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More on Lawrence Beall-Smith

Every so often, I return to view the art of Lawrence Beall-Smith, hosted online at the Naval Historical Center.  I made a similar post in 2007, extolling Beall-Smith’s virtues of bringing color to a mind conditioned to look for nuance within a black and white frame.

The picture I wish to discuss now is linked here.

The framing of this picture pulls me in a few different directions.

1) I’m immediately drawn into the brown and white, where the officers are observing the landings off scene.

2) The sky and deck tend to balance all the other action.

3) There is much going on here, and it is all done with competing “blues:” the ocean, the aircraft, the Naval personnel on deck.

4) The one thing that looked odd to me is the stacking of planes in the upper left.  It appears as if a few are on top of each other.

5) What I love about the painting is the action it conveyes.  A spinning propeller?  Beall-Smith, you are skilled.

There are more works by Beall-Smith in the Navy’s collection.  See them all with the artist’s captions here.

Reddit and History porn (not what you think)

Okay, let’s get the subject of “porn” out of the way. We are NOT talking naked ladies and such. The sub-reddit of discussion here is about history, pure and simple, and there are some pretty great pictures appearing there. Many I have seen and many I have not.

So here’s how it works:

1) The link here contains the address to the sub-reddit. Users there up vote/down content they like, both pictures and comments. Check this.

2) Reddit users will post images to another site, sometimes flicker or imgur and make comments in the sub-reddit, with the picture linked at the top.

3) What I like about this specific discussion is that it contains info about color photography in WWII, a subject I knew little about.

There are _many_ more.  Give it a whirl if you have a minute but don’t blame me if you happen to discover the reddit front page, memes, or r/aww.  You have been warned.

The Airborne & Special Operations Museum

Someone I know recently visited the The Airborne & Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, North Carolina and he sent along this pix via camera phone.

While the quality of the picture is “meh,” I can honestly say I’ve seen few static displays that really hit the mark. This one does and it is pretty cool. Jeep emerging from gliding? Come on! They did that? Yes, totally.

The others? The National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico museum has several. Check out a few via the link.

Photo Credit: Kevin H

Happy monday, internet.

Conversation(s) with Editor Peter Chen

In a brief digital exchange concerning the movie Empire of the Sun (1987), Editor Peter Chen mentioned that his grandmother experienced the loss of a child in a mob while fleeing a Japanese bombing attack. What follows is a collected email exchange that occurred over the course of a week’s time and used with permission.

Hiatt: Can you describe how this came up in conversation.

Chen: I was channel surfing when I stumbled upon this movie, at the scene when Jamie was getting separated from his parents at Shanghai. My grandmother said something to the effect of “we went through something just like that. Big mob of people. Once you lose someone you can never find him again.” Then silence. That was probably the first awkward silence I have experienced in my life.

My grandmother has lost at least one son in a mob fleeing Japanese bombing as they tried to move toward Kunming. We don’t know how many children for sure, because she almost never talked about it.

Hiatt: So you were how old when this conversation took place?

Chen: About 11 or 12.

Hiatt: You mentioned that your grandmother lost a son while fleeing a Japanese bombing. Do you know if he survived war?

Chen: He found us around 1989. I think the story was that when communications began to open up between mainland China and Taiwan (where my grandparents moved to in 1949), he posted an ad in a Taiwanese newspaper looking for his parents, not knowing if they were still alive or not. My grandmother did not see the ad, but my grandmother’s younger brother, also a veteran, who my grandmother had no idea that had survived the war, saw the ad and made contact first. My great uncle, with a renewed sense of mission or whatever you may call it, engaged in another round of searching, this time successful. It ended up that they were both in Taiwan for 40 years without knowing that the other had also made it there! Through my great uncle, my lost uncle re-established contact with us. I do recall that my father put me on the phone with my uncle one time, but all I remember now is his “strange” accent. Years later when talking about this topic, my mother recalled that my uncle addressed my grandmother with a form of the word “mother” that was pretty much not used in Taiwan anymore, kind of showing the cultural divide that had developed between mainland China and Taiwan in the 40 years. In any case, for some reason, I recall his conversations with my grandmother feeling more cordial rather than emotional. Looking back, perhaps they just had been separated for too long — 50 years!

