To Ruth, from Red

In 1944 Ruth Racke left Claryville,Kentucky. She went north to Covington, a city on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River, and lived there with her sister and her sister’s two kids while her brother- in- law was off at war. Ruth was eighteen, a sensible and responsible brunette with brown eyes, who just had finished high school. Her father ran the general store and gas station in Claryville, her mother raised chickens with five boys and five girls on the family farm. Ruth might have stayed with her family in Claryville, if not for the war. The war had split her family apart, with four of her five brothers and a sister overseas with the Army and Navy.

Ruth Racke (second from left) and Norma Combs (second from right) at Grote Manufacturing 1944. (Photo courtesy of Vera Hypes)

Ruth Racke (second from left) and Norma Combs (second from right) at Grote Manufacturing in 1944. (Photo courtesy of Vera Hypes)

In Covington, Ruth worked at Grote Manufacturing, painting the tail fins of bombs. At Grote, Ruth met other girls, girls who had come from different cities and towns across the state and America. She met Norma Combs, a girl who grew up poor in the countryside of Carollton, Kentucky. They complimented each other, each being what the other was not. Ruth was thoughtful and practical, Norma was impulsive with a wild streak. Norma’s mother had died when Norma was young. Her father was abusive and had worked off and on for the railroad until his kids were old enough to work for him and he could stay home. Norma had a brother too, his name was Hubert but she called him “Red” because everyone else did. Red left school after the eighth grade to work in construction, earning money to support the family because his father wouldn’t. He was drafted a month after Pearl Harbor and had been overseas since 1942 when he was sent to Australia. Now he was somewhere in the China-Burma-India Theater. She had a picture of him, he was handsome in his uniform with a look of quiet, amused confidence.  He didn’t have a girl to send him mail other than his sister, and Norma wondered if Ruth would write him.

Ruth and Red began a correspondence, friendly notes between people who never met and did not know much about each other. Ruth wrote him things about her life and Red’s sister, mundane things about work and her thoughts and feelings. Ordinary things that brought the touch of home and femininity that mean so much to a man. Red wrote Ruth of his life in India, of his travels from Assam to Bengal to New Delhi. He wrote about the bugs that crawled into the dough and got baked in the bread and the wild monkeys that sat on his shoulders in the cafes. He saw the Ganges river, where people bathed and drank the water as dead bodies floated by. Red saw the kindness of the Indian people and learned of Ghandi, a man he came to admire.

Hubert "Red" Combs in uniform (Photo courtesy of Vera Hypes)

Hubert “Red” Combs in uniform (Photo courtesy of Vera Hypes)

He wrote other things to Ruth. He told her how much her letters meant to him. How much he enjoyed hearing from her and of his plans for the future. If Ruth had known Red when he left Kentucky, she would have seen a man from a poor and broken home with little education; a man beat down physically and emotionally by his father; a man who saw no way to pull himself up.

But in India, Red saw people from poverty worse than his. It gave him perspective on his situation and helped him realize the opportunities that were awaiting him in the U.S.A. By 1944 Red was a confident man. He had been commended by his commanding officer out of hundreds of others for his military appearance and bearing. He was a radio operator, trusted with valuable machinery, and charged with important communication duties. For the first time in his life, Red felt valued and gained a sense of self worth.

He began to send Ruth things: handkerchiefs, aprons, hosiery bags and a gold laced purse with the map of India on it. Small things he could imagine her being beautiful with. As Red’s time overseas came to a close he wrote her “I can’t give you the world, but I’ll work hard and do the best I can to make a good life for you.”

Red came back to the U.S.A. in January 1945. Ruth met him as he stopped in Kentucky before being sent to an Infantry Training Battalion in Arkansas. Their life returned to what it was, separated but connected by letters. But things had changed since they met and there was future that was waiting for them. World War II ended on September 2nd 1945 and there was no more need for painting bombs or training soldiers. On September 24th 1945 Ruth Racke and Red Combs married in Little Rock, Arkansas. A month later Red was discharged from the U.S. Army and went home to Kentucky with his wife.

Front and back of a gold laced purse Red sent Ruth from India in 1944

Front and back of a gold laced purse Red sent Ruth from India in 1944

The two eventually settled down in the city of Independence. They had their only child, Vera in July 1946 and raised her to respect people of all races, religions and backgrounds. Red opened his own construction business and Ruth became a housewife. They were well known in the church and became active in the community. As the years went by the only reminder of the war that brought them together was a book about India Vera flipped through as a child. Even the gifts Red sent Ruth from overseas were put away in boxes. The two didn’t talk much about the war and the part they played in it. They didn’t see the need to dwell on the past. Ruth and Red Combs were more interested in their future, busy living the rest of their lives together as a family, in peace.

