WPA Color, 1939-1943

February 1, 2015

Signs

When my bother, Vernon Leroy (Lee) Sizemore, retired from the military, he earned his living as a sign painter, a skill he had picked up in vocational high school and sharpened by—among other things—painting pin-up girls and fancy lettering on the noses of airplanes. In the years before his death, he was doing broadsheet window signs for grocery stores and night clubs. Some of his expert brush lettering signs were finished with glued-on glitter, especially those promoting bands and singers. Near the end of his life, he fell off a ladder while hanging an exterior sign and wound up with a severe right-side head injury. He was in a coma for months. Once he woke up, I visited him several times in Denver. He always had something interesting to say, riffs that would start O.K., then wander off into fantasy, not making much sense—but to my ears they were weird poetry. And when he drew Picasso-like portraits of people, me included, he always left the right side of the head blank. When I asked why, he said because that was the way they were.

Lee was a wonderful older brother. Because of all the good things he taught me during trips to museums and theaters, letting me tag along when he shined shoes in South Baltimore  bars, and schooling me in basic sign layout theory, I’ve dedicated this post to him.

(Click images to enlarge.)

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A collection of photographs like the ones above, on a wide range of subjects, are in the archives of FSA/OWI (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information). These rich color images, taken within three years of the invention of Kodachrome, serve to inspire as much as to document. To see more of them on this site, type “WPA color” into the small search window in the sidebar on the right of this page. For the complete collection, visit the WPA site by tapping the link in the sidebar box marked “Photography.”


Three-Minute Memoir

September 29, 2013

My Long Journey to Korea

By Floyd Douglas Sizemore

DougLeeKoreaOn November 3rd, 1948, less than two months after my 17th birthday, I enlisted in the “new peacetime Army” at Fort Holabird, in Baltimore, Maryland. That “peacetime” part sounded pretty good. Being just a kid, I had no idea where Korea was—I doubt I’d even heard of it, and at the time I’m sure I couldn’t have quickly pointed to it on a world map—so it was not something to which I gave any thought, and I sure didn’t see a war coming around the corner.

The army, though, was exciting to me from the start. I grew up poor—my family never had much of anything—but right off the bat the military supplied me with all these new clothes: shirts, pants, shorts, t-shirts, boots—everything—even a pair of shiny black dress shoes. I also liked the food (my favorite was the creamed chipped beef on toast, a.k.a. “SOS”), but didn’t manage to gain weight, at least at first. During basic training we ran everywhere, so I actually lost weight, down from my enlistment weight of 110 pounds to 95. But after basic I quickly packed it all back on, and then some.

After finishing the eight weeks of basic training at Camp Pickett, Virginia, in January 1949, I was assigned to the 11th, AAA BN, at Fort Bliss, Texas, where I was trained on M19 Twin 40s mounted on a light tank, and the M16 Quad 50s mounted on a halftrack. In November 1949, the 11th AAA, and me with it, was relocated to Fort Lewis, Washington, to continue training. Up until then, my impression of military service had been formed, for the most part, from watching B-movies at neighborhood movie theaters, where I guess I got the idea that if you were smart enough, you could get away with a lot of stuff—like not saluting officers. I tested that theory several times and found myself walking extra guard duty around the Fort Lewis prison.

After a 15-day leave in January 1950, I was put on orders for Japan. Then, six months later, I was told to report to Camp Stoneman, California. I remember thinking that since I had already served over a year in the army, any tour of duty in Japan would be a short one. So I was in a pretty good mood when our Sergeant marched us to the front gate of Fort Lewis and used a lantern to flag down a passing train. I was surprised when the train actually stopped right outside the gate to pick us up. It was an overnight ride from Ft. Lewis, WA to Camp Stoneman, and I reported there on June 23. Then came the big surprise—North Korea invaded South Korea. Suddenly, things didn’t look so good, and to make matters worse, I would soon learn that Korea was just across the narrowest part of the Sea of Japan.

In early July 1950, we boarded a ship and sailed out of San Francisco Bay headed for Japan, or at least that’s what they told us. But instead, a few days later, we sailed into Puget Sound in Seattle, Washington. Later, we found out that they needed our ship to transport the 2nd Division directly to Korea, so we spent a week at sea making a huge circle—or was it an oval? Talk about “hurry up and wait.” In Seattle, they put us up in a naval barracks on Pier 91 for several days, organizing us into something that the army called “packets.” I was in packet 13.

