sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Painting War (Book Review)

There are many ways to experience war. There are many ways to win a war, and just as many ways to lose one. This is a life review - in the form of a book by Kathleen Broome Williams, who has published extensively in naval history.

Scottish artist, George Plante, entered the Second World War as a volunteer radio operator crossing the Atlantic for two years with the British Merchant fleet. While he did that, he also painted. His days sailing on a feather merchant ended with a German torpedo that sank his ship. Surviving the sinking, he returned to Britain, where his painting had previously caught the attention of agents of the British Ministry of Information. They recruited him to use his paintings of the war at sea.

PAINTING WAR: George Plante's Combat Art in World War II

Plante's unusual wartime career spanned three continents, both on land and at sea. The book looks at war, warriors and war machines through George Plante's eyes as accounted in his art, his memoirs and his vivid and articulate letters.
"...men who had already been torpedoed wore their life jackets all the time and often stayed up on deck while others slept."
All warfare is psychological. All war requires interpretation for those engaged, because its participants see it in tiny granular fractions that they experience. The will to win during dark and challenging times requires a view of the larger effort of 'why we fight'. Sometimes this is best portrayed by art, as seen from the first hand account of the artist.

Plante shipped out on Sourabaya, a 10,107 ton whale factory ship, pressed into carrying fuel oil instead of whale oil at the beginning of the war. His account of the smell of rancid whale blubber mixed with fuel oil was not accounted for on any of his paintings, but I personally found the same thing. Many of the memories of war are not in the sights but in the smells and the recollection of those brought other thoughts and experiences into focus.

Thus, the book is about George Plante's combat art, but it's a much larger story than that, recounted by a talented author.

The Texas Jacks

There were two famous gunfighters who carried the moniker "Texas Jack". 

John Wilson Vermillion, also known as "Texas Jack" or later as "Shoot-Your-Eye-Out Vermillion," was a gunfighter of the Old West known for his participation in the Earp Vendetta Ride and his later association with Soapy Smith. 

Pictured right (L to R) Buffalo Bill Cody, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok and Texas Jack Vermillion.
In the late summer of 1869, Virginian and former Confederate scout John B. Omohundro arrived at Fort Hays, Kansas. He had only recently earned the sobriquet “Texas Jack” driving wild Texas longhorn cattle to the explosive railhead towns in Kansas. Texas Jack Omohundro would serve as a cavalry scout and on occasion as a lawman. 

John B. (Texas Jack) Omohundro
Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill Cody, the Texas Jacks and others associated in various capacities and came together on occasion in conjunction with various Wild West shows. Hickok didn't like 'play acting' and separated from the shows. Texas Jack Omohundro, on the other hand, began his own acting troupe and toured until his death from pneumonia at age 34 in Leadville, Colorado.

Wild Bill and a small wagon party started for the gold rush in the Black Hills the same week that Custer and his 7th Cavalry met their end at the Little Big Horn. Out on the rolling plains, just south of the new gold fields that lay within the bounds of the Sioux Indian Reservation, a wild looking vaquero encountered Hickok and the wagon party. It was Buffalo Bill dressed in one of his fancy stage outfits, and he delivered the shocking news of Custer’s death to Wild Bill, a former scout for the ill-fated Lieutenant Colonel. This chance meeting was the last between the two long-time friends. Less than five weeks later on August 2, while gambling and drinking on a warm and lazy afternoon, Hickok was shot in the back of the head and killed by Jack McCall in the No. 10 Saloon in Deadwood, in the South Dakota Black Hills. He was holding eights and aces, still considered by many to be a death hand. After the tumultuous summer of 1876, Buffalo Bill returned to the stage for good.

Texas Jack Vermillion moved to Virginia where he became a methodist preacher, that notwithstanding, he killed a man in a gunfight in 1890 and ended up moving to Washington County where he died of a ripe old age.

As colorful as the Old West is, it didn't last long. Just one generation. Then it was gone. The Army's practice of killing off the buffalo ended the Indian wars east of the Rockies. Apache risings in Arizona kept the Army in the field a little longer.