What may be interesting for me to add is that my grandmother took in an orphan, also en route to Kunming.

Hiatt: Did your grandparents have the chance to meet the long lost son?

Chen: My grandfather had already passed away by that time, sadly. My grandmother did not travel to mainland China to meet him. My great uncle did, however, but did not have much to report. Again, perhaps it just had been too long. Maybe the memories were too painful to revisit.

Hiatt: How long did the orphan stay with your grandparents?

Chen: Like so many family war stories, we don’t know and probably will never know the details about of how they first met. But piecing some bits and pieces together, my grandmother found her, about 5 years of age at the time, on the side of the road when my grandparents were on the move with the military westward toward Kunming. My own guess is that with the heartbreak and guilt of losing her children, something must have touched her heart when she saw a little girl lost on the side of the road. My grandparents would take care of her through the entire length of WWII and then the resumed Chinese Civil War. When my grandfather’s unit was evacuated by ship from mainland China to Taiwan in 1949, she came to Taiwan with my grandparents as well. She is still very much a part of our family to this day.

Hiatt: What unit did your grandfather serve in and what was his job?

Chen: He was an enlisted man, an aircraft mechanic. We are not sure of his rank though. My father does know that my grandfather spoke of working in a factory. While my father doesn’t know which factory for sure, there weren’t too many in the Kunming area at the time, and personally I am guessing it was the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company factory at Leiyun (Loiwing) which was in operation between 1939 and 1942. After the war, continued to work as an aircraft mechanic with the Civil Air Transport.

Hiatt: do you recall your grandparents expressing any lingering resentment toward different groups of people?

After the war, just about all Japanese people in Taiwan were deported, and when we moved to the US, we just so happened to not have any family friends nor neighbors who are Japanese or Japanese-American, so I don’t really know how my grandmother would react. But I can tell you this much — like many Chinese of her generation, she never referred to Japanese people as “people.” It’s always Japanese “devils”.

Hiatt: Did you envision that this family history lesson would put you on the road to becoming the editor of a well-trafficked WWII web site?

Chen: I’m not so sure if I ever really thought about it that way along the way, but with hindsight, I think having this history did plant seeds in my interest in history early on. Looking back, I probably did wonder why the sudden silence watching Empire of the Sun and why on the family registration booklet it says our ancestral home was a faraway place that for some reason we cannot visit. As my interest in the Second Sino-Japanese War grew to cover the entire WWII overall, having this sad history as a foundation of sorts inside of me, I hope I will always remember to never glorify war.

Sterling Mace Interview (Part III)

Part III of my interview with Sterling Mace (WWII veteran and memoirist) is here. You can also read my review of BATTLEGROUND PACIFIC: A MARINE RIFLEMAN’S COMBAT ODYSSEY IN K/3/5 here.

Sterling Mace Interview (Part II)

Part II of my interview with Sterling Mace (WWII veteran and memoirist) is here. You can also read my review of Battleground Pacific: A Marine Rifleman’s Combat Odyssey in K/3/5 here.

Happy Tuesday…

Battleground Pacific: A Marine Rifleman’s Combat Odyssey in K/3/5 by Sterling Mace and Nick Allen Review

I met Sterling Mace online, after making this rather short post about an interview he gave on a Reddit AMA.

Not thinking the post would ever reach him, his response to me personally was about “setting the record straight,” of defining the position of riflemen, in relation to mortarmen, machine gunners, and officers.

You see, Sterling Mace was a rifleman, and his book Battleground Pacific: A Marine Rifleman’s Combat Odyssey in K/3/5 seeks to put you at the front, at the very tip.

HBO all but immortalized Eugene Sledge’s and Robert Leckie’s books in the ten part mini-series, The Pacific. But Mace’s book is every bit as compelling and every bit as important in exploring common ground.

Most period memoirs make use of dialog.  Mace chose to frame his memoir in the first person, as his 19-20 year old self, and there is much dialog. Now if you are a reader who doesn’t trust recreated dialog 60+ years after a conflict, then move along.

