THEY DREW FIRE: COMBAT ARTISTS OF WWII, Actual Films with Oregon Public Broadcasting, 1999, distributed by Public Media, 800-440-2651, $19.95 plus shipping and handling.
In addition to photographers, the United States military employed 100 servicemen as combat artists. These men chronicled the war in paintings and sketches that were more subjective and emotive than photographs. Produced by Bonni Cohen and Nicole Newnham, directed by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Brian Lander and narrated by actor and U.S. Navy World War II veteran Jason Robards, They Drew Fire: Combat Artists of World War II, which premieres on May 15, 2000, on Public Broadcasting System stations nationwide, describes the war through the experiences of seven of these artists. It also illustrates those experiences as they would have wished–with their sketches and paintings, and with others selected from the more than 12,000 now housed in the U.S. Army’s underutilized art collection.
Rather than rely on my own qualifications, I took my advance copy of the documentary to show my father, who had been a U.S. Navy photographer in the Pacific, and who drew his own share of personal sketches of the war–most of which he gave away to the sailors, Marines and soldiers he met in the course of his travels. He summed up the program as “absolutely awesome,” and added, “These were great men, and I wonder how they did it. Some of their paintings belong on the walls of museums. And the program about them was very well done, a real professional job.”