James Pollock's home state was and still is South Dakota. At the time of his selection to US Army Combat Artist Team IV he was serving as a Sp/4 postal clerk with First Base Post Office, 8th US Army, and was stationed at Camp Ames near
Taejon, South Korea. All artwork completed as a soldier artist are in the Military History War Art Collection in Washington D.C.
Flack jackets, pistols, iodine pills, insect lotion, sketch pads wrapped in plastic bags, open travel orders, $65 per month extra combat pay. . . All that stuff.
All together over 40 of us.
Officially we were attached to the Office, Chief of Military History, Headquarters Company USARV, Special Troops.
Department Of The Army Circular No. 28-30 dated 20 July 1967, if there are still any around, gives all the details of the program.
The U. S. Army Combat Art program, as it was called, consisted of six teams of artists, each team comprised of 5 TDY (Temporary Duty) soldier artists.
Combat Art Teams rotated, two months in Vietnam gathering material, seventy five days in Hawaii doing finished work. No two teams were in Vietnam at the same time.
The schedules for Teams IV, Team V and Team VI were:
Resumes and samples of art were submitted into army- wide competition. Final selection of artist team members was made by a committee.
I was chosen and assigned to Team IV along with Sp/4 Daniel Lopez from California, Sp/4 Samuel Alexander from Mississippi, Sp/5 Burdell Moody from Arizona and Sgt. Ronald Wilson from Utah.
Our job, according to circular 28-30, was "to record military operations and mission functions in Vietnam. . . as a permanent contribution to American military history''.
At one time I estimated that we had visited 52 units and traveled 3600 miles. Regardless of the exact numbers, we saw a lot of units and a lot of country.
We were different than artists that had sketched and artistically depicted other wars. In other wars and in other branches of the services, most artists were chosen from established civilian professionals. Artists of commercial renown, who were well known and respected in their field.
We were not well known, except to our family and friends. We were young soldiers, drafted or enlisted, who had no thoughts upon entering the service of using our art talents to record history. Using active duty regular soldier artists was a bold and innovative program for the Army. The results were just as bold.
If you have had a chance to view one of these army Vietnam traveling art exhibits, chances are that slick and commercial rendering is not what catches your eye. It is the directness of spirit. Many of the soldier artists had not developed a mature professional style. Even so, you can feel that every mark on paper or canvas meant something, every mark came from their hearts.
This soldier art, every sketch, every painting, became the property of the U. S. Army and is currently in the Army's permanent War Art Collection in Washington, D.C.
On a continuing basis the army has traveling exhibits of selected Vietnam art. The Vietnam sketches in this article are the property of the U. S. Army and in the Army's permanent War Art Collection.
VIETNAM, AUGUST 1967-
THE HEAT is not what caught my attention when I arrived in Vietnam. It was hot all right, but having been stationed in Korea, I was somewhat accustomed to humidity and heat.
It was the activity. I think that is what caught my attention first.
It seemed like everything was moving. In the air, helicopters were flying in all directions. Planes were landing and taking off. On the ground, soldiers were running around. Jeeps and other vehicles were moving in every direction, like ants trying to find their way back to their hill.
There was an atmosphere or feeling of hyperactivity in Vietnam. I really cannot explain this feeling, but it remained with me the whole time I was there. Maybe it was because everything was so new and different, maybe it was because I was excited. Maybe it was fear. Who knows.
All I know is that I didn't have to be there. I had actively competed with other artists for this job. Some of my friends back in Korea thought I was a little light in the head for wanting to go TDY to Vietnam, but this was my choice. I was going to do my job to the best of my ability.
ONE DAY IN VIETNAM
5TH SEPTEMBER 1967-
Civic action programs basically were civilian aid programs directed toward the Vietnamese civilian population. They were designed to win the hearts of the Vietnamese through peaceful means. Go Boi was boasted as one of the most successful of these civic action programs.
The day was hot and muggy, but at least the sun was shining and it was not raining. Lopez, Moody and I rode in the rear of the 3/4 ton truck, Go Boi our destination.
As we drove along, and the breeze hit our faces, it reminded me of riding out to the hay field in the back of a pickup.
We took an artery road from the main road. It was more of a path than a road.
In the rice paddies alongside the road we could see Vietnamese farmers busy doing fieldwork. As we drove a few miles along this road, passing rice paddy after rice paddy, we noted that we no longer saw farmers working in the fields.
