Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Art and Free Expression on The Seventieth Anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor

The Roy Chapmans on Christmas morning, 1941. The winter darkness seems to mirror the mood of my grandmother Mary, my grandfather Roy, and my father's sister, Helen. Only family friend David, whom the Chapmans were caring for because his father had been called up, seems to be excited about Christmas. My father, along with most soldiers that year, did not get Christmas leave.

America awoke to terrible news on this day seventy years ago. The Japanese had bombed our Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Thousands of sailors and soldiers were dead.

My father was already in uniform on that day.  His reserve unit had been called up in July, 1941 because President Roosevelt knew this day might come.

Dad's log book shows he took up a J-3 cub for a test flight on December 6, 1941 in South Carolina, and he and his engineering unit were just moving into their quarters at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia that fateful Sunday morning.

Dad was in the shower, he said, when his roommate stuck his head in to announce: "The Japs have just bombed Pearl Harbor."

My father's response? "Where's Pearl Harbor?" 

He was a 21-year-old kid and had no idea what the Japanese might have against us. Now, as America mobilized, he was in uniform "for the duration."

At the Moffett Field Museum, where I am a volunteer, we've made the decision to mark this day with an exhibit of art work from our first "Paint Out"--where plein air artists came and painted pictures of this historic--now decommissioned--Navy base.

We will have as our honored guests, two Navy veterans who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor seventy years ago. One is 90, the other is 93 and though they've disbanded their survivors group because so few of them are left, they agreed to join us for our event.

What is the connection between art and Pearl Harbor Day?

It goes back to that thing that got America started in the first place. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

What lots of people don't know is that more than two thousand artists served in all branches of the services in World War II. And when Life Magazine--which employed artists as correspondents--asked one Marine officer why he wanted men in uniform around him fighting the war with paintbrushes he said: "Because if we lose this thing, these guys may never be able to paint freely again."

 A Thunderbolt ground crew cleaning its guns. Painted by Ogden Pleissner, artist and  correspondent for Life Magazine.

So, on this anniversary, an art exhibit seemed a fitting tribute to the men and women in uniform from Pearl Harbor on through the decades to this very day, who risk their lives so that we might live, and work, and write, and yes, even paint pictures, freely and with the feelings that are in our hearts.

We salute them all today.

"P-3 Orion with Hangar One" by artist Andy Ballantyne, September 2011.

If you would like to join us for the exhibit, and meet the Pearl Harbor survivors, here are the details:
Opening Reception for "The Great Moffett Paint Out"
The Moffett Field Museum (enter at the gate off Highway-101 and they'll point the way)
2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.
December 7, 2011
No charge. The museum will also be open for tours.
Many of the paintings, drawings, sketches and photos are for sale.

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Janet Grunst said...

Great post, Robin. I spent a lot of time there years ago. said...

Here's a link to the coverage in the Palo Alto Daily News of the event at the Moffett Museum: