Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tom Lea with the U.S. Marines on Peleliu

I'm a couple of days late with my Memorial Day posting. I think we should remember our dead every day, not just on the last weekend of May.

It's hard to forget what people went through in World War II when looking at the dynamic paintings of artist Tom Lea. During his time as a combat artist he painted images that sear themselves in our minds. These dramatic paintings were done to show the carnage of the fight for the island of Peleliu in September, 1944. A painting comes from the soul of an artist. Maybe that's why there were combat artists, to show us the soul of war.

The uniforms change, but the effects of war don't. Recently I read that 45% of our current veterans apply for some sort of disability.Lea's painting of a marine with the "thousand-yard stare" reminds us that no one who fought in any war punched a time clock at the end and went home without having their lives changed.

Lea went on to a successful career in art. I have some of the books he illustrated, including my favorite, Apache Gold and Yaqui Silver by J. Frank Dobie. Lea died in 2001 at age 93. There's more information on him at the Tom Lea Institute web site.

This article is from the June 11, 1945 issue of Life.

Copyright © 1945, 2012, Time-Life.


nursemyra said...

great paintings, especially the wounded arm

Kirk said...

I have mixed feelings about Memorial Day. I believe the government, and by extension we taxpayers, have an obligation toward those who serve, and those who died serving, and don't begrudge any money being spent in that regard. My problem is when people say, "We should give thanks to those who died in battle so that we could enjoy freedom." Leaving aside the question whether those who died can even detect such gratitude, I'm not sure freedom was actually at stake in every war the US has fought. WWII, yeah. The others, I don't know. The best I can do is tell those who died that I appeciate that THEY themselves thought freedom was at stake, and were willing to die for it.

That third picture down looks like something out of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Frankly, I'm surprised the government didn't censor it.

Postino said...

Kirk, you've hit on the arrogance of Americans who believe that every war we fight is justified. Maybe from the standpoint of the arms makers, Halliburton Corporation, or powerful neo-cons with personal agendas they are justified.

I don't believe any person ever went to war hoping to be killed to prove patriotism. None of the guys I was in the Army with wanted to die on a battlefield, that's for sure, and we were all relieved we were in West Germany during the height of the Vietnam war.

Both you and Nursemyra commented on the arm picture, and I agree with your comment you were surprised the government didn't censor it. I wondered that, also. It might have been because the soldier was still upright. Had it shown him dead on the ground with his body parts strewn around I'm sure it would have been censored. Most combat art of World War II is still in the archives, unseen. I hope someday we'll be allowed to see it.

Lastly, I don't think patriotism can be mandated by holidays and flag waving. And nowadays I don't believe any war is totally justified unless enemy troops are pouring across our borders. War should always be the absolute last choice of action, not the first.

Celebrate the troops? I'm OK with that. Celebrate wars? No. I believe Tom Lea's artwork in this article is, perhaps unconsciously, very much anti-war.