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Vietnam Combat Artists Program

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Have you ever heard of the Combat Artists Program? In June 1966, the Army created the Vietnam Combat Artists Program. Soldier-artists in this program often reached for paints and canvas instead of weapons. They documented the war using a variety of mediums and created works of art that inspired and provided a visual interpretation of life during wartime.

The idea of using art to invoke emotion during battle was not new. Artists and photographers have created images dating back to the Revolutionary War. Photographer Mathew Brady captured scenes during the Civil War that are still viewed regularly today. During WWI, eight artists were commissioned and sent to Europe to capture images involving the American Expeditionary Force. The Army established a War Art Unit during WWII and selected 42 artists to participate. By the end of the war, the Army had acquired more than 2,000 pieces of art. The Marine Corps Combat Art Program had more than 70 artists during WWII and the program remains today, although with fewer artists participating. The Navy’s Combat Art Program began in 1941 and included eight active-duty artists by 1944. The United States Air Force Art Program started in 1950 when the US Army Air Corps transferred some 800 pieces of art documenting the early days of military aviation.

Our 9th Infantry Division collection includes Combat Art created during the Vietnam War between the years 1966 – 1969. Here are a few examples of combat art from this collection. To see additional works, search the 9th Infantry Division Combat Art Collection today on Fold3!

63 Comments

  1. I normally do not look at this kind of art, or watch movies like Platoon, or Rull Metal Jacket because they give me flashbacks and nightmares. However, after seeing these pictures I have to say those artists were very good. I can identify with several of these after being there, both on a gator freighter or wading through the muck at the Mai Kong Delta.
    I was 21 when I was drafted into the Corps in 1963. Simper Fi to all my Marine Brothers.

    • Tom shouldn’t be so hard on us Vets for our misspellings and it is certainly arrogant to state that Marines weren’t drafted.
      When I was drafted in San Diego, CA in 1968, several of my friends were taken into the Marines. As we were filling out paperwork an officer simply came around and placed his hand on your shoulder and said, “You’re in the Marines.” If you were not singled out like that, then you went into the Army. I got the Army, and the 101st Airborne in Vietnam. As for the spelling errors, it is certainly no big deal. I misspelled “Airbourne” sometimes, for heaven sakes!. (There was a fellow in our basic training co. at Ft. Ord who couldn’t read or write. We all helped him with his training.) All of us, as I remember, had trouble spelling, especially Vietnamese words. I’m still not sure if I spelled Dong Ap Bia correctly (we were given verbal orders not to write home about: “Hamburger Hill,” but had to use its Vietnamese name instead.)

      I wrote a poem about it at the time called: WORDS ON WAR

      It is SECRET
      No words will out,
      On morale
      On Dong Ap Bia
      (The great meat grinder)
      Nothing said
      Nothing known.
      But we know:
      Each of us
      In our own censored quiet.

      (in the Colorado Quarterly, 1970)

      So many of us were in Nam in those days, I think 500,000 or so each year that I was there, so when someone of my age tells me he was in the Vietnam War, the odds are good, that he was, whatever branch of service.

      (Some of us also made on-the-spot sketches and turned them into paintings when we returned home.)

      Best!
      Dan

      woodwardartstudio.com

    • I cant imagine the things you and your comrades were exposed to. Please let me say im sorry. I dont feel that war is the only answer. You guys obied orders only to come home to shame. For what? I pray you have reached a normal life after such trauma. Thank you for your service. Salute

    • Thank you for your service. Wishing you the best Blessings!

    • Hello Staci,
      How do I get ahold of the book with those wonderful artworks?

  2. This isn’t exactly about the topic, but rather about artwork a soldier did in his spare time while serving in Viet Nam. My father, Hugh Gentry, Air Force, served 2 tours in Viet Nam. His first tour was around 1967. He kept a couple of photos above his cot of us children. One day when he returned to his cot the photos had disappeared. A few weeks later they returned along with two penciled drawings, one of my brother and one of myself. The artist’s name was A. L. Rowe. I would love to be able to attach the drawing to this. It would be amazing to thank Mr. Rowe for his kindness. I know it meant a lot to Dad.

  3. My husband is a Viet Nam veteran and has created a lot of good art as well. GREAT SITE!!! Thank you!!

    • Looking for a WWII drawing/painting of a 101st soldier firing a machine gun during Battle of the Bulge. A friend’s father died doing that and I’d like to present the picture to him. Or, is there an artist I could talk with and have such a painting done? Jack Williams. Call me at 865-250-2428

    • Well, first off the art programs are a beautiful thing. They really should be expanded and there is now a “museum” for the combat art some place in the mid-west. Second, Marines don’t get drafted; didn’t serve in the Mai Kong Delta (the spelling is incorrect) and Semper Fi is also spelled wrong. Don’t claim to be a Marine is you weren’t, intact, don’t claim to have been in the service if you weren’t.

