In early 1941 Griff started presenting his idea for combat artists.
Admiral Nimitz visited Griff at his house in Stonington where Griff first explained his
idea. Admiral Nimitz liked the idea and gave Griff some suggestions of who to contact to
help him. One of those was Admiral Chester (Chet) Wood at the Naval Academy whose father
had been an old friend of Griff's.
1 9 4 1
Lieut. Comdr Chester C, Wood, U.S.N.
Secretary, Academic Board
United States Naval Academy
It certainly is a small world, and I am delighted to hear from
you after all these years. It was charming to run into Peggy at the World's Fair when I
was doing some big decorations down there, and through her I saw your mother, Bill and his
pretty wife, and of course through them I heard a lot of news of you.
The way I happened to write to Admiral Wilson Brown was that
through Dwight Franklin and several others, I had simply heard that they were going to
have some woman who didn't know a ceiling from a deck-bead, do a decoration for your mess
hall. They urged me to write as they thought the job for the Naval Academy should be done
by a student of nautical research with some sea experience, and a mural painter to boot.
We hope to be coming to Annapolis shortly on our way to
Washington, and I as a Trustee of the Marine Museum of the City of New York, want very
much to meet Captain Baldridge and see your fine collection, many of whose items I have
known for years.
I do want you to meet Elizabeth and I hope that you will still
be at the Academy when we come, for your father was a close and warm friend of mine and I
was devoted to him.
Yours very cordially,
GRIFFITH BAILY COALE
But he was not hesitant about going to the top. The following was a
DAY LETTER - March 12th, 1941
The Hon. Franklin D. Roosevelt
President of the United State
The White House
Washington, D. C.
Shall be in Washington Monday for opening of National
Gallery. I have an idea pertaining to the marine end of the national preparedness program
which is being put into good use in England. Would you honor me with ten minutes of your
time on Monday or Tuesday. Warm congratulations on the passage of the Lend Lease Bill.
Griffith Baily Coale
Secretary Marine Museum
of the City of New York
125 West 11th St.
New York City
With, I suppose, the expected response:
Fortunately, his meeting with Chet Wood, at Annapolis, was much more successful. After
the war Chet remembered the initial encounter and how the program, and Griff's role in it,
THE NATIONAL WAR COLLEGE
WASHINGTON 25, D. C.
11 August 1953
From: Rear Admiral Chester C. WOOD, U.S.
Navy (Deputy Commandant)
To: Chief of Information, Navy Department, Washington
Subj: Historical data concerning the founding of the
Combat Artists Program
Encl: (1) Notes on the founding of the Combat Artists
1. In a recent conversation with Mrs. Minton of your
office, I was informed that there are apparently no records extant which describe the
inception and founding of the Combat Artists Program as it was carried out during World
2. It so happens that I think I know something of this
matter. Accordingly, as a matter of historical interest I have prepared and forward
herewith some notes on the subject.
3. These notes are written purely from memory inasmuch
as I have no written records concerning the events. However, I can completely vouch for
the authenticity of the statements made in the enclosure. On the other hand, there may
well be other factors and considerations which affect the authenticity of my statements
and about which I have no knowledge.
NOTES ON THE FOUNDING OF THE COMBAT
On the weekend of 15-17 March 1941, the late Mr. Griffith
Bailey Coale of New York City was a guest, with his wife, of mine at our quarters at the
U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland. Mr. Coale was onroute to the official opening of
the National (Mellon) Art Gallery in Washington on March 17.
Mr. Coale was an old friend of my fathers and a fellow painter
in Baltimore, Maryland prior to World War I. I had seen but little of him through the
years but knew of his work in New York where he had achieved quite a reputation as a
painter of murals and large-size decorations and portraits. His wife's father was the late
Bishop Manning of New York.
After a dinner party on the evening of March 16th, Mr. Coale
informed me that he had a matter to discuss which he hoped would be of significant
interest to me. The two of us retired to a small sitting room where Mr. Coale proceeded to
unfold his ideas along lines which eventually developed into the entire Combat Artists
He specifically stated that he sensed that we would shortly be
in the war; that he wanted an active part to play; that his long experience with ships and
things maritime made him desire service within the Navy; buts, his age (he was then about
fifty) would prevent active duty in the line.
He therefore proposed that he, and others similarly qualified
be commissioned as line officers of appropriate rank, that they be actually sent to combat
zones in naval ships; with no other directive than to produce a historical record of what
they had seen in the form of paintings.
He elaborated by stating that all should operate from one or
more principal bases where they would have studios and facilities for turning out the
finished product. The artists would be sent to sea for varying periods of time -- between
three and six months, he felt was the optimum -- and then would return to do the studio
work. He insisted that they could only get the proper feeling for their work by being as
much a part of the combat service as they could possibly be made. On this point he was
adamant in his thinking.
Quite naturally, I was very much impressed and continued to
discuss the matter for several hours. As I think back on the conversations there was
hardly a pertinent detail which we missed. I found that Mr. Coale had thought the entire
program out with remarkable detail and clarity.
The next morning from my office in the Administration Building
I called two officers in the Bureau of Naval Personnel. (Note: I cannot with surety
identify these officers in my memory. They were officers with whom I had had frequent
contact in my capacity as Secretary of the Academic Board of the Naval Academy. I seem to
remember that they were Captain Rand Jacobs and Commander Bidwell.)
I informed these officers that a Mr. Coale would arrive before
noon with an idea which I felt would interest them. Both officers expressed interest and
promised to see Mr. Coale.
Mr. Coale later informed me that he was most graciously
received and generously treated.
I suppose that it is a matter of record that his commissioning
process was started that very day. In any event, he was the first of the combat artists to
I happened to be in Mr. Coale's home in Stonington, Connecticut
in August 1941 just prior to his departure for Quonset, R.I. where he was to take a plane
for Argentia and thence proceed across the Atlantic by destroyer. This was the trip on
which he gathered material for the book "North Atlantic Patrol".
As a further footnote, Mr. Coale had no intention at any time
of writing anything concerning his duty as a combat artist. However, while on the trip
across the North Atlantic, he wrote some notes which he eventually showed to his neighbor
in Stonington, the late Stephen Vincent Benet, the poet. Mr. Benet was so impressed with
the notes that he urged Coale to put them into book form.
As I watched the program develop through the rest of the war
--with the valued addition of Murray, Draper, Jamieson, and others -- and as I have
watched the notable success of OPERATION PALETTE, I have often thought back to my original
conversation with Coale. I have no idea as to the degree of influence which he had on the
eventual development of the program.
I do know, however, that his original conception, and his hopes
for the program were remarkably well realized.
CHESTER C. WOOD
Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy
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