Monday, May 31, 2010

In Honor of Memorial Day

War and Peace (Ack-Ack Fire near a Russian Aleut Grave), Wm F Draper, 1942

Memorial Day is one of the bookends of summer. It's easy to forget what Memorial Day honors - which is all of the men and women who have died in military service to our country.

From the US Memorial Day webpage:

"Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war). It is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May (passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 - 363) to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays), though several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas, April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis' birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.

Traditional observance of Memorial day has diminished over the years. Many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored, neglected. Most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day. While there are towns and cities that still hold Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades. Some people think the day is for honoring any and all dead, and not just those fallen in service to our country."

Aleutians Campaign, Wm F. Draper

Boxing Match, Wm F. Draper, 1944

The paintings here are by my great uncle, painter William F. Draper (1912-2003).

William F. Draper
Lieutenant Commander, USNR

"Born in Hopedale, Massachusetts, Draper attended the National Academy of Design and the Cope Art School in Massachusetts and also studied in France and Spain. Commissioned early in 1942, he created a series of paintings during his coverage of the Aleutians, Bougainville and the Marianas campaigns, many of which later appeared in color reproductions in the National Geographic Magazine. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his meritorious work as a combat artist in the Aleutians and under enemy attack in the South Pacific.

After returning to civilian life, William F. Draper earned an international reputation as a portraitist. His subjects have included John F. Kennedy (1962), the Shah of Iran (1967), James Michener (1979) and Richard M. Nixon (1981), as well as numerous other political, social, and corporate leaders. His work is included in the collections of a number of major museums, including the Metropolitan Museum and the National Portrait Gallery."

from the Naval Historical Center Website

Inferno, Wm F. Draper, 1944

Bill Draper was commissioned by the US Navy as one of five official WWII combat artists. He painted 69 descriptive wartime scenes between 1942-1945, many of them were featured in National Geographic magazine. It wasn't easy being a combat artist - conditions were difficult and often dangerous. Bill landed with the second wave of marines at Bougainville and while assigned to the USS Yorktown he "painted a series of paintings on the first air attack on Palau. He covered the landings at Hollandia and the air strike on Truk.

Draper covered the invasion of Saipan and Guam aboard the USS Tennessee depicting the powerful destruction that hit this island. While he was aboard, the Tennessee was hit three times. He landed and remained on the island for eighteen days recording the bitter struggle and eventual success of this action. At Guam he landed with the assault troops under heavy enemy fire."
- Naval Historical Center website

Hangar Deck of Carrier, Wm F Draper, 1944

Uncle Bill in his NYC Studio, image via Portrait Society of America website

A Warrior Homeward Bound, Wm F Draper, 1944

all images via the Naval Historical Center website


  1. Wow! What an ambitious post! Perfect for today's special occasion. Have a wonderful rest of the weekend!

  2. He was really a talented artist. I'd love to see some non-war paintings. Is there a site where they are posted, or did he only do the war memorials?