Baskets and primitive tools left unattended on the ridges between the rice paddies led us to believe the farmers had left their fields in a hurry. In Asia it was unusual to see personal property unattended.
The farther we drove on the road, the more it became apparent something was wrong. The driver slowed down as we approached a small hamlet.
Suddenly, the driver stopped. Immediately we grabbed rifles and jumped out of the back of the truck. Something was wrong. We were in the middle of a village, fires used for cooking were burning, and not a soul in sight.
We split up. The PIO officer continued to drive slowly, one of us walked in front of the truck and two of us walked the sides of the road.
In about ten minutes we saw someone coming across a rice paddy with a rifle. It was an ARVN (Army Of The Republic Of Vietnam) troop. We also observed fresh mortar holes in and around the rice paddies.
After language barrier difficulty, we managed to deduct that Viet Cong had mortared the area approximately 45 minutes before we arrived and they were believed to be still in the immediate vicinity. The mortar attack was why the farmers and villagers had left their fields and homes.
This hamlet was fairly close to Go Boi, so we decided to continue on to the civic action project with caution. The mortar attack had occurred at least 45 minutes ago. Hit and run was a common tactic of the Viet Cong, so we thought it was unlikely they would shell the area again right away , especially with ARVN troops in the area. The attack was probably intended to scare the locals, not to do them physical harm.
Upon arrival at Go Boi we were greeted by a crowd of giggly young girls and curious old men. We observed no young or middle aged men in the village. We were concerned about this, but not alarmed, they could have been out in the fields working.
The PIO officer had a polaroid camera. He took a picture of an old woman with grey hair and black teeth and gave it to her. Soon everyone in the village crowded around the soldier to see the magic device that mirrored the image that looked into it.
Old ladies began pulling on his sleeve, jabbering in Vietnamese. First pointing to the camera, then to themselves.
"This camera will make more friends a hell of a lot easier and faster than $10,000 worth of aid. Not only that, but the Viet Cong can't lay claim to giving them what I do. Villagers say 'The American with the magic box, my friend gave me this" remarked the PIO officer.
Lopez moved around the village taking pictures. I sat down and made a few quick sketches not totally convinced it was worth the trip.
It wasn't long and I heard a woman scream and a lot of loud chattering. Lopez, who had walked outside the village, called for us to come at once.
The road from the village ran parallel to a rice paddy which was approximately 12 feet lower than the road. A steep grassy incline stretched from the top of the road into the rice paddy.
A crowd had gathered on the roadside as I ran toward Lopez. He was in the ditch pushing on a cart. At the bottom of the grassy incline was an old two wheeled cart partially immersed in muddy rice paddy water. The cart was tilted back. A small horse harnessed to the cart was laying on its side. Apparently, as the cart had tilted back, the horse had somehow been thrown off its feet and pinned to the ground.
The horse was thrashing about, squealing in furious fright to regain its balance. A Vietnamese man stepped up and freed the horse from the cart.
Lopez was already at the back of the cart trying desperately to tilt the cart forward to its proper balance position.
Lopez yelled, "Hurry, come over here."
In a moment I saw why Lopez was so excited and desperate. An old Vietnamese woman was pinned between the murky rice paddy water and the cart.
We all ran over to assist Lopez. Together we easily lifted the cart. The woman scrambled free and stood up. She just stood their with a frightened look on her face.
She was obviously terrified, but otherwise uninjured. Had the same thing happened on hard ground she might have been seriously injured.
Only minutes after we returned to the village area we heard automatic weapon fire. It sounded like it might be a half mile away.
Qui Nhon, where we had come from, was the nearest support unit. It was at least 20 miles away. I wasn't even real sure where we were in relation to where we had come from. Three artists and one PIO officer in the boondocks. We were sitting ducks and we had no business being there without support.
We had no radio, but we did have a large radio antennae on the truck. We hoped the antennae would fool any enemy observers into believing we had the capability to call in air strikes or other support. We didn't, of course.
We could still hear the clatter of automatic weapons in the distance. It was not directed at us, but we decided it best to leave and without any further discussion we jumped in the truck and headed back to Qui Nhon. I never thought I would become a connoisseur of radio antennas, but I did. This one was a nice one, real nice.
