Painting honors first female pilot killed in combat

daniel.gross@shj.comMarch 2, 2014 

JEFF BLAKE — jblake@thestate.com Buy Photo

U.S. Army Capt. Kimberly Hampton's smile will never be forgotten.

The characteristic was prominently featured in the 4-foot by 6-foot dedication painting that portrayed the U.S. Army Captain standing in uniform in front of her OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter.

Hampton lived her dream of commanding a U.S. Army Calvary Air Troop and died as a footnote in U.S. history – the first female military pilot killed in combat, said retired Brig. Gen. Ed Hall, past commander and historian for the American Legion Post 28 in Spartanburg.

Hall coordinated an effort to give Kimberly Hampton's family a commissioned portrait on behalf of the post and to dedicate a brick in her honor to add to the Veterans Commemorative Walk in Duncan Park.

Hampton graduated from Easley High School before enrolling at Furman University in Greenville and later Presbyterian College in Clinton.

She joined the U.S. Army after flight training and later became a captain in command of the Delta Troop, 1st Squadron, 17th Air Cavalry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C.

She died Jan. 2, 2004, after her helicopter was shot down on the outskirts of Fallujah, Iraq. She was 27.

She became the first female pilot to be killed from hostile fire in U.S. history and was the first female from South Carolina to die in combat in Iraq.

Hall felt compelled to honor Kimberly Hampton after meeting her mother, Ann Hampton, at a Military Officers Association of America meeting last spring, he said.

The painting, which took Charleston-based artist Bob Wilson, Jr. about eight months to complete, will go on display at the Capt. Kimberly Hampton Memorial Library in Easley, her hometown.

For a short stint, it will be on display at Kimberly Hampton's alma mater, Presbyterian College, since the college's theatre department will put on a theatrical performance in Kimberly Hampton's honor called “Kimberly's Flight,” said Ann Hampton.

The performances are scheduled for April 5, 8 and 12 at the Harper Center Theatre in Clinton.

The performance will be an adaptation of Ann Hampton's published book “Kimberly's Flight” that details the life of her daughter.

During the painting presentation ceremony at the American Legion post in front of veterans and family members, Hall read from an email that Kimberly Hampton had sent to her family in 2003 while deployed overseas.

“If anything ever happens to me, you can be certain that I am doing the things I love. … I wouldn't trade this life for anything – I truly love it!,” he read aloud as some family members were seen wiping tears from their eyes.

Ann Hampton said she was humbled and grateful to be given the dedicated painting and said “That's my girl; her smile and all. That's her,” when the painting was unveiled.

“I am so humbled and grateful,” she said. “I have to call on her every time I get up in front of people to speak. This is extra special today. She's smiling at me as I'm talking to you.”

Wilson, the son of Woodruff-based artist Robert Wilson, Sr., said he was honored to take-on the commissioned painting project.

About 60 to 70 hours of actual painting was put into the piece while the rest of the time was spent on research, conceptualizing and hiring a model.

He also read Ann Hampton's book twice to try and capture a sense of who Kimberly Hampton was as a person.

“I found that she was a very self-confident individual with a big personality. She had a big beaming smile; just a gorgeous child,” said Wilson.

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