I believe in the inevitability of war. No matter how far we progress as a society or to what extent peace is sought, ultimately someone wants what someone else has, and so it begins again. War offers promises of grandeur and improvement; the reality is it kills the winners and losers. My essays explore the ramifications of war in my past. My photographs attempt to turn horror and despair to reveal another side of war that may cause the viewer to say, “But war can be beautiful and seductive.”
I have been sitting here, staring at you, waiting for you to tell me what to say. You’re going to make me tell a story aren’t you? I use the phrase “a story” rather than “the story” because any tale I tell will be made from your memories, your musings, and my questions about my part in all of this.
My grandfather starts my journey with his diary, buried in the Philippines, discovered later, finally transcribed by me.
Forty-one of you served in the Philippines. You were at the first American surrender. You marched in the Bataan Death March. Some of you made it to a POW Camp. Some of you made it to a Hell Ship. Some of you almost made it home; one of you did.
I know all of you men; you appear on a roster completed by my grandfather in 1946. I know how far you made it in your journey. I know some of your stories from journals and documents collected at the end of World War II.
After 1942 you got a respite, you Beautiful Young Men. But, then from 1945 through 1952 your numbers decreased in Korea – the proxy war.
And then Vietnam; the first American Advisors were there in 1958, less than a thousand. My father was one.
The word “escalate” means to become more intense or serious; those were the looks that passed between my parents in the mid-1960s as U.S. involvement increased.
The deaths started happening – random, senseless, from a sniper or helicopter crash, a grenade.
I know you too, not as well because I don’t have your diaries or documents, but I know your sons and daughters, and I am one of you.
Quote from correspondence between Zero Wilson (my Grandfather) and General George Parker, 23 May 1946.
Really? No promotions for dead men? But what if they were supposed to be promoted before they were dead, they just happened to be incarcerated as a POW? For the War Department in 1946, and I suspect today, it doesn't matter - dead, then no promotion.
It's an interesting concept, promotions, and I suspect it is as similar in the corporate climb to success as it is in the military. My Grandfather, along with his best friend, "Dinty" Moore (at West Point everyone gets a nickname) and many others received what are called battlefield promotions. Available to enlisted personnel as well as officers, these promotions are typically awarded for behavior in combat. What they don't tell you is that after the war, the War Department may decide to take yours away. So Granddaddy and Dinty got demoted in 1946 after all their hard work (rather an understatement for POW Camp, the Hell Ships, and Manchuria).
Promotions are awarded at specified times throughout a career; the better you do at your job, the more responsibility you take on, etc. helps in the promotion decision. I find it ironic that while my Father loved his country, wanted nothing more to be than an Army Officer, expected to receive a promotion upon his return from Vietnam. Unfortunately, he was killed in action and we all know what the War Department says about Dead Men.
Curt came to see me at Ragdale yesterday. We had lunch in Lake Forest and then walked back here so I could show him my studio. He asked about every single image I had on the wall, and I showed him the big-ish installation piece I'm working on. As I continued talking about the men on the wall, Curt said, "You've become friends with them." I guess I have. In some cases I still am in contact with them, in other cases I know some of their stories, and some I've just met these past two weeks.
My dad had two best friends, Ted Lilly and Frank Loyd. They practically grew up together; they left the Philippines together in May 1941 while their dads stayed behind. Chris Schaefer, in Bataan Diary, tells the story of what happened to the senior Loyd during the war, I write about my grandfather, but I'm not sure about the senior Lilly's story - I'm sure there is one. But back to the boys. They sailed home to San Antonio together, they went to high school together, and they were in the same class at West Point. BFFs, right? Ted and Frank were killed in Korea right after they graduated. My father was killed in Vietnam in 1967. I guess depending on what you believe, they will always be BFFs. Rest in peace all of you.
Waylon Jennings, originally from Littlefield Texas, said this . . . who knows when. But I wanted a good Texas quote to accompany this photo of the Cabanatuan Orchestra taken sometime after 1942, photographer unknown.
Based on Chuck Kaelin's letter to my D-day, I can tell you the names of some of these fine musicians: Johnny Katz, Director; Fran Boyer, Arranger; "Pappy" Harris and Eddie Booth, Pianists; Darnell "Red" Kadolph, Drums; Larry Parcher and Martin "Si" Silas, Trumpets; Kenny Marshal, Sax; Clare Kuncl, Trombone; Mel Reinhart, Boyce Strickland, and Chet McClure, Guitars; Louie Bauer, Miles Mahnke, Hank Rule, and Chuck Kaelin, Vocalists.
Evidently, the musicians hummed, whistled, or sang any bits of songs they knew, while Fran Boyer captured it on paper. Greats, such as The Dorsey Brothers, Debussy, Wagner, Benny Goodman, and Glen Miller "appeared" on a regular basis. Also included were excerpts from Porgy & Bess and Rhapsody in Blue.
Second trumpet from the left looks exactly like I remember my Grandfather and I had always imagined it was him, and while Chuck's document would have me believe otherwise, I'd still like to think that he picked up a trumpet one day and blew.
On the inside back cover of my Grandfather's diary from Cabanatuan POW camp, he has a list of shows the Mighty Cabanatuan Art Players performed during their internment. Theatrics included: Our Town, Gone with the Wind, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and (I have this on good authority) Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. I'd like to claim knowledge that my Grandfather starred as Scarlett and Snow White, but I cannot say for sure.
All gatherings had been forbidden by the Japanese, but where this is a will, there is a way. And, even the guards realized this kept their prisoners entertained and "off the streets."
A gentlemen, Chuck Kaelin, wrote to my Grandfather in 1971 his recollection of the Orchestra and Art Players. Permit me to post a few kudos to these intrepid artists:
American salesmanship overcame the Asiatic/Oriental reasoning in spite of East is East and West is West. Inf fact, they [prisoners] were so convincing that they were given permission to set aside an area for entertainment and to erect a stage. There was no lighting in the Camp at that time, so generally at nightfall everything sort of ceased with the exception of the mosquitoes and bed bugs . . . suddenly some Houdini showed up with a couple of Coleman lanterns for the new "Open Air Playhouse!!!" Planned programs were scheduled for each Friday and Saturday nights . . . strictly musicals on Fridays, and Variety or Stage Shows on Saturdays . . . the expansion naturally produced a need for additional equipment and supplies such as: sheet music, pens and pencils, guitar strings, reeds for saxophones and clarinets, material for costumes, etc., and last but not least a PIANO!!! POW's going outside the Camp on work details began showing up with various items that could be used (the methods used in the acquisition of these items were never questioned, altho' I'm sure that the Chaplains kept busy transmitting Forgiveness prayers UPSTAIRS!!). Yep, you guessed it - the piano arrived also!!
Behind all of the plans, expansions, and the initiation of the whole program was a guiding hand, one who had the unenviable chore of coordinating between the POW's and the Hosts; a soft-spoken, witty Texan, a true friend, a gentleman from the "old school" - Col. O.O. Wilson, USA . . . the Director.
There's nothing more intimidating for me than looking at empty space and writing the first words. So here goes. As many friends know, I have been writing and making images of my links to my military past; specifically war. More specifically, war in the Philippines and Vietnam. My grandfather was a survivor of the Bataan Death March in 1942. My father was KIA in Vietnam in 1967. I started to see through the haze of it all in the early 1990s.
I ask that you indulge me as I share my musings, bits from my grandfather's diary that he kept while a POW, and images that seem to come out of it all.