Red and Ruth Combs as husband and wife with their daughter Vera (Photo courtesy of Vera Hypes)

Red and Ruth Combs as husband and wife with their daughter Vera
(Photo courtesy of Vera Hypes)

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Mistakes to be made

Cavalry and Tanks on the move in Louisiana

Cavalry and Tanks on the move in Louisiana

In two years Nazi Germany had occupied Poland, Holland, Norway, Denmark, Luxembourg, France and Belgium, Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Greece. The Axis Powers were pushing into North Africa, White Russia, the Ukraine, and the heart of the Soviet Union. In Europe, Britain stood alone, saved only by a channel of water that Germany’s tanks could not roll over.

In those two years, the United States had lain dormant, save lend lease and troops sent to Iceland, it remained in a state of self imposed hibernation from European affairs. In 1939 America’s Military ranked the seventeenth largest in the world with a standing army of 187,000 men and about 200,000 National Guardsmen . In October 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the first peace time draft in United States history raising the number to 1.6 million men in 1941. As the Axis conquered Europe, America trained its soldiers with World War I rifles, broomsticks labeled “machine guns”, and cars with “tank” written on them.

1941 Maneuvers Medal

1941 Maneuvers Medal

In 1941 General George Marshall decided to try the new Army in real combat conditions. Marshall wanted to see how his commanders adapted to modern warfare and how the soldiers performed through hardship. In September 1941, almost 500,000 troops battled on 3,400 square miles of Louisiana. The Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941 were the biggest war games ever seen on American soil. The men were split into two forces, the Blue Army was the invader, with blue armbands and fatigue caps; the Red Army, the defender with Red Armbands and steel helmets. Marshall knew his army would make mistakes. He wanted the mistakes to happen in Louisiana, not in Europe.

Blue and Red Armbands from the Louisiana Maneuvers

Blue and Red Armbands from the Louisiana Maneuvers

Massive battles took place around towns like Shreveport, Nachitoches, and Winnfield. The Maneuvers saw the US Army’s last use of mounted cavalry and its first use of paratroopers. Twenty six men died in the games, most in car accidents or drowning in river crossings. The Blue Army won in both defensive and offensive operations thanks in large part to plans from Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower and the tanks of George S. Patton.

Three months after the maneuvers finished, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and Germany declared war on America. The Army of Louisiana took the lessons it learned in the summer of 1941 and prepared to do what it had trained for. Units that had performed well in the games were already in the Philippines or were embarking overseas to prepare to fight in North Africa and New Guinea. When they would enter combat, only gained territory and body counts would tell the score. After Louisiana there would be no more umpires to watch the rules and any mistakes would be fatal.

Animation for Dreams

Seo's Japan

Seo’s Japan

The beginning of 1945 was inauspicious for Japan. The first four months of the New Year saw the Empire lose Rangoon and Mandalay in Burma,  Iwo Jima, and much of the Philippines. In February, the United States Army Air Force started using fire bombs and incinerated 100,000 people in just one raid in March. On April Fool’s day the Americans invaded Okinawa,  four hundred miles from Kyushu, the southern most island of Japan. Okinawa would soon fall, then a country that hadn’t seen invasion since the days of the Kublai Khan would face the might of America on its home soil.

Early 1945 also saw the release of a new film, funded by the Japanese Navy. It had four main characters: a Monkey, a Bear, a Pheasant,  and a Dog. These four animals were the stars of the first feature length animated film in Japan. Their story was a take off on the traditional tale of Momotaro, the Peach Boy. Like the original story, the animals would join Momotaro and travel to the Demon’s Island.  Except  in World War II, the Devil’s Lair was the Celebes Island and the monsters who occupied it were the British.

Mitsuyo Seo 瀬尾 光世

Mitsuyo Seo
瀬尾 光世


The films creator was a thirty-four year old animator named Mitsuyo Seo. Seo was an artist and a socialist, a man allowed to pursue his art only if it was done for a military regime.  By World War II, Seo had his own production company and pioneered the use of the multiplane camera in Japan. His 1945 movie, called Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors, was a sequel to his 1943 film, Momotaro’s Sea Eagles also funded by the Navy.

 

Momotaro’s warriors do what is expected in a propaganda piece. They use the friendly population to build an airstrip, they teach the natives culture and letters as a kindly benefactor. Then, the warriors unite to defeat a cowardly, ridiculous enemy.