      To William and Judy, contact me if you can as I’d like to see Williams’ art as I am doing some military pieces myself. Tom 9-11art.com

  4. I served in Vietnam from 7/1/1967 until 8/31/68. I extended two months because my wife was an Army Nurse at the 71st Evac Hospital in Pleiku. In about June 1968 a combat artist named David Farrington was reassigned to the S-3 office of the43rd Signal Battalion in Pleiku. I was the S-3 Operations Officer and it seemed out of the ordinary for him to be making briefing charts for the S-3 office. I had just been married about 13 months and I had my wife’s engagement photo in my wallet. I asked if he would like to paint her picture. He did and we cherish the painting which hangs in our living room to this day. I have communicated with David via email and sent him a photo of the framed painting. This painting is one of our very special mementos of our tour in Vietnam. I look forward to making a time out west to see David again.

  5. My cousin’s book “Even God Is Against Us” by Austin Deuel is a catalogue of his Marine combat paintings and art. It is out of print, but can be found often on ebay and other booksellers.

    • Thank You Scott my husband was in Viet Nam and a Marine with Christmas & Birthday my kids and I are always looking for anything marine Did not even know this was out there. We will be shopping on eBay.

      Sue

    • Abebooks.com has about a dozen used “Even God is Against Us” price ranges from $20-$130

    • I’m interested, great title for the Marine Corps experience in Vietnam. For reasons of course outside of their control.

    • Thank you Don!

    • The book is worthwhile. I’ve seen younger people get engrossed with the images. Austin Deuel has also made a number of large bronze war memorials. The largest is his 1986 “Hill 881” in San Antonio, Texas and is pictured in the back of “Even God Is Against Us.” If links work in these comments, then you can see it in the link here:

    • https://youtu.be/rWJ5yxuvTMw

      Great first person account from Al White of hill fight 861 881 early 1967. Jeff

  6. A welcome site. I was a Navy NGLO and FO with 12th, 4th, and 9th Marines along the DMZ in ‘69. I’ve always been and artist at heart and drew sketches and cartoons for my “snuffles.” In 1991 the Navy recalled me to active duty as its official combat artist for Operation Desert Storm, which by then was my 10th war. I spent as much time with the Marines as I could (although Avery Chenoweth was the official UC artist, but he couldn’t be everywhere.). Combatartcollective.com has samples of today’s generation of artists, worth a look.
    BTW, some draftees did end up in the Corps in Vietnam. One of them was in my NGF team and he was not happy!

    • Dear Dr. Chip
      Thank you for your reply, Combatartcollective.com did not work for me? is this the correct address or did I cross my skies?

      Thank you, Jim
      E-5 Photographers Mate
      Vietnam 68-69

    • Dr Chip –

      I was in a reserve unit at the Naval Historical Center in the 90s with a Navy Captain who had been a combat artist during DS too. Name slips my mind now but wonder if you ever crossed paths with him.

  7. My dad became a professional commercial artist. He was also colorblind, meaning he saw colors differently. During WWII, he was first asked about joining the camouflage corp in the Army Air Corp, but declined when told they would be infantry on point looking for camouflage. Instead, he was a part of the training command in Miami Beach, FL. He drew illustrations for training manuals for GI’s who couldn’t read. Due to a bum knee, he ended up receiving a medical discharge.

    Upon his return home, he went to work for the Knoxville Journal newspaper. When the war ended, the editor came to him and asked him to hand letter a headline WAR ENDS, intype about 4 inches tall because they didn’t have type in that large a font. The staff photographer for the Manhattan Project in nearby Oak Ridge too a very famous photograph of nurses holding up those newspapers. I think that was Devine intervention of having Dad in the right place and time.

  8. William Foley Jr. G Co. 302 Inf Regiment 94th Infantry Division WW II as a 18 year old Infantryman, captured his time in combat during the Battle of the Bulge (Saar-Moselle Triangle) and the race to the Rhine in his book “Visions from a FOXHOLE” and later, “The War Art of William A. Foley Jr.” Bill and a BAR buddy carried his sketches in 81mm mortar tubes. Many sketches were lost when his friend was KIA.
    (His War Art book is out-of-print from 2011)
    Bill also painted a mural that is in the State House in Boston, Mass.

  9. Tom Miller – FYI…some draftees did become Marines and the Marines did fight in the Mekong Delta. Do your homework and just for the record I experienced both.

  10. I had no idea there was anything like this, Such wonderful artwork, I love all the drawings and would love to know more about your program.

  11. I was in the Air Force. As a Public Affairs Officer at Can Ran Bay AB in 1969 and àn artist took a photo of me showing a photo of my just born daughter, Bridget. He turned that into an oil painting “See My Kid”, which is in the USAF art collection.

