“Every day the people of the United States are going into debt. It is not a money debt, it is a blood debt. It is a debt to the boys who have driven eastward across the whole of western Europe…”
Those were the opening lines of a dispatch written by Russell W. Davenport for the New York Post, dated May 7, 1945, describing the combat division and group that Dennis’s dad, Sgt. H. Rex Nelson, was a part of.
Reading farther down on this yellowed piece of paper–executed in single spacing on a manual typewriter–my heart is gripped for what Rex and the other soldiers (referred to as “doughboys”) went through: “A tremendous screen of machine-gun fire from our halftracks poured over our heads into the woods and our armored artillery lobbed shells into a big farm which burst into flames. With bitterness in our hearts, we watched a Nazi machine-gunner on the top of the hill above the doughboys poke his head up, fire, and disappear. And we saw the doughboys fall as his gun spat, and some of them stayed there. It isn’t as if they just had to do it once, they have to do it maybe several times a day when the division meets resistance like this. After they have overcome the enemy you see them coming out of their positions all covered with mud. Boys from all over the Union, all different, yet all bound together in this ordeal called war. You see them slogging back down the road, tired and grim, to their halftracks. You see them heave themselves in to rest. Then you hear the radio from the front end of the column which has been able to move about a mile because of what these doughboys did. There is more trouble ahead. The infantry is needed. The halftracks move forward, roaring. The boys inside them sit with heads propped in their hands trying to rest. Then the halftracks catch up, stop. The grimy doughboys climb out to begin the job all over again. And each time they do this a few of them are left behind. After you’ve done this for 1,599 miles your country owes you something, but the debt isn’t easy to pay!”
The gritty scene described above stands in stark contrast to the peaceful, debonair pose of Dad Nelson (pictured here). My painting of the photo is therefore a visual work of contrasts: the darkly shadowed interior juxtaposed against the brightly lit exterior, and expressed with multiple layers, drips, and marks.
To view the first three paintings in the WWII SERIES, see my Blog posts dated July 2, July 21, and July 28.