My experience as a Combat Artist was in the Vietnam “conflict” in 1969-1970.
Throughout history, from the ancient civilizations to the present day, artists have depicted and documented war. The Civil War art is impressively represented by such “special artists” (as they were known then) as; Edwin Forbes, William and Alfred Waud, Henri Lovie, Winslow Homer and many more. World War I had John Singer Sargent and others.
The Marine Corps expanded its “Historic Branch” with the Combat Art Program in the 1960’s. Enlisted, commissioned, as well as civilian artists participated in the program. Each month artists shipped their work to Washington for reviewand critique. Accepted work was then photographed, catalogued becoming part of the archivesand permanent collection, now housed at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Virginia.
All Marine artists were stationed at Da Nang Press Center, also known as the Combat Information Bureau, the central point for collection and dissemination of information for all the major media agencies, such as BBC, AP and UPI. Our studio was on the Song Han River. As Marines, we were also responsible for security at the Center, including escorting journalists and press people to field locations—with a “rifle in one arm and a sketchpad in the other.”
Artists were free to travel anywhere in “I Corps” (the Marine jurisdiction in country) and encouraged to explore the distinctive qualities of landscape and people, recording every day happenings—from firefights to Marines just sitting around having a smoke. Once, upon return to an outpost I had previously visited, I asked, “Where’s Sgt. Moya?” (a young Marine I had met and talked with). The curt, unemotional response from his buddies: “blown away!” And another day came and went.
I met many curious, interesting and wonderful people in that year, both in the field and at the base. Most of all, I remember the Vietnamese people—genuine, honest and honorable.
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