Frequently, media representations of Soldiers highlight brief moments of glory: high risk rescue operations, explosions, and the heat of battle, all of which are a fundamental part of Army life. But in reality, the majority of a Soldier’s time is spent working and waiting. The following exhibition records the daily life of Soldiers throughout the 20th century up to the present day. These artworks demonstrate that while times change, Soldiers throughout history share a common experience. We offer this exhibition in acknowledgement of the daily labors of ordinary Soldiers, whose hard work and commitment deserve to be celebrated.
Aaron Bohrod’s Marching Through New Georgia illustrates the everyday exertions of American Soldiers on campaign as they march through sweltering jungles, under constant threat of enemy fire. Soldiers spend much of their lives waiting, working, and getting from place to place. Captain Ralph Ingersoll, an officer in World War II said, “The business of surviving and moving itself from one place to another is 90 percent of the Army’s business, and unless it does this well, it is not an Army.”
Soldiers throughout the ages have been required to practice their technical skills and build trust in one another to ensure success on the battlefield. In M60 Squad Tactics the young Soldiers are relaxed yet alert, and comfortable with each other, their weapons, and their environment. Golden created this work while serving on Soldier Artist Team 25, documenting ROTC summer training at Fort Lewis, Washington in 1990.
Artillery has been a major part of the Soldier experience since the earliest days of the Army. Each of these works dramatizes the Soldier’s relationship with these complicated and dangerous weapons. Whether Soldiers are practicing, or manning the guns in battle, they know their actions have life or death consequences.
For Soldiers serving in extreme environments, even the most commonplace actions become arduous. In Chow Line, Ogden Pleissner presents a candid portrayal of servicemen at mealtime during preparations to occupy the Aleutian Island of Kiska. Recalling a common experience for many Soldiers stationed in remote areas, Army intelligence officer Otis Hays Jr. wrote, “We are now getting fresh food. Morale has hopped up 100 percent. We existed for two months on canned and dehydrated foods.”
“This is one of my favorite paintings,” recalled artist Sieger Hartgers, “I made it into a large watercolor because it symbolizes for me the holding on to humanity. Living in a tent city is very different; you see soldiers adopting pets or creating furniture or having elaborate road signs to create a homey feeling.”
A wounded soldier sits lost in contemplation as he rides a hospital train, in Robert Benney’s drawing, 1st Class Passenger. The subject demonstrates the very real threat of personal injury or loss of life that many Soldiers face on a daily basis. Throughout the Second World War, Benney created many works that documented the experiences of injured Soldiers and the Army medical staff who tended to them.
In 1968, Brian Clark was assigned to Soldier-Artist Team 7 to document the war in Vietnam. Of his experiences in that conflict, Clark stated, that they “reinforc[ed] and intensified [his] awareness of the temporal nature of life, how important [it is] to live today.” In Chopper Pick-Up, Clark’s technique vividly represents the wind and noise created by helicopter downdraft.
Though these images were made twenty years apart, they demonstrate an experience common among Soldiers throughout history -- hard work. Richard Peterson served in Alaska conducting cold weather research, Arctic test activities, and far-northern warfare training. Peter Varisano was an instructor at the NCO Illustrators School. Throughout his career he documented a wide range of Army activities including the 1993 recovery efforts in Florida after Hurricane Andrew.
The transportation and handling of heavy, high-value equipment is a regular component of any Army mission and is a familiar scene to all Soldiers. Recording one of the Army’s largest deployments, Operation Desert Shield, artist Sergeant Marshal Williams shows Army trucks being loaded aboard an Air Force C-141 to be flown to Saudi Arabia.
Serving in the Army goes well beyond battlefield heroics. Soldiers can be called upon to engage in an incredible range of duties, from complicated negotiations with foreign nationals to providing emergency services to their communities back home. Artist Master Sergeant Martin Cervantes describes the challenging activity documented in A Huge Responsibility: “[The Second Lieutenant and his interpreter are meeting with the Afghan police chief] to review local situations and provide mentorship on several issues. The two work out logistical and tactical problems and ensure that they are working with coordinated efforts toward common strategic goals.” Providing Food shows relief activities following Hurricane Andrew in Florida in 1993.
Elzie Golden’s painting, The Hizara Province was inspired by photographs taken by the Pentagon’s Combat Camera Unit. Although Golden was never stationed in Afghanistan, his understanding of the region was informed by service in Iraq and Kuwait. He tried painting while he was there, but, as he recalled, “it was 105 degrees out, and sweat dripped down my hands and face onto the canvas, and sand blew all over the place." When he got home, he based his art on photographs, working in the more favorable environment of his studio.
Robert "Weldy" Baer, a World War II veteran, was a civilian working in Japan by the time the Korean War started. He volunteered his services as a combat artist and used the understanding he gained from his previous service to create the haunting atmosphere evoked in works such as Taking a Village at Night.
Artist Dennis McGee took the title of his painting, showing a Soldier enjoying a water break, from a popular soft drink slogan. “The Pause That Refreshes,” depicts the Soldier in sharp relief posed against a vague background to create a sense of timelessness. The simple enjoyment of a brief “pause” from the marches, hard work and danger of military life would be constant among Soldiers of all times and places.
Load 'Em Up, Marshall Williams, 1991.
A Huge Responsibility, Martin J. Cervantez, 2008.
Providing Food, Peter G. Varisano, 1993.
Captain Fredia Resurrects Alaska, Richard J. Peterson, 1974.
Dry Goods, Peter G. Varisano, 1993.
Target Practice, Joseph Santoro, 1970.
Coast Artillery, James Baree Turnbull, 1943.
Street Scene, Kenneth J. Scowcroft, 1967.