Pacific Sketchbook

PrintPrintEmailEmail

My father was a first lieutenant when he shipped out from Oakland, California, in 1943. He was bound for Australia, where Gen. Douglas MacArthur, following the disastrous retreat from the Philippines, had established his general headquarters. The shipboard sketches were done aboard the Boschfontein , a Dutch vessel that had been in an American port when the Germans overran the Netherlands in 1940. The only other ship spotted during the three-week voyage was a schooner that happened to be the flagship of the Tongatapu Navy. What started out as a rather ordinary Army career took an unexpected turn when my father was asked by a superior officer to draw a caricature of Gen. William Marquat. The caricature, intended as a gift, was blunt—Marquat had a badly broken nose—and made an impression. A few days after he was given the drawing, Marquat, perhaps wanting an artist with such a sensibility in his own camp, added my father to his staff and assigned him the task, in his spare time, of painting watercolor portraits of seemingly every American (and Australian and British) general officer in the Pacific. (Photographs of some of these portraits hang in my father’s studio; it is no coincidence that his eight children could all pronounce Eichelberger at a very early age.) My father also produced during the course of the war several portraits of each member of the MacArthur family: the general, his wife, Jean, and their son, Arthur.

After the debacle in the Philippines the land war against the Japanese was resumed in New Guinea. My father’s whereabouts reflected those of general headquarters of the Allied forces in the southwest Pacific. He was based first in Port Moresby, then in Hollandia, then in Leyte, then in Manila. He typically carried a pad and a sketching pen around with him. The rest of his supplies were kept in a stained and varnished box handcrafted for him in Australia. It rests now in his studio, bearing his name and his rank at the time it was made—captain—in lettering that is still bright gold. The box had a talismanic quality for me as a child; my family’s livelihood seemed symbolically bound up in this one object, an idea that, I now see, would have resonated with a Poe or a Grimm.

Not all of my father’s work was completed on the spot. If a sketch was meant to be preliminary to a painting, he would generally make notes about the colors and then apply the paint back in his quarters. This was the case, for example, with his painting of the emotional ceremony at Manila’s Malacañang Palace in 1945, when Douglas MacArthur turned civilian rule back over to the Filipino president, Sergio Osmeña, after three years of brutal Japanese occupation. My father remembers making the original pencil sketch of the ceremony alongside the great Life magazine photographer Carl Mydans, who was at the same time busily capturing the event on film. The ceremony was broadcast worldwide. Midway through, MacArthur broke down in tears.

The final group of pictures here is from Occupied Japan, and on one of them the notes for coloration can still be seen. This drawing is of the room in the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo where Emperor Hirohito held his famous meeting with MacArthur. In the general’s recollections of the meeting, Hirohito personally accepted responsibility for the war and offered himself up for retribution. Japanese historians, perhaps not surprisingly, dispute this account. For his part, my father recalls this remark of MacArthur’s, conveyed to him after the meeting by Gen. Bonner Fellers, MacArthur’s military secretary: “I consider myself a liberal. It was painful to see this man humble himself before me.” In this drawing the notations, besides indicating color, show which figures sat where.

Conditions in Tokyo in the aftermath of the war were, of course, appalling. Demobilized soldiers, many of them homeless, wandered everywhere. The city had been virtually leveled by American bombing, and rubble stretched to the horizon in all directions. Squatters occupied every inch of the Ueno Railroad Station, one large urban space that could still be inhabited. Among the relatively few other buildings left standing, besides the Imperial Palace and the Japanese Diet (both of which MacArthur had directed not to be bombed), was the Dai-Ichi Building, an insurance-company office that MacArthur turned into his headquarters. Crowds of Japanese onlookers would gather every day to witness the arrivals and departures of MacArthur and his limousine.

My father served in Japan until 1946. He returned home with the rank of major and resumed his professional life as an artist.