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Minnesota veteran’s family learns of portrait at the Pentagon

BRAINERD, Minn. -- The family of a Brainerd veteran knew a professional portrait had been painted to honor his World War II service -- they just didn’t know where it was.

But last month, with help from U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s office, the family learned that the portrait of the late Roy Schellin, whose right arm was severely wounded during a 1943 air battle over France, hangs at the Pentagon.

And now they plan a pilgrimage to the nation’s capital to see it.

Schellin’s daughter, Caralee Bjerkness of Brainerd, said this week that the family had a copy of the portrait, but that was it.

Bjerkness said they did research a few years ago and heard that it could be at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Then in mid-March, the family contacted Franken’s office and with the staff’s help, they discovered that the portrait is part of the U.S. Air Force’s Art Collection in the Pentagon.

“I wish we would have done the research earlier before Dad died,” Bjerkness said.

Schellin died March 6, 2012.

Bjerkness plans to take her 12-year-old grandson to the Pentagon in August to see the painting.

“I was excited when I learned where the painting is,” Bjerkness said. “It’s unbelievable. … He was very proud of his country.”

Schellin, a staff sergeant with the Air Force, earned the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart. He shot down two enemy fighters after wounding his arm during the 1943 battle.

The 1944 portrait honors Schellin’s heroism in battle, Franken’s office said in a news release. The portrait was done by prominent painter and muralist Charles Baskerville. It has hung in the Pentagon as part of a collection for many years without the family knowing.

Franken’s staff worked with Pentagon officials, who quickly confirmed its location.

“I was very excited when the Pentagon confirmed for me that the portrait is hanging in the Pentagon so that Sergeant Schellin’s family, who already know he’s a war hero, can see the painting and celebrate it,” Franken said. “We are making arrangements for Pentagon personnel to meet them and show it to them when they arrive this summer.”

After leaving the Air Force, Schellin returned to Brainerd and was active in the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post.

Schellin’s wife, Lucille, 87, lives in Brainerd. The Schellins have two children and five grandchildren.