At McChord airbase in Pierce County, Washington, we boarded C54s for Japan by way of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. We landed in Yokohama about three days later. After about a week, most of the men were assigned to the 24th and 25th Divisions in Korea. Some of us were sent to northern Honshu, Japan. We took a civilian-packed train overnight. After arriving at Camp Hargen around the first of August, I was assigned to B Battery, 865th AAA BN, located at Misawa airbase. I spent the remainder of 1950 in routine training.

KoreanWarMap1I was beginning to like Japan, thinking that my tour of duty would soon be up and I’d be on my way back to the States for discharge. Then came June 1951, and our outfit was put on alert for Korea.  Our equipment was upgraded, and on July 19, 1951, around midnight, we were loaded on an LST manned by a Japanese crew. There were crazy tides in the Sea of Japan, which accounted for using local crews who knew the area, and we spent six days on the water. We had to stand up to eat at a long metal table. Breakfast was hard-boiled eggs and we slept on cots on in hammocks. One night we hit some really rough weather with 30-40 mph winds. The next morning the seas were still choppy, and I remember watching a hard-boiled egg roll down one of those metal tables. Strange, the images that stick in your mind.

We arrived in Inchon, Korea on July 25, 1951, and the next day at Kimpo airbase, northwest of Seoul, to relieve the 50th AAA AW BN. All positions were occupied and by 0800 we went on alert. Our job at K14 was defense of the airfield. At first, we were issued live small arms ammo, but our commanding officer in B Battery took it away, saying, “I don’t want you guys acting like you think you’re John Wayne.” Each evening, around sunset, we were harassed by a pesky PO2 reconnaissance aircraft. Some clever guy gave the pilot the name, “Bed Check Charlie.” In August, “Operation Rat Trap,” an attempt to shoot Charlie down, was put into place. But as far as I know it never worked. By the time we scrambled and got to our gun positions, he was on his way back up North.

Once again, my mouth got me in a bit trouble when I complained about how ineffective operation “Rat Trap” turned out to be. The commanding officer, a captain, called me into his office and remarked on what he termed my “bad attitude.” As I recall, our little chat went something like this:

HE: Sizemore, you don’t like the way I run this outfit, do you?

ME: No sir.

HE: Well, would you prefer to go to the front instead?

ME: No Sir. I’m too close as it is. Send me to Pusan. (Pusan is in the southern part of Korea, close to Japan, and at that time was far from any of the action.)

HE: I’m sending you to D Battery. (That was on the other side of the airfield, still at Kimpo.)

In September 1951, I heard through the military grapevine that my brother Lee was in Korea, somewhere around Seoul, and I asked my sergeant for permission to go visit him. I failed to mention that I had no idea exactly where Lee was, and that I’d just have to trust to luck that I would find him. “Take off,” the sergeant said, “we’ll cover for you. All we’re doing is just setting around waiting for something to happen.” So I hitchhiked both ways, and asked around, but no luck. I told some of the guys if they ran into him, to let him know I was looking for him.

Two days later, back in D Battery, I was sitting on my gun position when I spotted a guy walking up the road toward me, and something in his gait looked familiar. Sure enough, it was brother Lee. We had a great reunion, including a lunch that I remember featured—of all things—“snowflake” potatoes. After lunch, as he was leaving, Lee told me he was scheduled to rotate home soon, and that he’d see me back in Baltimore. Then, only a few days later, he showed up again—this time with a surprise birthday gift (I turned 20 on September 13, 1951).

“I thought you were going home,” I said. Lee smiled. “I brought you a little present.” Then he pulled a 38-caliber revolver from the waistband under his shirt, and handed it to me. It was absolutely beautiful, with pearl handles, just like the one General Patton carried in WWII. I patted my 40mm and protested that I didn’t need a pistol, but he insisted. “For when you’re walking guard duty,” he said. “Just a little extra protection. You never know.” When we parted company that day, Lee’s last words to me were, “Take care of yourself.”

