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How Art Saved my Life

by Arnold Levine on 6/2/2011 10:27:09 AM

This post is by guest author, Arnold Levine.  This article has been edited and published with the author's permission. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here. We've promoted this post to feature status because it provides great value to the FineArtViews community.  If you want your blog posts listed in the FineArtViews newsletter with the possibility of being republished to our 14,000+ subscribers, consider blogging with FASO Artist Websites.  This author's views are entirely his own and may not always reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.


In 1967, I was serving in Foxtrot Company 2nd Bn 1st Marines in Viet Nam. I had been there 8 months and in combat most of the time. I had become the CO's radio man and had become quite close to him. The other members of the company referred to me as his body guard.


Many times, I would doubt if I could survive the whole 13 month tour without getting killed or wounded. But I just kept on doing my job and praying. Often in my spare time, when not in the field and sometimes even when in the field, I would draw and sketch pictures or cartoons of my fellow Marines. I got to be known as "Picasso" or "Rembrandt" to the more knowledgeable guys.


After some very heavy fighting, we were transfered to a mountaintop base near Laos. There, we were to monitor an NVA buildup in the area. This was prior to the Tet offensive and the North Vietnamese were building up troop strength to attack Da Nang. We had been on the hill for a couple of months, all knowing that something big was coming.


One night, I was on radio watch when a coded message came in ordering that I be sent to the rear on the next resupply helicopter. No reason was given and after confirming the message, I was sent packing the next day. All I took with me was my sidearm (pistol), helmet and flack vest. "Dont worry, you'll be back" they said. I never went back.


I reported to 1st Division HQ and was told that I was to be transferred to the G-3 shop (Div. Operations) to work as an Illustrator. I had never heard of this before, but found out it was doing a little of everything in the graphic arts. Overlays, viewgraphs, leeroy lettering, map tables, etc. I even was called on to illustrate signs for the Officers Club's slot machines and hand lettering dinner place cards for the General's table. You should have seen who was coming to dinner. Everyone from Omar Bradley to Ann Margaret.


One day, a Lt. Colonel asked if I had served with F/ 2/1. I said yes and he told me that the survviors were being brought to Charlie Med in DaNang. They had been badly mauled by a large NVA regiment and had barely held on until help had gotten to them. I drove his jeep down there and when I entered the hospital, I saw wounded and dead marines everywhere. The worse cases had been taken in first, the lesser wounded waited, lying or sitting against the wall in the hallway. The dead and dying were there, also. I was detailed to identify the KIA's, as many were stripped of ID or unrecognizeable. One Marine looked at me in my clean uniform and asked, "Where have you been?" The guy who took my job had been seriously wounded, as was The Captain. Only one officer was left unharmed and he was the Arty FO. We had 39 killed and over 90 wounded.


For years, I wondered about my luck. Had my drawing in the field been noticed by someone? Or my college art school records been seen? For whatever reason, I was spared. Now, 44 years later, I am going to Virginia Beach to be reunited with the survivors and their families. Even some relatives of Marines who died will be there. A wife, brothers and sisters, even some who were just babies when their dad died. One Marine has even said he is bringing a drawing I did of him 45 years ago. He has kept it framed and hanging in his house all these years. It will be a very emotional experience.


I am sure I'll have to tell this story to some of the guys, who have wondered all these years..."What happened to you?"



Editor's Note:  You can view Arnold's original post here.

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Rosemarie Adcock
Arnold, what an amazing story. You wonder why you were spared, but you wrote that you were praying, and apparently God chose to answer your prayers in His own sovereign way. I supposed we should be more surprised at our surprise than at an answer. As far as using illustrators during wartime, there is an article called War Art at this link
that described how artists were used in WW2 as well as the Renaissance in very unusual ways. Glad you are still here to tell such a wonderful story. Thanks.

Cathy de Lorimier
I am proud to say I am an army wife married for 23 years and mother of three wonderful children, and my husband has also been to Laos as well as Iraq. In the military life, there is no knowing what will happen next...neither where you will be sent, when, or for how long. This is true for the service member as well as the family, who also needs to be open to a flexible lifestyle.

