Sol­diers’ portraits find their way home

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - DEB­O­RAH SIM­MONS

IPITTSBURGH t’s easy. It’s too easy, as a mat­ter of fact. It’s sim­ply too easy to for­get the women of the Great­est Gen­er­a­tion who helped the men as we pay ho­mage this Vet­er­ans Day.

One group of such women was with the Amer­i­can Red Cross, and one such woman was named El­iz­a­beth Black.

A na­tive of Pitts­burgh, Black was an ex­tra­or­di­nary artist who, while de­ployed, if you will, in Europe in 1944 was in­spired to con­vince the Red Cross to do more than sim­ply serve hot cof­fee and dough­nuts to our ser­vice­men.

She per­suaded the Red Cross to uti­lize her keen artis­tic skills and insight to draw portraits of World War II men — in­clud­ing those in the seg­re­gated Army — and ship those portraits to the Red Cross, head­quar­tered in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal, where they then would be for­warded to fam­i­lies here in the States.

Like so many of our mil­i­tary war­riors, many of those portraits never made it into the hands of wives, brothers and sis­ters, and moms and dads here at home. But in re­cent months and weeks, some have in­deed been re­united with Black’s work, thanks to her son, the Red Cross, Pitts­burgh’s WQED-TV, the Carnegie Li­brary and the hard work of in­terns and other vol­un­teers.

Al­ready an award-win­ning artist when she joined the war ef­fort in 1943, Black joined the Red Cross’ Club Pro­gram, a mo­bile respite pro­gram that ven­tured into re­mote ar­eas, in­clud­ing docks, camps and bases.

Candy, cig­a­rettes and gum were among the most pop­u­lar items handed out by women who manned th­ese mo­bile can­teens.

Like Black, many of the women were col­lege ed­u­cated or had mea­sur­able work ex­pe­ri­ence, back­grounds sim­i­lar to the Rosie the Rivet­ers who worked in fac­to­ries and held down other jobs that had been held by men be­fore they went off to war.

Black and the other women wore what could be con­sid­ered stan­dard­is­sue uni­forms of side-zip pants and lip­stick — so as not to be mis­taken as men. More­over, more than four dozen paid the ul­ti­mate price.

The portraits she quick-sketched were as pop­u­lar and pre­cious to our men as fresh, hot cof­fee and other can­teen items, and Black not only made copies of her portraits but she also au­to­graphed them and had the men do so, too.

Black re­turned to the States af­ter mar­ry­ing U.S. ser­vice­man Ju­lian Black in Paris, and the cou­ple had two sons.

One son, John, stum­bled upon his mom’s World War II port­fo­lio and trea­sure chest and worked with oth­ers to tell her story and the sto­ries of the other club women.

Her post-war work in­cluded com­mis­sions for Pitts­burgh’s main Carnegie Li­brary on Forbes Av­enue in Oakland, which opened in 1895.

Like so many mem­bers of her gen­er­a­tion who have died and are dy­ing off, Black died in 1983 and is buried in Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery — so priv­i­leged as the widow of Ju­lian.

As we honor the men and the boys who came of age be­cause of war, let us not for­get the women war­riors who tended to them in war zones through­out Europe, in­clud­ing France and Ger­many, Lux­em­bourg and Bel­gium.

And the Rosie the Rivet­ers here at home.

And the women who proved that “sin­gle mother” is a ster­ling ti­tle — not a neg­a­tive term.

There are mil­lions of war sto­ries re­gard­ing women that have yet to be told.

To­day, Vet­er­ans Day, is a most fit­ting day to salute them.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.