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Saul Martinez is a former Montana State University student, a combat veteran and recipient of a Purple Heart living in Bozeman.

Now, he is the subject of an acrylic painting in former President George W. Bush’s best-selling book, “Portraits of Courage.” Martinez will attend an opening for Bush’s paintings May 22 at his presidential center on Southern Methodist University’s campus in Dallas.

“When I first got wind of it, the main thought I had was that I was honored,” Martinez said. “Out of the thousands of servicemen, he decided to paint me? I am completely humbled to share the pages with the other service members in the book. They are true warriors and I am thrilled to see that their stories are being read by so many.”

Martinez enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2006. During a 2007 mission in Iraq, his convoy was hit with an improvised explosive. He lost his right leg above the knee and his left leg below it. He also lost his friends, Spc. Kyle Little and Sgt. Blake Stevens.

Despite the injury, Martinez kept serving until 2010 as a squad leader in the Army’s warrior transition unit, which is dedicated to helping wounded and ill soldiers with physical therapy.

Martinez was invited to the Warrior Open, a golf tournament for wounded veterans hosted by the Bush Foundation, in Dallas in 2013, where he first met the former president.

“The way he interacted with us felt nothing but genuine,” Martinez said. “Any time he talked to us you could feel that he was really listening.”

After some time talking with Bush, Martinez gave him a photo of himself. Unbeknownst to Martinez, the president would paint the photo, one of 100 portraits for his book.

In a foreword, former first lady Laura Bush wrote, “All the people in this book left an impression on my husband, and while he didn’t have a sketchpad or think about light and shadow, he studied them from a unique vantage point.”

“When I met the Bush family, you could really tell that Laura Bush was the rock of the family,” Martinez said. “I guess I feel sort of the same way about my wife. I probably wouldn’t be here without her and her support.”

Martinez lives with his wife, Sarah, their two kids and a therapy dog named Nebula. In the book, Saul tells a story of his wife’s support.

“About six months into my recovery, I was on the couch relaxing like usual, and she asked me to vacuum the house. I then asked her, ‘How am I supposed to do that?’ and she told me something very significant to me, even today: ‘Figure it out!’ From then on, any obstacle for me has been a matter of figuring it out or adapting to the situation.”

With Martinez’s work for Warriors on Quiet Waters, he helps fellow veterans in ways that helped him through tough times, including physical therapy and adjusting to living with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“By far the most difficult was watching my buddies get killed in action and being the last one to ever see both of them alive,” Martinez told Bush, according to an excerpt from the book, “and it still is the toughest part every hour of every day.”

Martinez, director of warrior services for Warriors on Quiet Waters, came to the foundation as a participant in 2009. The nonprofit provides a comfortable place for combat veterans to transition to civilian life through fly fishing. Martinez fell in love with Bozeman and the peace he found in the environment and later moved his family here.

“It’s important for veterans, especially in Bozeman, to reach out to each other,” he said. “Even if they feel like they’re doing alright, it’s important to talk to somebody.”

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Rolf Tengdin is a general assignment reporter for the Chronicle. He can be reached at rtengdin@dailychronicle.com.

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