing the pain as well as the strength of the folks we talked with and helped really solidified my commitment to showcasing these portraits,” she said. “The sailors we lost deserve our remembrance, and the endurance of our Pensacola community deserves to be recognized.”
Part of Stanton’s style is not just the way he paints, but the words he uses alongside each portrait. With each of the three paintings, Stanton provides a little insight to the person, sharing anecdotes from friends and family. As Satterwhite said, Stanton “paints people, but he also tells stories.”
Many people, whether they had a connection to the base or not, were shocked by the shooting. Even though sailors may not always be from Pensacola, they're still embraced by the community.
“While they're here in Pensacola, they're part of our community,” said Satterwhite. “They're part of our family, which is why I just hated the idea that these beautiful and heartfelt tributes might sit around in some closet gathering dust when people needed to see the paintings and be reminded of these men and their sacrifice.”
Originally, the plan was to donate the paintings to NAS, but then the paintings wouldn’t be accessible to the public. PMA chief curator Anna Wall said the hope is for the paintings to be “be part of our city's ongoing process of remembrance, dialogue, and healing.”
As a Navy veteran who served with the Marine Corps, Satterwhite said he wasn’t surprised to hear about the sacrifices these young men made in the midst of the shooting, whether it was trying to stop the shooter or pointing first responders to the right location. Everyone who joins the military understands the risks of their job, he said, but on Dec. 6, 2019, they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“They didn't expect to die that day,” said Satterwhite. ”They didn't want to die that day, but life is very unpredictable — especially when you're in the military. The least we can do is honor them.”
“They were just so young, and I think about that most.”