  12. Thank you all for your emails. Such great information and history. I am not a member of Fold3. Can’t afford it. I sure hope there are other places to view military art. Amazing some felt strong enough to draw during most stressful situations. My brother was KIA in Vietnam February 24,1969.
    Thank you to all those service persons past and present for your service.

  13. I wish all of y’all (Tennessee) could see the wonderful sculptures made from pieces of metal in front of a 7-11 type country store between Nashville and Ashland City, Tn. They are renditions of a LRRP team of which my husband, at the time, was a leader in Viet Nam. There is a small biography of a “LURP Team” to explain what it was along with a soldier, weapons, etc. To me , it is magnificent.

  14. After a relative passed, I came across drawings of WWII concentration camps. They were drawn by a man who had been a prisoner and had lived in a concentration camp. I must say that many of the drawings gave me chills. The relative who had them, was Dad’s brother who had been in the Army then worked in Europe for the UN after WWII.

  15. My brother-in-law, William C. Harrington, participated in this program. It had a profound affect on him.

  16. My uncle Bruce Dolen served with the Marines in the South Pacific in WWII. An artist, he used his time in a rest camp to draw portraits of some of the men. His time in, he was sent home. Those who stayed were sent to Iwo Jimo where many of them died. Perhaps their families have those drawings. I like to think so, as I would love to have something like that of my oldest brother, Captain Troy Oliver who was killed in Viet Nam.

    • Thanks for the reply. It’s always good to hear comments that never make the history books. I didn’t even know that Dad’s brother was in the military, let alone in Europe during WWII. The Army museum in Carlisle, PA sent me info after I asked. Even though he had his masters from Pitt and was working before WWII he went in as a private. He then stayed in Europe working for the UN for about five years, thn returned to the states to earn his PhD in mgt. from Cornell. I just never asked when he was alive. Shame on me. He had many Nazi books, plus those about the reconstruction of Germany. I spent a year each in Vietnam and Thailand, plus six months on Guam.

  17. My father, John P. Wheat, also participated in this program though it doesn’t appear that he was seconded to the Ninth Infantry. He was with Patton in the Delta for a while then up in the Vin Thanh mountains with a Special Forces detachment and points in between. His work is represented in the various museums at Knox, Bragg, Riley and possibly others. Work not distributed to the service museums is now in the permanent collection of the New Britain Museum of American Art in New Britain, CT.

  18. Art of War, Eyewitness U.S. Combat Art from the Revolution through the Twentieth Century by Col. H. Avery Chenoweth, USMC (Ret) is available from several Internet sources. My copy (not for sale) was published by Barnes & Noble in 2002. It is a handsome 384 page book in 10-1/2 x 12 inch book which I found on the B&N discount racks many years ago. It is well worth its purchase price.

  19. My brother-in-law, Alex Bogdanovich was one of the etching artists in Vietnam, we know his work is in a library in Washington DC, what is the source of this fold3 collection?

  20. I am afraid Tom Miller is full of crap, marines did get drafted as my friend Ro Pillow and others. I served two tours as a helicopter pilot and I am a fair artist but it is hard to overcome the demons to show it.

    Teddy Adams
    68-69 1st ID
    71-72 101 Abn D/ 25th CAC. 1 Ann Bde

  21. South Dakota Public Broadcasting takes a look at the U.S. Army Vietnam Combat Artist Program. Josh Kappler at South Dakota Public Broadcasting produced, interviewed and edited the piece.Video is posted on YOUTUBE.

  22. Amazing. I’m a vet, submariner from the 80s. My Dad served in Korea. I would love to purchase some of this amazing artwork. Please contact me at [email protected] to follow-up.

  23. I’d like to see some art work from the Korean War…..I have trouble finding anything on my Dad in that war. 1950-1953,

  24. My dad, George Earles Junior, served in Burma during World War II under Vinegar Joe Stillwell. He drove trucks over the Lido and Burma roads and flew in C-47s taking supplies to the Chinese. He joined the Army Air Corps and trained as an aircraft electrician, but served on detached service fighting the Japanese with the Army in Burma. He earned the Bronze Star for his service. He passed away in 1983 at the age of 57 before I could learn more about his service. I would love to see artwork created in the China/Burma/India theater.

    • Interesting story, George. A cousin looked me up at Bien Hoa while I was loading bombs on F-100s. I had one stripe to my name and here he was a full Col. I knew his brother through family reunions but had never met him before. His Obit said he was a plot in WWII in the CBI Theater during WWII. John David Bice was his name.