But here is the thing. This choice adds much flavor to the narrative. What we see is a confident young man in an impossible circumstance. There is salty language, conflict between the ranks (Ambrose called it chickenshit), humor, an uncompromising attitude, and heart underneath it all.

Speaking of chickenshit, Mace shows an incident on Okinawa where he jumped from his position to aid several wounded marines who were there because of the incompetence of a Major leading another group. Mace managed to gather the wounded (six in all, with the help of a few others, he says) and get them into a nearby abandoned jeep, and then to an aid station, all while fighting the thick Okinawan mud and Japanese fire. Once he got there, a Lieutenant “gave [him] shit over a crummy jeep that would have gotten smashed to oblivion” that was sitting there in a field. “Well,” he says, “leave the jeep here. It belongs to us.” According to Mace, this Lieutenant’s attitude was all about where “he believes he resides in the world, verses the place he knows I do.” Back at the front, away from here.

This book is very much about relationships, and in it, readers get to know Sy Levy, and a host of other marines, including two afflicted by ringworm. By Okinawa, Mace had killed many Japanese (and these descriptions are included with much detail) and seen many fellow marines wounded and killed.  One moment, he is the hard marine not shedding tears over the death of company commander Haldane (which occupies part of another book), yet we see him later telling the story of Lyman Rice (afflicted with ring worm and a “real tough marine”) to George Weisdack (also afflicted with ring worm) that shows the heart. This story hits dead center at the fate of every marine rifleman there. You leave when you are killed or wounded.

Weisdack: “So…well…whatever happened to [Rice’s] ringworm? Did he get it cured?”

Mace: “Oh yeah, yeah, he got it cured in a manner of speaking, I guess. He got killed on the Five Sisters. I don’t suppose you worry about ringworm on the Five Sisters if you are dead, ya know.”

Mace continued in an even tone, as he knew Weisdack was suffering just as Rice had been.

“I want you to gather up your gear, walk past Chulis, and go down to the battalion aid station. Then I want you to get on a boat and get off this fucking island and go home, George. Go home.”

Mace knows what is going to happen. Weisdack, too, and he walks out, leaving Mace to face his fate.  Later he is concussed out of action by shell fire.

The highlight of the book for me is the description of the “dancing scene” on Ngesebus in late September 1944, which is included here in its entirety. It shows that tight bond between Mace and Levy, of friendship, of youth which make Levy’s death all the more difficult to accept, at least for this reader. My response: “NO” out loud and in disbelief. “No way.”  But Mace leaves us with an enduring image:

There’s one other thing about Ngesebus I should tell. It’s not about the battle. It’s not about the island. It’s not even about the war. It’s about the people inside the uniforms.

As they loaded us into amtracs, the victors of Ngesebus— filthy and disheveled, dungarees as stiff as canvas, weapons carried at cocky angles— they told us we would return to the bivouac area on Peleliu, and from there, we were bound for Pavuvu. We had done our duty and we had done it well.

Just a ways on the shore, a camera crew filmed us file past, capturing the moment for posterity. Marines gave various looks into the camera. Some marines smiled wanly, bashfully, as if it were expected of them to say cheese. Other marines pointed at the lens and cracked jokes. There were even some marines, unfazed by the limelight, who were just too hollow, or too tough, or too bitter, to care what the United States thought of them at the moment.

The camera merely rolled, emitting a swirling purr, in contrast to the stomp of hard boots on coral ground. The camera’s mechanical eye seemed so out of place in hell. Why would anybody want to see the sour underbelly of the world, when there were far more lovely things on God’s earth worth capturing?

As for me and Levy, when we passed by the camera, we were both too “New York” not to ham it up— to have a hoot— even in the ass crack of the apocalypse.

I grinned at Levy and he grinned back, the two of us telegraphing our intentions in perfect unison— a giddiness that is only found in kids (just kids), not yet jaded by the prospect of imminent death. In fact, in that moment, right there, there was no war … no war, no boondockers, no bombs, no bullets … no bullets, no sting of death, no Japan, no Roosevelt, no pain … no pain, no hunger, no anger, no blood, no tears … no tears, no sacrifice, no race or color, no Peleliu, and no Marine Corps.

There was only the beauty of being young and all the freedom that comes along with it.

