…in the late summer of 1941 a telegraphed invitation came to me from "Editorial Staff, Life Magazine." I closed my notebook. I resigned the Rosenwald Fellowship. I bought a brand new sketch-pad, and in the fall of 1941, I went to sea aboard a U.S. Navy destroyer on duty in the submarine-haunted North Atlantic, as an Accredited War Artist-Correspondent of Life magazine.

The next four years were a huge break from work in my cherished corner of homeland.

I became, for deeply felt reasons, an eye-witness reporter, in drawings and paintings, of men and their machines waging a war worldwide.

I want to make it clear that I did not report hearsay; I did not imagine, or fake, or improvise; I did not cuddle up with personal emotion, moral notion, or political opinion about War with a capital-W. I reported in pictures what I saw with my own two eyes, wide open.

Doing it that way I traveled more than a hundred thousand miles outside the United States, north and south of the Equator, east and west of the International Date Line, in lights and shadows as shaky as the Aurora weaving mysteries over the empty Ice Cap of Greenland, or a shine of parachute flare bringing night-time flash of gunfire from black jungle on a coral island. *

In those years, 1941-1945, I saw, and I drew, and I painted, many kinds of things, many men, in many situations, in many places.

To this day, you see a man here who is proud- exceedingly proud – that he went out and saw it, and came back home bringing a legible, trustworthy record of what he saw.

And to this day, you see a man here who is grateful- humbly grateful – that he got home with his hide intact.


Tom Lea, The Southwest It's Where I Live, Dallas: DeGolyer Library, SMU, 1992.


* Tom Lea's Trips During World War II

1941 North Atlantic: Nov 29-Dec 16
1942 Hornet: Jul 23 – Oct 28
1943 China Aug. 15-Dec.6
1944 Peleliu Aug. 31-Oct. 1