"A sketchbook is a secret thing, a collection of unfinished and often times abandoned ideas never intended for public consumption—at least not in their current state. It’s a private space for honing one’s craft and workshopping, separating good ideas from those best left unexplored." -Brian Heater at The Daily Cross Hatch.
I found myself with a curious and oppressive lack of downtime this weekend, so I didn't get to spend nearly a fraction of the time I would have liked to on a Memorial Day piece.
As usual, but especially today, I was bothered by the concept of how to represent war in an illustration without glorifying it. As I was reflecting on this Catherine Leroy's iconic photo "Corpsman in Anguish" came to mind. When I was a young boy, I found this photo in a Life magazine in the attic and it had an incredible impact on me. Though my memory is faint (and probably colored by my current perceptions) I seem to recall that the image evoked a melancholy feeling. Now when I look the photo of HM/3 Vernon Wike bending over the formless mass of a fallen Marine I imagine he's thinking "What the FUCK!?!" And "WHY HIM?". The story about what Wike did next seems to justify my assumption.
So, on this day of days, please take a moment to contemplate the cost of war and those who serve. Let the endeavor of war never be something we enter into lightly.
Had a lot of time to kill at work today. Spent a lot of time all over the internets reading about the mounting tension between North Korea, South Korea and us. Pretty nerve wracking, but I'm sure that given our established pattern of dealing with DPRK violence (such as the US soldiers hacked to death in the "Tree Trimming Incident" of '76 and the downing of Korean Airlines Flight 007 among many others) which generally results in a lot of saber rattling, but no decisive action, this incident will probably end up much the same.
Why? Because we, and the international community are willing to let Kim Il Jong be a loose cannon in order to prevent a limited nuclear war in the region and keep Seoul in one piece. I'm sure in the highest corridors of power, the caluculus is something like, "So what if the North Koreans kill a few ROKs and/or US military personnel here and there- as long as the nukes don't start flying and those big artillery tubes don't turn Seoul into dust." I guess...it's a good trade off...until the North Korean regime (whether it's Kim, or his son "Brilliant Comrade") does something really really nuts, like giving a nuke to a Takfirist organization, or launching one on the South.
The two drawings above show a ROK sailor manning a port-side M-60 during a patrol of the South Korean maritime border. The other drawing is of a US 7th Fleet Aviation Boatswain's mate during helicopter flight operations.
I hope the situation stays stabilized, or that we figure something else out that creates a beneficial long term solution. (Or some mediation occurs...)
The bloggers at the Navy Times "Scoop Deck" just did a post on the effort to save the USS Olympia. They provided a link to the Friends of the Cruiser Olympia who are running a grass-roots campaign to save the ship. When I get my next paycheck, I'm definitely sending them $25. I'd send more if I could, believe me.
If the plight of the ship moves you, please contribute (it's tax deductible). This is an amazingly well preserved 19th Century steel battleship and a very important piece of maritime history.
Even though I'm in the middle of a couple of big projects right now, I needed to do a little sketch tonight to bleed off some of that creative steam and get a quick fix of external validation. ;)
Today, as I was out and about, I saw a license plate that read "USS AD18". So of course I couldn't resist looking it up when I got home. The AD-18 or, USS Sierra was a Destroyer Tender that served from 1943 to 1993. That's a hell of a long time, wouldn't you agree? Being a "freshwater sailor", I don't know that much about the shelf life of Navy ships, but that seems pretty impressive.
As I was looking up photos of the Sierra, I found one with this sailor and a banjo, with a waterfront in the background that reminded me of New Jersey or Brooklyn. So, in lieu of working on my long term projects, I decided to bang this one out. I drew the gentleman next to our banjo player- but he didn't work out so well...(photo was dated 1959 btw).
I had a couple minutes in a room alone with a computer today at work, so I decided to do some sketching. Unfortunately, I didn't have a lot of time (I didn't want to completely wolf down my sandwich just to draw) so I didn't get as much "information" into this one as I would've liked.
Obviously, I'm still thinking about my Great Uncle (his funeral was well attended, poignant and appropriately funny). Given that he was (happily) surprised to hear that the unit was still active (understandably he didn't pay much attention to military stuff after he was discharged), I wonder what he would have thought if he knew the Seabees went coed...
Regardless, this is a portrait of a Seabee putting in some wiring in, in a new facility at Camp Krutke, the evolving Seabee camp adjacent to Camp Leatherneck. The Seabees are adding a lot of value to the COIN effort with local construction projects, so it's only natural that they're building their own digs in Helmand. (I do think it's interesting that they built the base for the Marines first...but I guess you can't have development if you don't have security first...). If you're interested in the efficacy of COIN in Afghanistan, take a look at this article. Now, I'm a hardcore COINdinista myself, but the leaked memo in that piece gave me a moment of pause. Anyways. It's a conversation for another day.