Sy and I broke ranks. Nobody called us back. For just a few winks in the eye of forever, Sy says to me, “Truckin’!” So the two of us began truckin’— dancing— right in front of the camera, arms waving in the air, just like we had done back in the boroughs, showing off to the girls, laughing, sipping soda from candy-striped straws …

The smile on Sy’s face was unbelievable. Never to be replicated. Captured on celluloid for as long as film may last; yet forever etched in my mind for as long as I may live. A charm of friendship. A wonder of youth, immortal.

Hurriedly, Sy and I trotted back to our ranks, a spring still in our step, giggling the whole time as the aftereffects of our folly still lingered, despite being back among the Corps. Nothing on this earth or beyond could claim that moment from Seymour and me.

The search for this video remains elusive, but I’d like to see it. I hope it surfaces.

Finally, get the book. It’s an important read that will expand your knowledge of The REAL Pacific War.

B-17 via One Lucky Reporter Who is my BIL

So I know this guy, who is a reporter. He is one of the new breed of backpack reporters who do all the work in the field: shoot, edit, transmit all from the company Ford Explorer. He shot this WWII piece last summer, and I’m still pissed he called to gloat just before take off.

Wired Magazine Highlights D-Day Tech

On the anniversary of D-Day, June 6 1944, Wired magazine published two articles highlighting the tech that helped win the war. Those links are here:

Author Sterling Mace Featured on Reddit’s AMA

If you spend any time on Reddit, you might know about the Q and A’s called “Ask Me Anything” (AMA). A recent AMA included Joss Whedon of Avenger’s fame, and other assorted entertainment, gaming, scientific, and internet celebrities have appeared. Reddit bills itself as the front page of the internet, and it is famous among with a younger generation for its prolific charting of memes, and the content there is managed generally by readers in an upvote/down vote system.

With the Memorial Day weekend in full swing here in the US, marine veteran Sterling Mace, author of Battleground Pacific: A Marine Rifleman’s Combat Odyssey In K/3/5, recently completed an AMA, and while it did contain questions like “did you ever kill anyone?”, several areas of interest emerged, among them Eugene Sledge. His response to begin is not promising.

Sledge. I get this question all the time. See, Sledge was a good marine like all the others, and yes we were both in K/3/5, but Sledge was in the mortars and I was a rifleman. In combat those mortars are around 100-75 yards behind us riflemen, otherwise they would be out of effective range with their mortars.

It seems I remember the kid a couple of times on Pavuvu, but he was such a quite country boy…not like our New York crowd.

Years later Sledge contacted me and a few other riflemen to help him with his book. You’ll find my name in the acknowledgements of his book.

There has been talk over the year whether or not Sledge took some of what happened to us and made them his own.
Maybe he did. But as far as I can tell, he was a good marine.

A low fatality rate in those mortar squads.

Not a fan, I gather. Sledge came up later in the AMA:

Sledge was in the mortars about 100-75 yards behind us riflemen. So anything he saw was after the fact for the most part. He was a good marine. I barely remember him as a quiet kid on Pavuvu, but he wasn’t anywhere close to us during combat so he was not a consideration. When Sledge was writing his book he consulted a few of us riflemen, and you will find my name in the acknowledgements of his book. Whether he took stories from riflemen and made them his own is up for debate. Some riflemen sure thought so. But he’s a dead guy. God bless him and his family. Now the rifleman’s story can be told.

Here Mace is making the distinction clear.  If you were not ENTIRELY up front, then how can you really tell the story?

Other highlights:

  • When asked about downtime in combat: “On Okinawa the only happy memory I have is talking about babies one day in a crap-ass foxhole. I don’t know why we brought it up, but we talked about how sweet babies were. A few minutes later all hell broke loose.”
  • On near death experiences: “The most amazing thing I witnessed? Probably the Japanese shell that landed a just a few feet from me and didn’t kill me.”
  • On war video games: “I think these war video games are just like when I was a kid going to the move palace and watching the Tom Mix films. Kids will be kids. We walked out of those movies playing shoot ’em up. It’s the same thing. The times may change, but people don’t.”

The full AMA is here. There are currently 981 comments and the AMA sits at #1281.