The Pheasant receives mail from home

The Pheasant receives mail from home

Seo’s vision was not just of war and victory. By 1945, a Japanese victory was something only attainable in the movies. Its improbability was brought home daily with every bomb that fell, with every soldier that died, and in every Kamikaze pilot that flew his last mission. Seo the man, not the conscripted propagandist, wanted to create something beautiful. In his vision, there were flowing rivers and forests under Mount Fuji. There were rice fields and mountains. Children played and sang and parents welcomed their son home. In his film Seo created a Japan that people would know. A Japan of family and beauty. He hoped what he was making was something people would want not to die for, but to live for.

 

The movie brought a sixteen year old boy named Tezuka Osamu to tears. He had recognized its message, hidden beneath the layers of propaganda. Osamu decided the day he saw the film to become an animator and would go on to be the “Father” of modern Japanese Animation and Comics, creating works such as Kimba the White Lion and Astro Boy.

The Monkey character

The Monkey character

 

A few months after Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors was released, two Atomic bombs were dropped on Japan and the War came to a close. Seo’s dreams of peace had arrived, but Post War Japan was not easy for an animator. By the 1950’s Seo had left the animation business and had become an illustrator for children’s books. His wartime work disappeared from public consciousness and became a sense of shame for him, having helped a regime that went so much against his ideals and principles. Seo largely vanished from public view and even his death in 2010 was largely unreported.

 

The film, like its author, faded into obscurity. It remained unseen until a copy was rediscovered in 1983. Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors was Mitsuyo Seo’s greatest work and his biggest shame. But in it he succeeded in sharing his dreams with  the generation of people that would take Japan from a totalitarian regime to a new, freer society. It would be the precursor and inspiration of the Japanese animation that would eventually captivate the world. Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors  came at a time when young Japanese people needed hope for a future without war; when they had nothing more than film to animate their dreams for tomorrow.

 

From Monkey poses for a portrait

The Monkey poses for a portrait

For those interested in watching Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors, Momotarō: Umi no Shinpei 桃太郎海の神兵in its entirety, you can do so here (Japanese Language only) :http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Ne-0e6P4jo

The Professor and The Fabled Fifteen

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The fighters are first. Their folding wings lock in place, their two thousand horsepower Pratt and Whitney engines rev and kick to life. Behind them the Avenger Torpedoes get in position, followed by the Helldiver bombers.

Singer on deck in his Hellcat

Singer on deck in his Hellcat

 

Arthur Singer Jr. sits in his plane. His parachute harness tight around his flying suit, the one he had the parachute riggers sew extra pockets on. The propeller blast blows into his open cockpit, the roar of dozens of engines on deck deafen him. The first plane goes, edging down the carrier till it takes to the sky. Singer watches the man on deck, waits for the signal. When he gets it, he speeds down the flight deck, the plane vibrates as it reaches take off speed. He opens the throttle, faster and faster, shaking and rattling till the rumble of the deck is gone and there is nothing around him but air and sea.

 

The Hellcat drops for moment -a feeling Singer’s felt dozens of times, but one that always gives him a thrill- then it climbs skyward. Singer is twenty-three and handsome. He’s a fighter pilot, an Ace. That means he’s cocky and aggressive with a killer’s instinct. He flamed his first zero off Saipan. He got two more over Rota when he was jumped by four Japanese fighters. The first exploded, the second trailed fire into the sea. On a Photo Recon over Ie Shima he met a squadron of Japanese bombers, he shot down four of them single-handedly.

Arthur Singer Jr.

Arthur Singer Jr.

 

Singer’s squadron is Fighter Group 15, a squadron of aces. They call themselves “Satan’s Playmates” but they’ll be remembered by another name: “The Fabled Fifteen”.

 

In ten minutes or so, the whole Air Group is launched. The planes claw higher and higher, till their ship, the USS Essex,looks like a pebble in a desert. They are joined by aircraft from other carriers, till the sky glitters with planes.

 

Below them is Task Force 38, spread out for miles in all directions. In the center, the most valuable ship, the Aircraft Carrier. Back in 1942, there might have been one or two Carriers but in October 1944 there are six or eight or twelve carriers, and that’s just one Task Force. One group of ships in the most powerful maritime force the earth has ever seen, the United States Navy. The planes climb until they reach twelve or fifteen thousand feet. The ships below grow smaller till they seem to sit motionless on the ocean. The Avengers form in diamonds of four planes, two in front, two split out on the side. Higher up, Helldivers separate into divisions of six planes, split in three plane V formations. On the very top, in Echelon fours, are the fighters, the Hellcats.