    • My father also served in the Burma campaign. He never talked about his Army experience there but I do know that he served in the motor pool driving supply trucks and was the driver for the CO. I served in the Marine Corps and was in the Nam from 70 to 71 stationed with the Marine Air Wing at Marble Mountain in I Corps just southwest of Da Nang on the East China Sea.

    • Thanks for your reply and for your service. I just started a book entitled “The Burma Road” by Donavan Webster. I’m excited about reading it. It looks like a good description of the war in the China/Burma/India theater. Daddy seldom talked about the war in Burma. I wish I knew more about his time there. I served in the Air Force as a Navigator from 1970-1990. I flew out of Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base (RTAFB) in KC-135 aircraft during the war and out of Korat RTAFB in F-111s just after the war.

    • Thank you also for your service. I also was in the USAF but in the enlisted ranks, getting out as an E-4 after my year at Ubon RTAFB. I was listed as a weapons mechanic loading F-100s in Vietnam, inspecting the B-52’s after they were loaded, and loading F-4s in Thailand. After the USAF, it was time for college, the U. of Tennessee in my case. As I get older, I think about what those before me went through. The Depression years, then WWII. Both Dad and his brother were in Europe in the military during WWII. They both then earned their doctorates in 1953, Dad, Penn State and his brother, Cornell.

    • Reggie, Small world. One of members in the local VVA chapter spent two tours in the Marine Air Wing outside of DaNang. He was a Helo crew chief. I got up to DaNang for a week the end of Jan 1967, supporting two F-100s. We were all out of Tuy Hoa.

    • That theatre of operation were unsung heroes But made a big contribution, you should be proud.

  25. I know Ed Bowen who was one of the Combat Artists in Vietnam. His story is amazing and his artwork is as well. God Bless these men that went I, harm’s way to sketch the life of the American soldier at war.

  26. I turned 21 in Nam. 7-16-69 look it up it is a famous date in history. Celebrated by staying up 24 hours. My art has just started 50 years after the fact.

    Thanks for having this retrospective. Enjoyed it.

  27. My wife’s father was a combat artist in Vietnam the latter half of ’67, Samuel Alexander. Apparently the Army has some of his material up for display somewhere in DC but we were unable to find it and fold3 doesn’t appear to have any of his work listed. I will show him some of these and see if he recognizes any of these others.

  28. I was an Army Illustrator – MOS 81E for most of my time in the military. Our chief mission was providing visual aids for various briefings. I got started in army graphics doing just that while with the Army Security Agency in Bien Hoa. I remember Will Eisner who came up with the cartoon characters of Connie and Bonnie that graced the pages of PS the monthly preventative maintenance magazine.

  29. Such amazing pieces of art.. thankyou for loading this article well done Fold 3
    Remember and all the soliders who served died or survived
    Spellings and Grammer is not important look deeply at the art instead

  30. The National Veterans’ Art Museum in Chicago is dedicated to artwork from those who served in Vietnam. It is a profound experience if you are able to visit it.

  31. I have a charcoal sketch (now framed) of my Dad as an Infantry Lieutenant that was rolled up in a tube & sent to my Grandmother from Manila during WWII. It was signed by W. Summerfeld, who was stationed there as a USO artist, and my grandmother’s address in the Bronx, NY is inscribed on the bottom of the sketch.
    This article makes that sketch all the more interesting!

  32. Marines most certainly were drafted during the Vietnam war and although the Delta was a Navy/Army effort primarily if there were Naval vessels there were likely Marines in some capacity assigned to Dixie station or aircraft. And the fact misspelled almost all of the words over five letters is hard evidence the gentleman was a Marine.

  33. Marines most certainly were drafted during the Vietnam war. What’s more although the Delta was a Navy/Army effort primarily, if there were Naval vessels there were likely Marines in some capacity, assigned to vessels off Dixie station or aircraft. And the fact the writer misspelled almost all of the words over five letters is hard evidence the gentleman was a Marine.

  34. Thanks Don, much appreciated.

  35. Appreciated this info! Thanks…

    • Is there a book with the artwork to buy? I can’t seem to get any info on this?
      I would really appreciate any info.
      Thank you,
      Anne

  36. First of all let me say Thank you for your service, to all of you . I’m a widow of a Vietnam Veteran (Army) and a sister of a late brother who was also a Vietnam Veteran (Marine) I personally dont care what branch any of you were in, it was hell for all of you so we could be free. First time I have been on this page & I think the Drawings and the Comments both courage a lot of courage & I thank all of you for sharing. God Bless each one of you .

  37. My name is Robert Knight and I was one of the first five Army soldier artists that was chosen by the Chief Office of Military History to be on the first team of Combat Artists sent to Vietnam in 1966. Our mission was to travel throughout South Vietnam and depict, through artistic means, our American Army soldier’s experience there as we saw it. I am honored to had this opportunity as part of my military experience.

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