One of the most powerful war documentaries I have seen is the 2000 PBS film They Drew Fire. Good luck trying to watch it. Inexplicably the film is unavailable on Netflix, via streaming Amazon, or in such databases as American History in Video. It seems to have gone out of print, though I do see that there are some dvd copies available via Amazon from second sellers. The film is about the artists commissioned by the U.S. Army to follow the fighting in both Europe and the Pacific. The War Department, and the Roosevelt White House, encouraged these artists to depict war as it really is, naked brutality and all. And that is what they did, drawing, painting, and photographing what they saw from an artist’s perspective. That the images were so horrific is probably why the artworks sat unwanted and unviewed in government warehouses before being found again during the years of the WW2 fiftieth anniversary commemorations in the 90s.
Victor Nels Solander was not one of these artists. He toiled in the 123rd U.S. Naval Construction Battalion on Midway Island through 1944-45. Still, he left us his own testimonials of the war. When off-duty he found the time to paint several large scale murals of what he saw around him. Until earlier this month these murals were still on Midway Atoll, seventy years after the fighting ended, displayed in the movie theater. Now, more people will have the opportunity to see them after they were moved to Honolulu. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service oversees the care of the murals and is loaning them longterm to the Pacific Aviation Museum at Pearl Harbor.