 

Hellcats in flight

Hellcats in flight

The planes circle and wait. Last night, October 24th, enemy ships were spotted. Now on the 25th, scout planes are out trying to find them again. Somewhere out there is the Japanese Navy. Destroyers, cruisers, battleships and aircraft carriers, four of them. One of them is the last remaining carrier from the attack on Hawaii on December 7th, the Zuikaku. The Americans want the Zuikaku; they want to sink the last reminder of Pearl Harbor. The Japanese know what the sinking means for the Americans and they will use it against them. They form Zuikaku and her fellow carriers into their Northern Force. The Northern Force will steam toward Task Force 38 and the 3rd fleet of which she is part of. The Japanese carrier’s mission is not to win. Their mission is to get the American force to follow them. The Japanese know they have no chance, they know they are floating ghosts. If they meet the bombs and guns of the U.S. 3rd Fleet the Japanese will have succeeded. It means they drew the powerful force away from the weak American Invasion Fleet, and the carrier-less Japanese Central Force of battleships can move in and destroy the invasion force before it hits Leyte.

Aboard the Essex heading to the Flight Deck

Aboard the Essex heading to the Flight Deck

At 7:10 AM a scout plane relocates the Japanese ships. The Air Group heads to intercept. Singer knows what combat is like. He’s been in it for almost half a year. He knows how the blue sea gives ways to turquoise reefs, sandy beaches and lush jungle. He’ll go in first, with the fighters. They’ll clear the skies then strafe the ground, open the way for the bombers. If a pilot gets hit, and he’s lucky, it’s quick. He smashes into a pulp and burns to nothing when his plane hits the ground. If he’s not, it takes longer. He’ll trail smoke, losing fuel and oil pressure until he has to bail out or ditch in the ocean. Maybe he’ll be rescued, maybe he’ll be taken prisoner. Or maybe he’ll be alone, drifting for days under the sun with no shelter, living on hope; hope that holds out longer than survival rations or fresh water; hope that keeps a man going until he realizes it’s all a sham, and he disappears without a trace. 

The American Air Group flies onward. On the horizon are small shapes that get larger with each passing minute. Long block-like objects, big and small, surrounding four flat ones, aircraft carriers. There are more shapes in the sky above, enemy planes. The Japanese fighters peel off and head for the American Air Group. They go for the Helldivers, dropping in from 9,000 feet above them. Machine gun and cannon fire racks the formation. The Hellcats rise to meet the Zeros, breaking them up.

Arthur Singer Jr.'s Flying Suit

Arthur Singer Jr.’s Flying Suit

Aerial Combat is not pleasant. It’s like a roller coaster, only there’s no rail and you’re going over two hundred miles an hour. Singer’s head snaps back and forth as he twists and dives. He downs a Zero, flame streaks from its engines as it falls. He sees another, making a rising turn, he shoots and pieces fly off it as it screams by. Singer doesn’t have time to chase it, his wingman spots four other Japanese and they go after them. Tracers fly under Singer’s wing. He snap rolls right, but the Zero is still with him, he twists and turns but the enemy follows his every move. Another Zero comes to join the hunt, sensing blood. For an instant, the second Zero passes before his sights and Singer lets off a long range deflection shot. Smoke pours from the Zero but Singer can’t watch, the first Zero is still stuck to his tail. The pilot is good, Singer can’t shake him. The nimble zero turns with the Hellcat, matching it move for move. The Japanese gunsight inches onto the American, it won’t take long before it passes him with enough lead to open fire on a moving target.

Singer slams his controls forward, his plane goes in a dive:7,000 feet, 6,000 feet, 5,000… The Zero follows, waiting to open up with its machines guns to get the range, then start with the large wing mounted twenty-millimeter cannons. The stick goes hard in Singer’s hand, the engine whines as momentum increases. The plane vibrates as it goes straight down towards the water. 4,000 feet, 3,600, 3,500, 3,400… at 3,000 feet Singer pulls out and jerks the stick right. The sudden change of direction yanks him in his seat. The windshield fogs up in the warmer lower altitude. Singer looks behind, above, to his right and left. Nothing. Maybe he lost the Zero in the dive, but he doesn’t think so. The pilot was too tenacious, too good. He looks again, all over, then he catches a glimpse of something moving through the thawing edges of his windshield. It’s the Zero. It comes head on, wings spitting fire. Singer pushes his trigger, the Hellcat vibrates as its machine guns empty their load. They catch the Zero as the two meet, the Japanese airplane explodes almost on top of him.

