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Choosing One Out of Many Thousands

How do you pick a favorite artifact when our collection contains over 30,000 of them? For me, it was love at first sight. Or maybe it was awe at first glance.

When I arrived at the museum over 8 years ago, one of the first projects I worked on was a complete inventory of the collection. I had the joy of opening all the boxes, folders, drawers, cabinets, mysterious rolled objects, and so much more. And each time, there was something amazing, beautiful, unique, compelling, ordinary or strange to see.

But after looking at thousands of objects, I came across one that held me spellbound for the longest time. A simple but powerful drawing done by Coast Guard Combat Artist Ken Riley.

He depicted two Coast Guardsmen in the gloom of a Pacific night on Saipan after they had received the alarm that enemy planes were approaching overhead. Titled “Bogies 5 Miles”, it is Riley’s view of two men prepared for an air raid.

With just a simple fountain pen, Riley captured so much. One man with a wait-and-see attitude and one who has seen and experienced too much to hope for the best. I always think of them as the “new guy” and the “old timer”.

This drawing captured my attention by making me feel as if I was there, standing with these men and awaiting my fate.

I can’t help but wonder what happened to them. Did they survive or did fate have other plans for them? Unfortunately, Riley didn’t record their names on his drawing. Maybe it is best that they aren’t identified as individuals and can be considered representatives for all those who served and sacrificed so much during the war.

Do you agree with my interpretation of the drawing or do you see and experience something different?

Ken Riley was one of the most honored combat artists from World War II. We are fortunate to have five of his drawings in our collection, including the two seen below.

“Marines Disembark Tarawa” “Beach Party Handles Supplies, Tarawa”

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more.

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