(Also, there's a great piece on Afghanistan here by a soldier/contractor who spent 6 1/2 years there. Scroll down to the contents and click on "Building Bridges". It will enlighten you as to the difficulty that anyone- especially our Seabees- have doing development/construction work in Afghanistan.)
Barista Uno at the Marine Cafe Blog gave this site and my work a generous review today. If you're looking for maritime news and analysis with a focus on the Philippines, the Marine Cafe Blog is the place to go...Thanks Barista Uno!
My Great-Uncle, spinner of self-effacing, humorous tall tales passed away today after a long fight with the many complications that come with old age. The son of immigrants who (literally) escaped from Tsarist Russia, he was a WWII Seabee and Pacific Theater Vet, yet he was not a very Seabee-like Seabee: he wasn't good with his fists, didn't have a tattoo ("But I thought if I ever got one, it would be that Bee character!") and he avoided strong-drink and loose women.
However, he did have some very sailorly qualities:
He often made it a habit to hide from his Chief in order to find a safe, dry place to take a nap. He traded his beer and cigarette allotment that he didn't want for various and sundry items that he did. He also enthusiastically engaged in the thriving business of decorating combat knives for sailors who wanted to appear a little more salty.
Most importantly though, by crossing the Equator on his way to war he endured a centuries old ritual and was formally initiated into "the Mysteries of the Royal and Ancient Order of the Deep" earning the title of "Shellback". Some men serve for an entire career in the Navy and never earn that honor.
Though he wasn't one of those Seabees that went right in with the first wave, he did have a couple of close shaves (aside from those times where he was sniper-bait while constructing oil and water storage tanks):
Once, a newly minted Ensign "accidentally discharged" his shiny new .45 perilously close to Uncle Art's head. The terrified Ensign offered to do anything for Uncle Art as long as he didn't tell. Uncle Art said "I didn't really need anything, so who was I going to tell? What was he going to do for me, send me home?
Another time he was at the end of a dock made out of floating pontoon sections when he heard the unmistakable sound of a Betty. It quickly appeared and started strafing, making a run towards the ship being unloaded at the end of the dock. As Uncle Art was running for safety he said that he started thinking about a gap somewhere between two of the pontoons. "I couldn't remember where it was and then... I found it." He broke his leg, but fortunately that was the extent of his injuries.
And finally (in transit to somewhere) his C-47 transport plane lost an engine (and for a brief time, both of them- one on fire) and was forced to land on Peleliu. When exiting the plane he looked at the sweat-soaked pilot and said, "Boy, I'm glad I wasn't in your shoes!"...
As I sat with him at his nursing home over the last year or so we chewed the fat, he cracked a lot of "groaner" jokes and I became the recipient of many sea stories and assorted family gossip. He was one hell of a guy and I'll miss him.
Recently I was having a discussion about sea literature with the proprietor of the Marine Cafe Blog which sparked this post about the dearth of maritime lit by Filipino writers, and the state of the Philippines maritime community and capabilities. The Marine Cafe Blog is a fascinating site which in their own words provides "analysis of global maritime trends with special focus on the Philippines". I encourage all of you to check out.
One of the reasons I read a lot of sea literature- and why maritime history and culture is interesting to me in the first place- is because of the type of people who take to the sea. Generally, in any good sea story (real or imagined) there is adversity and a person who willingly or not, has to deal with it. This is a portrait of just such a person. Meet Thuong Nguyen, a man who's been through so much adversity he has "Life is Difficult" tattooed on his arm.
According to the article, Thoung escaped Communist Vietnam in a small boat "crammed with three dozen others for 11 days. Little water. Vomiting. People praying to Jesus and Buddha. You cannot imagine.". Upon reaching America he worked in a battery factory, migrated to Louisiana, worked with a relative as a shrimper and eventually saved enough to buy his own boat. Katrina wiped out his home (and what I find most poignant- destroyed irreplaceable family photos from Vietnam) but not his boat. He rebounded from Katrina, returned to shrimping and now of course, is at the mercy of the BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill which has put his livelihood on hold.
If all that doesn't make a compelling sea story, I don't know what does. If you haven't followed the first link in this post, go to the New York Times and read Thuong's story. To me, this disaster is yet another in a long running catalogue of environmental calamities that seem to lose their front page cachet too quickly. In a global context, it seems like a little thing to wish that hopefully the damage will be squared away and Thuong can get back out to sea as soon as possible.