USMC Combat Art

Combat-Art-GroupAs a Marine combat artist in Vietman, David R. Anderson carried a sketch book along with his rifle. He spent a year in Vietnam, drawing and painting Marines in combat.  His works were published in magazines and displayed in the Smithsonian Institution and other museums.
In 1942, the official Marine Corps Combat Art Program began under the guidance of Brigadier General Robert Denig. His mission was to keep Americans informed of their Marines´ actions overseas. Some of the Marine artists from World War II became well known American painters and sculptors of the 20th century, including Tom Lovell, John Clymer, and Harry Jackson.

A warrior as well as an artist, he often found himself in the thick of fighting.  He received the Navy Commendation Medal for his actions during a North Vietnamese Army ambush of his infantry unit

David was studying at the American Academy of Art in Chicago when he was drafted into the Army.  Impressed with the professionalism of a Marine recruiter, he joined the Marines instead and was accepted into the combat artist program after infantry training.

In 1969 – 70 Anderson served with four other hand-picked Marine combat artists.  From their base at the press center in DaNang, they accompanied Marine units of every kind on missions throughout the country, painting and drawing when they were not fighting’

Their mission gave them the opportunity to tell their stories through their art as actual combatants, not observers. “You were experiencing war as a participant and then reacting to it in artwork.  That was the challenge,” he said. He remembers the first time he came under fire.  “Suddenly, the war was real.  I was trying to survive as a member of my unit.  While other artists might have had trouble coming up with ideas, I was experiencing them.

The Marine combat art program was intended to show Marines doing their jobs – as only Marines could.
He said an outside artist might not have picked up on one slice of life that he captured in a charcoal drawing.  It shows a Marine applying power to his feet.  The simple act, a daily ritual in Vietnam combat, was essential in a land where wet jungles wreaked havoc on the dogs. He also painted orphanages, street scenes and a portrait of a high-ranking South Vietnamese general.

Anderson preferred to do his drawings from life, but duty often forced him to photograph subjects with the waterproof camera he was issued.  Working from photos, he would complete drawings and paintings back at the base. After his discharge with the rank of sergeant, Anderson used his GI Bill benefits to complete his art studies at the American Academy of Art.  Because of anti-war sentiment on campus, he kept quiet about his Vietnam War experiences.  “It was something you didn’t talk about.”

soldier exhausted in vietnam

I’ve never been as exhausted as I am in this photo.

Photo of soldiers setting up camp in the jungle of vietnam

Company at my bush home