National Geographic : 1945 Nov
Victory's Portrait in the Marianas BY LT. WILLIAM FRANKLIN DRAPER, USNR AS A NAVY combat artist, I was privileged to portray history in the making as our forces invaded Saipan and Guam, two of the Marianas Islands, in the summer of 1944. One of my most satisfactory moments of the entire campaign occurred almost a year after its finish. I refer to the solution of a mystery that had puzzled me all these months. These are the circumstances: On June 18, 1944, I was attracted by a column of smoke arising from Aslito, a Japa nese airfield on Saipan. Believing the Marines had captured it, I set out with the hope of finding material for a painting. As I walked across a battle-scarred cane patch, I came on a gruesome sight. There was a burned-out Sherman tank, one of its treads ripped off. Its American crew was nowhere in sight, but around the tank were the bodies of 16 Japanese. Plate XIII shows what I saw. Something extraordinary had happened here. How had the Japanese died? Did the Americans escape? Wishing I were a detec tive, I could only speculate on this mystery as I sketched. Though I made inquiries later, I could find no answer. A Medal of Honor Gives the Clew In the June, 1945, issue of All Hands, a Navy publication, I came across an explana tion. I quote: "On Saipan . . .Sgt. Robert H. McCard, USMC, Centralia, Illinois, and members of his tank crew were ambushed by 77-mm. guns. Although their tank was put out of action ... McCard carried on resolutely, bringing all tank weapons to bear on the Jap guns.. . "When the hostile fire increased, McCard ordered his crew out of the escape hatch, ex posing himself to fire by throwing hand gre nades to cover their withdrawal. Seriously wounded . . . McCard then dismantled one of the machine guns. When the Japs began run ning toward him, he killed 16 before he himself was killed." For his heroism, Sergeant McCard received a posthumous award of the Medal of Honor. Nothing can convince me that I did not paint the field where he sacrificed his life to save his companions. A second noteworthy experience was serv ice on a battleship, one of Pearl Harbor's "old unsinkables." On previous campaigns I had ridden trans ports and PC's off the Aleutians, destroyers and PT's in the South Pacific. My last assign- ment was with the U.S.S. Yorktown, a carrier (Plates II and III). I was with her when she launched her planes against Truk, Hollandia, and the Palau Islands.* On this trip I had the com fort of her air protection. My Berth-the Mighty Tennessee Now I was aboard the U.S.S. Tennessee. Her 32,000 tons, commissioned in 1920, too late for the first World War, were four years past the theoretical age of obsolescence. Thanks to the Japanese, who had laid her up for repairs, her 14-inch guns were directed by modernized fire control. She was a better ship than ever. The Japanese must have thought they had the Tennessee when they bombed her at Pearl Harbor. But, only slightly wounded, she lived to take part in landings from the Aleutians to the Palaus. Now she was headed for Saipan. Later she fought a Jap fleet off Leyte and helped soften up Iwo Jima. On an uneventful trip from the Marshall Islands, the Tennessee's crew was restless. Any kind of activity was welcome except swab bing decks (Plate IV). Each evening before sundown, "happy hour" was held. Then the men assembled for a band concert or boxing match. From towers and gun turrets they whistled and applauded (Plate V). I was amazed by their nonchalance in enemy waters. A year earlier, every moment would have been fraught with danger. On June 14, D Day minus one, the tremen dous invasion force struck Saipan. Carriers, battleships, cruisers, and destroyers hurled a daylong torrent of bombs and shells. Tall Chimney Sways, Refuses to Fall As her six-gun main battery fired, the Ten nessee lurched under the shock. My cabin was littered with broken light bulbs. From the bulkhead, a washstand and cabinet fell to the deck. When the five-inch turrets joined the 14-inchers, the din was unbearable. The Tennessee took up a position a thou sand yards offshore in the strait between Saipan and Tinian. With my binoculars I watched her shells rip holes in a concrete fortress. With one salvo its walls disappeared, exposing a big * See "Painting History in the Pacific," by William F. Draper, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, October, 1944; also "Navy Artist Paints the Aleutians," August, 1943, and "Jungle War: Bougainville and New Cale donia," April, 1944, both by Lieutenant Draper.