I really appreciated the part in your article where you said you would pray. Whenever my husband is away, that is how we deal with the uncertainty. Both my husband and I believe that things always happen for a reason, and how we respond to those things makes all the difference. Your skill as an artist was noticed and needed elsewhere, and so you were sent to do that other important job. You went on faith, trusting that you were where you needed to be. Only God knows the true reasons he called you in that direction, so as long as you were responding to your new job with integrity and doing your best, you were where you needed to be.

I hope you do not feel guilty for having survived unscathed while your division was hit. Your assistance at the medical facility, as well as your attendance at the upcoming reunion, are so valuable to the surviving marines and their families. Whenever my husband gets to meet a veteran who flew B-17's like his own father did in WWII, he is supremely humbled and grateful for the service of our American soldiers. It is right that you survived, and I thank you for your service in the Marines. Happy Belated Memorial Day to you, and I hope you continue in your artwork!

Melinda Cootsona
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Arnold. God Bless you and your company for serving our country, and I truly thank you. I also love your artwork. I see great emotion in your paintings.

Donna Robillard
Thank you for sharing your life story and how the Lord used you. When we are available for His service, He uses us in ways that we don't even imagine. I liked the title of the article. Art can even change our lives in our battles where we are. May God's blessings be upon you.

Great story, Arnold. No doubt someone saw you drawing and when the subject came up for someone to do the kind of work you were called to do, someone said "Hey, I know a guy ..." It just goes to show that we should never hide our passion for what we do.

Esther J. Williams
Arnold, this is a very touching story. You are a survivor in the midst of a terrible war that took so many lives. It sounds as if you have a great memory and I am sorry for what you had to go through. Your art indeed saved your life and it continues to nurture you in the pain you must still feel. You have a beautiful abstract style. May you find peace in your art and life.

jack white
Thank you for your service to our great nation. jack

David M. Kessler
What an Awesome story Arnold, thank you so much for sharing it!

George De Chiara
That is truly an amazing story Arnold. Very touching.

Durwood Coffey
Semper Fi . . . I was a "1461 Combat Artist"
in the Marines in 1969

Carol Schmauder
Thank you for sharing your story, Arnold. I hope you never had survivor's guilt from your experience. The Lord certainly looked out for you. I want to add my thanks for your service to our country.

Casey Craig
Thank you for your service to our country and for sharing your story. Your color sense and brushstrokes are wonderful - keep up the good work!

geri degruy
thank you Arnold for your service to us. I'm glad you're still alive!

Diane Overmyer
Thank you Arnold. God used your art and your service for our country back then, and I know He is still using you today. Your story really touched me, as I have several close family members who served in the military myself. I loved hearing about the soldier who has kept your drawing of him all these years! That alone is a special gift that you were able to give your commrades.

Roxanne Steed
Thank you for your service Arnold! Your story is very moving (still have a lump in my throat). Your work is your gift. With gratitude, from a Navy wife of 26 years.

Roxanne Steed
Thank you for your service Arnold! Your story is very moving (still have a lump in my throat). Your work is your gift. With gratitude, from a Navy wife of 26 years.

Laurie Finkelstein
Your story is so moving and inspiring. You touched so many soldiers with your art and it indeed saved your life. Your work is fabulous - I love the dramatic use of color and brush/palette work. And, most of all, thank you for your service.

Jo Allebach
Thank you, Arnold. Your story needed to be told. Thank you for your service.
Your paintings are amazing!

Bonnie Samuel
Beautifully told, Arnold. Thank you.

Thank you for your beautiful post.

Barb Stachow
I too have a very similar experience with art saving my life...but my life was in jepardy for a different reason...I had cancer on my tongue. With a 17.5 hr. operation and hard struggles ahead of myself, I was suicidal and very depressed. Art is "medicine" no matter who or how we look at it...without it, I wouldn't be here today to talk to you!

Donald Fox
Thank you for sharing such a personal story. You've obviously struck a chord.


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