In early December 1951, our gun crew was moved to Outpost #4, nine miles northwest of Kimpo, on the Han River. We had a Marine artillery crew to our right. Our orders were to fire at anything that could be used as an observation post—houses, barns, even humps of high ground on the bank of the river. After about a week, we had turned the landscape and the village below our gun position into rubble. Then our outfit was relieved and we pulled back to Kimpo. Later, we had a great Christmas dinner, and then our biggest show came on New Years’ Day 1952, soon after we were again put on alert. Every gun position from Kimpo to Seoul was ordered to lay down blanketing fire for ten minutes in an attempt to “open up” the surrounding areas. It looked like the 4th of July, but it also seemed to me that the fireworks were called off almost as soon as they started. They never told us the results of all that firepower, if any.

In March 1952 I was assigned to the 1st Platoon Command Post and promoted to the rank of Corporal. After one year in Japan and eleven months in Korea, I had accumulated enough “points” to return to the States. In June 1952 I took a 14-day sea cruise—this time directly back home to Baltimore.

Copyright © 2013, Floyd Douglas Sizemore

Ernie Pyle

August 3, 2012

The Death of Captain Waskow

By Ernie Pyle

I was at the foot of the mule trail the night they brought Capt. Waskow’s body down. The moon was nearly full at the time, and you could see far up the trail, and even part way across the valley below. Soldiers made shadows in the moonlight as they walked.

Dead men had been coming down the mountain all evening, lashed onto the backs of mules. They came lying belly-down across the wooden pack-saddles, their heads hanging down on the left side of the mule, their stiffened legs sticking out awkwardly from the other side, bobbing up and down as the mule walked.

The Italian mule-skinners were afraid to walk beside dead men, so Americans had to lead the mules down that night. Even the Americans were reluctant to unlash and lift off the bodies at the bottom, so an officer had to do it himself, and ask others to help.

The first one came early in the morning. They slid him down from the mule and stood him on his feet for a moment, while they got a new grip. In the half light he might have been merely a sick man standing there, leaning on the others. Then they laid him on the ground in the shadow of the low stone wall alongside the road.

I don’t know who that first one was. You feel small in the presence of dead men, and ashamed at being alive, and you don’t ask silly questions.

We left him there beside the road, that first one, and we all went back into the cowshed and sat on water cans or lay on the straw, waiting for the next batch of mules.

Somebody said the dead soldier had been dead for four days, and then nobody said anything more about it. We talked soldier talk for an hour or more. The dead man lay all alone outside in the shadow of the low stone wall.

Then a soldier came into the cowshed and said there were some more bodies outside. We went out into the road. Four mules stood there, in the moonlight, in the road where the trail came down off the mountain. The soldiers who led them stood there waiting. “This one is Captain Waskow,” one of them said quietly.

Two men unlashed his body from the mule and lifted it off and laid it in the shadow beside the low stone wall. Other men took the other bodies off. Finally there were five lying end to end in a long row, alongside the road. You don’t cover up dead men in the combat zone. They just lie there in the shadows until somebody else comes after them.

The unburdened mules moved off to their olive orchard. The men in the road seemed reluctant to leave. They stood around, and gradually one by one I could sense them moving close to Capt. Waskow’s body. Not so much to look, I think, as to say something in finality to him, and to themselves. I stood close by and I could hear.

One soldier came and looked down, and he said out loud, “God damn it.” That’s all he said, and then he walked away. Another one came. He said, “God damn it to hell anyway.” He looked down for a few last moments, and then he turned and left.

Another man came; I think he was an officer. It was hard to tell officers from men in the half light, for all were bearded and grimy dirty. The man looked down into the dead captain’s face, and then he spoke directly to him, as though he were alive. He said: “I’m sorry, old man.”

Then a soldier came and stood beside the officer, and bent over, and he too spoke to his dead captain, not in a whisper but awfully tenderly, and he said:

“I sure am sorry, sir.”

Then the first man squatted down, and he reached down and took the dead hand, and he sat there for a full five minutes, holding the dead hand in his own and looking intently into the dead face, and he never uttered a sound all the time he sat there.

And finally he put the hand down, and then reached up and gently straightened the points of the captain’s shirt collar, and then he sort of rearranged the tattered edges of his uniform around the wound. And then he got up and walked away down the road in the moonlight, all alone.

