THE SOLDIERS' STORY
MAY 24, 1996
Memorial Day is a time to reflect on those Americans who have died in defense of their country. Today, far fewer Americans share the experience of war than in past decades. But one artist has captured the feeling of combat with pencil and paper. Betty Ann Bowser reports on the man who brought the experience of the front line home.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Howard Brodie has drawn pictures of more judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys, more guilty and innocent people than probably anyone alive today. The walls of his studio in the hills of Central California are covered with courtroom history, images drawn for television networks over a 35-year period. He was there in a magistrate's courtroom where TV cameras were not permitted the night John Hinckley was arraigned for shooting President Ronald Reagan. And he was there in 1969 for the trial of the Chicago Seven when Black Panther Bobby Seale was bound and gagged in federal court. That is why Howard Brodie is famous. But that's not where it all began.
It was World War II. Brodie was 27 years old. He enlisted, and because had drawn sports figures as a civilian, the army assigned him to "Yank," the brand new magazine created for the average GI. With thousands of other American soldiers, Brodie boarded a ship for Guadal Canal. The other soldiers carried guns. He was armed with a black pencil and a sketch pad.
HOWARD BRODIE: I was just trying to record what was going on before my eyes as best I could. I was really afraid over there, and one time I froze with fear when I heard firing ahead of me, and I had that feeling, and after the firing, I moved back, and I could hardly live with myself. I don't know if it's typical of the average person in war, but I froze.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But he was still able to draw. This is Brodie with three of his Guadal Canal buddies. He was impressed by their gaunt, hollow-eyed stares. They were men who'd seen terrible things and knew they would see more. That is what Sgt. Howard Brodie tried to capture, first in the South Pacific and later in Europe. He drew the surprise and sheer terror of American GI's cornered by German soldiers about to be machine-gunned to death. He captured this moment, when two men desperately embraced each other during an enemy attack. He drew the souls of men who hated what they had to face but did it day after day because it was their job.
HOWARD BRODIE: It was a thrill for me, a deeply moving thing to me, to see men willing to give up their lives for their children, for their country. I'm moved by that, but in another sense--there is a sadness about the whole act of we humans at that time--
BETTY ANN BOWSER: In 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, Brodie was drawing war scenes in Western Europe at a time when the Germans were gaining on the allies. Ironically, it was the deaths of three enemy soldiers that had the greatest impact on Brodie's work during World War II. Germans dressed at GI's infiltrated the allied lines. When these three were caught--Sgt. Brodie was there--he sketched the execution of the German soldier known only as "Schmidt."
HOWARD BRODIE: I recall--just before shots rang out, he refused the blind fold and he said, "Long live the Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler!". He had great courage, that particular man.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Had you ever seen anything like that before?
HOWARD BRODIE: Uh, no. Subsequently, I have witnessed a number of executions, but this was--this was my most searing memory of war--all the wars I've covered--entirely different than battle death, entirely different than anything that I can compare it to. It's not like relative chance death, death by combat in the field. This so impacted me to see three young humans --calculating, reduced to quivering corpses before my eyes.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Today Brodie is 80 years old and living with Isabelle, his wife of 53 years in California. Like her husband, Mrs. Brodie is an artist. Their 40 year old son, Bruce, lives nearby. The Brodies' home is directly over the San Andreas Fault. So even in retirement, the possibility of danger doesn't frighten him any more than it did when the Korean and Vietnam Wars broke out. This time, he didn't go because the army sent him--he went because he wanted to draw.
HOWARD BRODIE: We were on an assault on a hill, all of a sudden I heard firing ahead, and I knew that some had been injured, killed, whatever, because one of the GI's made his way back and said, oh, Rosie's dead, then a hulking GI came down over the bank with this man in his arms--this GI--this serviceman here turned and said, " Oh, I thought you was dead, Rosie, I thought you was dead." And it was so moving to me to hear this thing and even one of the so-called litter bearers turned his head around--this GI--and he was weeping. So we think of these GIs as just macho men, but they're really very human. And they sigh, and they cry, and they die.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Then in the 1960's, Brodie went to Vietnam to draw pictures for CBS News.
HOWARD BRODIE: Vietnam was my most disturbing war but it wasn't like a typical war. There were no front lines. You were involved with people, it was a guerrilla war. I remember men saying, how am I going to feel when I kill my first child--not that children were the object of killing --but anyone could be a danger.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: That anxiety is reflect in Brodie's Vietnam drawings. From a helicopter, a machine gunner fires on the enemy below. The drawings in browns and red because, he says, he thought brown was more ambivalent, like the war, itself. American soldiers hit the ground out of a helicopter. There is a sense of urgency in their movement. As Brodie said, anyone could be a danger. But like the two preceding wars, it was the faces of the ordinary GI that he tried to capture. But of all the wars Brodie has drawn, it is this face from Korea known as "Dog Face" that is his favorite.
HOWARD BRODIE: This is sketched with danger to this young man and possible danger to myself, there was firing in the not too far distance, and yet he posed for me in the snow. I had to warm my hands every few moments in Korea, and, uh, he haunted me because later I learned after talking to his wife, he was missing in action, and he was a heroic man, who symbolized war to me, not only by his features and his expression and his fatigue and all these--but also because he seemed to just symbolize-- he was imbued with the fear of combat and all of the heroism-- he was truly a Memorial Day soldier.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: This summer, the first major collection of Brodie's war drawings will be published in a book, and to no one's surprise, he has dedicated the volume to the soldiers.
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