In 1942 I graduated from Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, aspiring to become an illustrator. Two months later, I joined the Navy and was assigned to the USS LaVallette (DD-448), a combat Destroyer active in the Tunisian Campaign and the South Pacific during World War II. I always kept a stash of art supplies in a hammock slung under the starboard wing of the ship’s bridge, close to my assigned battle station. Since paper was scarce, the backs of “cancelled charts” often became my wartime canvases.
Action was constant. When under air attack, I was charged with tracking enemy planes and directing all heavy guns on to the most dangerous approaching targets, some only seconds away. When the LaVallette was not in danger of enemy air attack, I was relieved from my station in CIC (Combat Information Center) and given an opportunity to sketch under fire during shore bombardments we read about in history books.
My collection of more than 360 paintings and drawings depicts a wide spectrum of events, emotions, and individuals, ranging from portraits of Filipinos, befriended in the South Pacific, to burial at sea, to shipmates enjoying the long awaited arrival of mail. As a moral booster, my cartoons, poking fun at life on-board ship, were reproduced as covers for the ship’s daily newspaper and distributed among the crew members.
My collection of images bears dates, times, and names of both shipmates and my native friends. I also kept a copious written journal, detailing the people and events often depicted in my WWII paintings and drawings.
The WWII souvenirs, referenced in my written accounts and images, are still in my possession. I have everything from a war torn Japanese surrender flag to the bamboo hat depicted in one of my native portraits, to the carved Philippine canoe I traded for navy issued underwear.
During my 3â€“1â„2 year service, I wrote letters home, often adorned with beautiful drawings and paintings of South Pacific sunsets, and toned down accounts of life at sea. My immigrant parents saved all the letters, which now add another dimension to the Sailor’s Diary collection.
Today we can compare the original ship’s log to the Sailor’s Diary for a full view of war in the South Pacific, and a map to locating the people who both lost and gained from World War ll.