Ambush (1944) by Sergeant Theodore P. Hios USMCNational Museum of the Marine Corps
BGen Robert Denig, Director of the Division of Public Relations, coined the phrase, “go to war, do art” in 1942. Ever since, it has served as the guiding principle of the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Art Program.
This exhibit introduces the combat artists who answered the call, taking their brushes and pens into harm’s way. They went to war. They did art.
World War II: The Program Begins
Combat Photographer (1944) by Technical Sergeant Harry A. Jackson USMCNational Museum of the Marine Corps
During World War II, the Marine Corps’ Division of Public Relations added artists to the roster of professional journalists and photographers documenting the war.
All of these men were Marines first and correspondents second.
Landing Party (1943) by Sergeant Theodore P. Hios USMCNational Museum of the Marine Corps
Most artists were selected from the enlisted ranks and, because they were expected to fight, they went on to serve in every major battle in which Marines were involved. They were assigned to units to draw and paint what they witnessed.
Brotherhood (1945) by Sergeant John Fabion USMCNational Museum of the Marine Corps
No subject was off limits, except for anything that could jeopardize operational security. The MCCAP director, Marine Brigadier General Robert L. Denig, believed in the American public’s right to know of the conditions Marines were experiencing in the Pacific war.
Listening Post (1943) by Colonel Donald L. Dickson USMCRNational Museum of the Marine Corps
These artists, journalists, and photographers came to be known collectively as “Denig’s Demons” in recognition of their professionalism and energy in executing their mission.
Corsairs at Henderson Field (1943) by First Lieutenant Hugh H. Laidman USMCRNational Museum of the Marine Corps
After the war, the work was returned to the artist’s home of record. Their work has stood the test of time for their realism and ability to preserve the history of World War II.
Korea: A Return to War
Dawn Patrol (1951) by Master Sergeant John C. DeGrasse USMCNational Museum of the Marine Corps
The MCCAP was demobilized shortly after WWII. Upon the outbreak of the Korean War, the Division of Public Relations assembled new teams of artists organized into three units.
Marine Portrait (1951) by Master Sergeant John C. DeGrasse USMCNational Museum of the Marine Corps
Each unit was led by a first lieutenant, with an enlisted artist and photographer in support. Leatherneck magazine and the Marine Corps Gazette each sent an enlisted artist to document the war for their readers.
Untitled (1951) by Technical Sergeant Norval E. Packwood, Jr. USMCNational Museum of the Marine Corps
The Korean War was a harsh and hard fought war, and combat artists diligently documented the experiences of the Marines for future generations.
Vietnam: The Rebirth of a Program
Marine on Patrol (2021) by Christina “Trella” KoczwaraNational Museum of the Marine Corps
In 1966, as more Marines were sent to Vietnam, Commandant of the Marine Corps General Wallace M. Greene, Jr., ordered Colonel Raymond Henri to reestablish the Marine Corps Combat Art Program (MCCAP).
One Seven Five (175 Guns) (1969) by Master Sergeant James A. Fairfax USMCNational Museum of the Marine Corps
Henri decided that all of the works created by combat artists would remain within the Marine Corps, thereby forming the core of what is now the art collection of the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
Henri instituted a vetting process to screen active duty and Reserve Marines as potential artists. He authorized the use of civilians to serve as combat artists in theater.
Fire Mission (1969) by First Lieutenant Benjamin F. Long, IV USMCNational Museum of the Marine Corps
A small group of USMC Reserve artists worked with Henri to manage the program, while active duty artists maintained a studio in Da Nang at the Combat Information Bureau. This allowed the artists to stay close to the action so they could quickly learn where Marines were engaged.
Frank (1968) by Corporal James R. Butcher USMCNational Museum of the Marine Corps
Reserve artists served “in country” for about six weeks, then returned to their studios to turn drawings, sketches, and photographs into finished works of art. Active duty Marines stayed in Vietnam for a full 13-month tour. Their works were transferred to the MCCAP.
Patrol (1967) by John GrothNational Museum of the Marine Corps
MCCAP staff contacted World War II combat artists and asked them to serve as civilian artists for the Museum and to incorporate their artwork in the growing Museum collection. The combat artists had created more than 3,000 works of art by the time the program concluded in 1970s.
1971 to the Present: Always Prepared
After the Vietnam War, the Marine Corps Combat Art Program (MCCAP) and the Marine Corps’ combat art were centralized in the History and Museums Division at Headquarters Marine Corps. Reserve Major John Dyer, Jr., a combat artist in Vietnam who worked with the MCCAP since 1966, managed the art collection. The MCCAP transitioned into a peacetime posture, documenting training exercises and humanitarian relief efforts.
Broken Wing (1983) by Major John T. Dyer, Jr. USMCRNational Museum of the Marine Corps
When there were conflicts across the globe, combat artists were sent to document those events. After the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, Dyer went to record the aftermath.
"ARTY" Mission (1991) by Captain Charles G. Grow USMCNational Museum of the Marine Corps
In 1991, art teams went to the Persian Gulf to cover Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Welcome to Mogadishu (1993) by Captain Charles G. Grow USMCNational Museum of the Marine Corps
Artists also documented humanitarian relief efforts in Iraq, Somalia, and Haiti.
Following the events of 11 September 2001, an art team deployed to Afghanistan in early 2002.
For the next 13 years, Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom were covered by three active duty Marines and two Marine reservists.
Rough Ride on V-22 (2019) by Richard JohnsonNational Museum of the Marine Corps
It was during this time that civilian artists, who were previously embedded with U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, showed an increased interest in joining the MCCAP.
"Drawing a Crowd" (2019) by Marcus PooleNational Museum of the Marine Corps
The Marine Corps recruited these interested civilians to serve
as combat artists to document training exercises.
All Clear! (2021) by Colonel Craig B. Streeter USMCNational Museum of the Marine Corps
Today, MCCAP has a small cadre of artists that continue the tradition of combat art in the Marine Corps. They continue to grow and enrich the history of the Marine Corps with the work they create.
"Go to war...do art" 80 Years of the Marine Corps Combat Art Program was developed by the National Museum of the Marine Corps (NMMC).
Joan Thomas, Art Curator
Angie McCrary, NMMC Public Affairs Volunteer
National Museum of the Marine Corps Art Collection