After that the rest of us went back into the cowshed, leaving the five dead men lying in a line, end to end, in the shadow of the low stone wall. We lay down on the straw in the cowshed, and pretty soon we were all asleep.

Ernie Pyle was born August 3, 1900. This is the first line of his obituary in the New York Times, published April 19, 1945: GUAM, April, 18–Ernie Pyle died today on Ie Island, just west of Okinawa, like so many of the doughboys he had written about. The nationally known war correspondent was killed instantly by Japanese machine-gun fire.


Neil Simon On Playwriting II

July 11, 2012

Adapted From Paris Review, The Art of Theater No. 10

Interviewed by James Lipton

For years I’ve been trying to write the play of what happened to me and the seven writers who wrote Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows. But I’ve never got past page twenty-two because there are seven conflicts rather than one main conflict . . . . I didn’t have somebody to be serious, to anchor it. I always have to find the anchor. I have to find the Greek chorus in the play, the character who either literally talks to the audience or talks to the audience in a sense . . . . More recently, in the Brighton Beach trilogy, I’ve been literally talking to the audience, through the character of Eugene, because it is the only way I can express the writer’s viewpoint.

The writer has inner thoughts and they are not always articulated on the stage—and I want the audience to be able to get inside his head. It’s what I did in Jake’s Women. In the first try out in San Diego the audience didn’t know enough about Jake because all he did was react to the women in his life, who were badgering him, trying to get him to open up. We didn’t know who Jake was. So I introduced the device of him talking to the audience. Then he became the fullest, richest character in the play, because the audience knew things I never thought I would reveal about Jake—and possibly about myself.

Steven Spielberg, who had gone to see Brighton Beach, got word to me, suggesting the next play should be about my days in the army. I was already thinking about that and I started to write Biloxi Blues, which became a play about Eugene’s rites of passage. I discovered something very important in the writing of Biloxi Blues. Eugene, who keeps a diary, writes in it his belief that Epstein is homosexual. When the other boys in the barracks read the diary and assume it’s true, Eugene feels terrible guilt. He’s realized the responsibility of putting something down on paper, because people tend to believe everything they read.

I’ve always felt like a middleman, like the typist. Somebody somewhere else is saying, This is what they say now. This is what they say next. Very often it is the characters themselves, once they become clearly defined. When I was working on my first play, Come Blow Your Horn . . .  I wrote a complete, detailed outline from page one to the end of the play . . . . I didn’t get past page fifteen when the characters started to move away from the outline. I tried to pull them back in . . . . They said, No, no, no. This is where I want to go. So, I started following them. In the second play, Barefoot in the Park, I outlined the first two acts . . . .  I never got through that outline either. In The Odd Couple, I outlined the first act. After a while I got tired of doing even that. I said, I want to be as surprised as anyone else.

If you’d like to read what people such as Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Joyce Carol Oates and other famous — and not so famous — playwrights have to say about the art and craft of writing for the stage, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the “Search” button.

Part III of the Neil Simon series will post next Wednesday.


Patriot Days 2010, Fort McHenry

October 20, 2010

Hands and Feet

This year, during the Patriot Day activities at Fort McHenry, I made scores of photographs using the “Hip Shots” technique. The “shoot-from-the-hip” method, executed without concern for focus and framing, produces much waste along with the occasional interesting, even surreal, picture. The following post represents a small selection from the series. Tap the “Hip Shots” tag in the toolbar above for examples from the regular series, which post each Friday.

(Click images for larger views.)

Copyright © 2010 Jim Sizemore.

Patriot Days 2010, Fort McHenry

September 29, 2010

Blurs

This year during the Patriot Day activities at Fort McHenry, I made scores of photographs using the “Hip Shots” technique. The “shoot-from-the-hip” method, executed without concern for focus and framing, produces much waste along with the occasional interesting, even surreal, picture. The following post represents a small selection from the series. Tap the “Hip Shots” tag in the toolbar above for examples from the regular series, which post each Friday.

(Click images for larger views.)

Copyright © 2010 Jim Sizemore.


Photo Quote

January 23, 2010

“It’s about time we started to take photography

seriously and treat it as a hobby.”

Elliott Erwitt, born 1928