SAFELY BACK at Qui Nhon a decision needed to be made. We had to decide whether to return to Long Binh (our headquarters) or stay over night in Qui Nhon and return to Long Binh in the morning. The consensus was that it would screw our schedules up if we didn't go back. All of us had plans for visiting other units in the next day or two, so we went to the airstrip to see if we could catch a ride to the Long Binh area.
A Korean troop plane was going to Tan Son Nhut Airport in Saigon. Long Binh was only a few miles out of Saigon. Our plan was to take this Korean troop plane to Tan Son Nhut and take our chances at hitching another ride from Tan Son Nhut to Long Binh.
When we arrived at Tan Son Nhut Airport we discovered the night curfew had been put into effect. This meant that all non essential and regular traffic was halted until morning. We were informed that special unscheduled flights were still being made on a random basis, and we could sign up in hopes that one of these flights was going to Long Binh.
We showed our travel orders and signed up on a waiting list. I suggested that we go over to the EM (Enlisted Mens) Club and get something to eat while we waited. It was close to the landing area and I was sure we could hear any incoming air traffic from there.
Moody and Lopez said they didn't want to go. After confirming that my name was on the waiting list I went over to the club by myself.
About 11 p.m. I went back to the helicopter pad waiting area. Moody and Lopez were sitting on the floor. Still no flights to Long Binh.
I settled on the floor next to Moody and Lopez thinking we might spend the night at this helicopter pad. I was tired and anxious to get back to the barracks.
About 1 am the soldier at the desk says "hit the deck, the chopper coming in has room for live bodies."
I could hear the distinctive plop, plop, plop sound of a distant helicopter. Dust flew up as it landed. I grabbed what gear I had, ran out to the pad and jumped in one of the doors. Lopez and Moody did the same. A pilot, co-pilot , a door gunner and a carrier were on board.
Immediately the engine revved up and the chopper started to lift off from the pad. Picking us up seemed to be the only reason they had landed.
As I scrambled to situate myself in the center of the floor I realized why the duty soldier had said "they have room for live bodies".
Plastic sacks piled on top of each other were stretched across the floor, sacks shaped and about the same size as sleeping bags. I don't know how many bags were there, but there was a lot of them. The smell inside the chopper was repulsive. The sacks contained KIAs (Killed In Action).
Blood or some sort of liquid had spilled on the grated metal floor of the helicopter. The carrier mumbled something about not being careful when loading the body-bags. One bag had been punctured, leaking some of its liquid contents onto the floor. A punctured bag also probably accounted for the strong odor.
Moving faster and faster the chopper lunged forward as it lifted from the pad. The doors were wide open, the night air flowed freely through the helicopter, and still the smell lingered.
We didn't bother to strap ourselves in, we just huddled together, back to back, knees drawn to our chest, in the center of the floor. We were situated so we could all see out the open doors of the huey helicopter.
I looked down and could see the organized lights of Tan Son Nhut runway and the unorganized lights of Saigon. Far off in the distant horizon, continuous flashes of light contrasted the black sky. Bright bursts of light from flares, bombs, mortar and artillery.
The clatter of the rotor blades rang in my ears. The carrier didn't say anything, neither did we. I looked past my feet where the plastic bags held dead bodies. Yesterday the occupants of these bags were vibrant, enthusiastic young soldiers.
It was hot, yet chills ran up and down my body.
Who were they?
I didn't ask who they were, or where or how they had been killed.
Not my relatives. In my family, I was the only one in the service, but they were someone's relatives, someone's father, brother, son or cousin. Maybe even someone's mother, sister or daughter.
Still, I cared. I knew in my heart they were my relatives, they were my brothers and I cared.
Even before the chopper had settled firmly on the Long Binh landing pad, I leaped out the open door to solid ground. I didn't want to stay in that chopper any longer than I had to.
Leaving the landing pad Lopez, Moody and I went to a nearby medical dispensary and called for MPs to come and take us to our barracks.
The dispensary stayed open all night. While we waited, the soldiers on duty offered us coffee and chatted with us.
The ground between the dispensary and our barracks was not completely secured. Only a couple of nights before, a jeep had been ambushed by Viet Cong supporters.
After emotions that were stirred up by my flight from Tan Son Nhut, this meant nothing.
About 2:30 am the MPs delivered us safely at the door of our barracks.
I didn't even wash. I was tired and depressed. I knew I smelled, but I also knew I smelled better than the KIA's in the body bags. I just wanted to crawl in my bunk and go to sleep, it had been a very long day.