The POWer of a mural

Port Richmond native shows support of military through mural on home

David Searle stands beneath the POW mural he painted on the side of his home on Salmon Street in Port Richmond. LINDSEY NOLEN / STAR PHOTO

By Lindsey Nolen

Upon turning 18 years old, Port Richmond resident David Searle went to the post office and was ready to enlist in the draft lottery for military service in the Vietnam War. Although President Nixon ended the draft before he was summoned for service, Searle gained a strong sense of patriotism, and in the early 1990s chose to exemplify this through a Prisoner of War mural he painted on the side of his house.
Influencing his decision to begin this painting project, at the time, Searle had finished repainting the interior of his house with a black and white color scheme. Having leftover black paint remaining from the redesign, when a van with a POW sticker in the window pulled up outside of his home on the 2500 block of Salmon Street, although there weren’t many other murals up around Philadelphia then, Searle immediately found inspiration.
“I did have an older brother, Norman, who was in the Navy in Vietnam, and another, Kenneth, who was in the Army and ready to go to Vietnam but he never made it over there,” Searle, who tried to serve himself again later but was unable to because of poor eyesight, said. “I wanted to paint that wall anyway to protect it from the rain and keep it dry. I thought to myself, since I’m patriotic and I believe in our government and our armed forces and I said to myself, you know what, I’m going to paint [the POW symbol].”
After coming to the conclusion that he wanted to recreate the symbolic image on the side of his house, Searle next went inside to retrieve a tablet, piece of paper and a pencil. He then sat on his front steps and by repeatedly glancing at the image inside the van’s window, he sketched a replica on his piece of paper.
“I put a ladder up against the side of my house and made a rough sketch of the symbol on the wall real fast,” Searle, who had worked locally as an electrician for 32 years, said. “The next thing you know, when I came down off the ladder I looked up and I was so shocked. I thought, wow that looks pretty good.”

David Searle painted the POW mural on his house in the 1990s. PHOTO COURTESY OF ROBIN SEARLE

Upon going back up to finish the rest of the painting, Searle remembers that everyone in the neighborhood was asking who it was that he was painting. Some people asked if it was Abraham Lincoln, while others thought it might turn out to be John F. Kennedy or the mayor, but when he added the words “You are not forgotten,” he said they started to realize what it actually was.
“Then I added the tower and the gun,” Searle said. “All the red paint that you see was actually just done last year. I added that because I had a motorcycle patch that caught my eye from when I went on a motorcycle run and it says, ‘In memory 1959–1975, 58,307, Brothers + sisters who never returned, Vietnam War.’”
Searle added he and his wife, Robin, had also gone online after finding the patch to make sure the information regarding the years and the number of deaths were accurate. As far as the number of deaths went, they found that it was the same as the number portrayed on the Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, and thus they decided to add it to what had already been painted on their home. They also choose to routinely keep up with the mural and touch it up with black paint when necessary.
“If I do something, I have to do it 100 percent right,” Searle, who has lived in this home for all 62 years of his life, said. “I’m just kind of gifted being mechanically inclined and able to look at something and duplicate it. I guess I just have a gift.”
Proving he accurately replicated the POW symbol design, and his mural does not go unnoticed, Searle said a lot of veterans will stop by and comment on his work. He said they often come up and knock on his door to say “thank you,” a symbol of their appreciation that in turn makes him feel touched and as if he was able to show his support to the service for what they gave up for him and the rest of the American public.
“When I see vets, I always thank them for their service,” Searle said. “[Vietnam] was a hell of a war, and you know I was ready to go and do my part as a patriotic American citizen. Instead, this is what I could do to give back.”