An Artist Goes to War

Like so many others who served in World War II, Leon Granacki was an ordinary guy from a working-class immigrant family who relied on his art skills to endure WWII and preserve his sanity in the South Pacific. But through sheer luck and pluck, he leveraged his art talents to survive and thrive, catapulting himself from private infantryman to Master Sergeant and mapmaker for General MacArthur in the Americal Division’s Intelligence section. Inspired by the Southern Cross as his troop transport crossed the equator, he designed the Americal Division patch for the Army’s only named division, created in New Caledonia. Overseas for three-and-a-half years without any stateside furlough, he labored over maps of enemy positions in a primitive tent in the steamy, mosquito-infested jungles of Guadalcanal and Bougainville.

In An Artist Goes to War, author Victoria Ann Granacki paints a portrait of her father, Leon, through his original maps, jungle watercolors, journal illustrations, scrapbook photos, and letters home to “Dear Gang”—his extended Polish American family crowded together in a Chicago “six-flat” apartment building. Despite only slyly alluding to awful conditions to evade the censors’ scissors, his indomitable optimism always comes through. The Polish-language letters directed to his beloved parents are filled with childlike tenderness as he tries to reassure them he’ll be safe. His plaintive longings for family, holidays home, fishing, and a woman to love are poignant reminders of the personal effects of war on reluctant soldiers.