Singer after combat with a bullet hole in his windshield

Singer after combat with a bullet hole in his windshield


When October 25th is over, the
Zuikaku is underwater. All three other carriers in the Japanese force, the Chiyoda, Zuiho and Chitose also sink. The last of the ships that were the pride of the Imperial Navy are below the waves. But they did their job. The lured the U.S. 3rd fleet away to attack them. Their loss allowed the Japanese a crack at the unguarded American Leyte Invasion Force, who by luck and determination held out with the loss of a carrier, two destroyers and a destroyer escort.

 

In their six month tour of duty VF-15, Satan’s Playmate’s, shot down 310 enemy planes in aerial combat, the highest scoring Fighter Squadron in US Naval history for a single deployment. Twenty-six of them became aces. Arthur Singer Jr. finished as a double ace with ten victories, one of only sixty-five men to reach that status in the entire U.S. Navy.

Aces of VF-15. Singer in back row second from left

Aces of VF-15. Singer in back row second from left

When peace came, Singer put the war behind him and moved on. He earned a PhD. and became a professor at San Diego State University. The man with a killer’s instinct for combat spent the rest of his life teaching education. He became a member of the Council for Exceptional Children and the California Faculty Association. When the Professor died in 2004 his obituary made no mention of Arthur Singer Jr., Ace pilot in the Navy’s premier fighter squadron. It made no mention of his air battles in the Marianas and the Philippines with the Fabled Fifteen. The obituary only made a brief note that “he served as a Naval Aviator in World War Two” then went on to the important things, what made Arthur Singer Jr. more proud of than his kills in the air: his academic accomplishments, his teaching and professorship, enriching lives rather than taking them.

Arthur Singer and his wife

Arthur Singer Jr. and his wife

Happy 2014

Happy New year to everyone. I appreciate your reading and apologize for lack of recent posts. I hope to add a lot more in 2014.
I look forward to reading your work and hearing from you as well!

Happy New Year!

Side Effects

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In 1942, as war entered American life, a non-profit, government funded group called the Council on Books in Wartime was created and staffed by some of the largest names in the publishing business. The Council’s aim was to maintain the will to fight through information, printing books about how the war was being won and about the enemy. Books, the council felt were the “Weapons in the War of Ideas”.

For men and women serving overseas boredom was a more persistent enemy than the Germans or the Japanese. The Council on Books in Wartime felt reading was the perfect solution and endeavored to get books to soldiers. Believing in  the patriotic and generous American spirit the council organized book donation drives. Americans responded, donating thousands of books. The drive was a great victory but the victor was the American public.

Emblem of the Council on Books in Wartime

Emblem of the Council on Books in Wartime

Although the Council netted large numbers of books, the majority of tomes would put a strain on a soldier’s attention span. The Council book drives had given the public a chance to pass on volumes no one would want to read while feeling patriotic about doing it. In May of 1943 the Council decided “American soldiers were going to have books, even if the Army had to buy them itself”. A plan was drafted to purchase an initial 50,000 books for the armed forces. But this plan was not a solution.

Even with reading material available, soldiers weighed down with army equipment did not have room to carry a hardbound novel, even paperback books were not pocket sized. The Council decided the best answer to the problem would be to print the books themselves. Using magazine rotary presses thousands of books could be made to give to bored soldiers. From a business standpoint, it gave publishing houses a cheap, easy way to expose a captive new market to reading. The solution seemed obvious but there was one problem—money.

The problem wasn’t finding the cash to print the books or distributing them. The problem was if popular books were given away, who would buy them after the war? Publishing houses would be flooding the market with free books that could be taken home and sold second hand when the boys came home. Companies would be giving away millions of dollars worth of a reusable products, cheating authors and booksellers out of business by a good but unsound patriotic deed. The problem was solved in two ways: one, books for the armed forces would only be available overseas, not competing with the US market. And two, they would be printed on cheap paper that would fall apart with multiple readings.

Actually printing the books proved challenging. The rotary printing presses available were designed to print magazines not books. To navigate around this problem, two separate books were printed as one, magazine size, one on top of the other, then cut in half. Short paged books were printed in Reader’s Digest size and long volumes in pulp magazine size resulting in books measuring 5 1/2 by 3 7/8 inches or 6 1/2 by 4 1/2 inches respectively. The books were sold to the military at cost of about six cents per volume plus ten percent overhead, with authors and publishers receiving a half cent each per book.

Soldier on a troopship reading an Armed Service Edition book.

Soldier on a troopship reading an Armed Service Edition book.

Inside cover of an Armed Service Edition book

Inside cover of an Armed Service Edition book

Armed Service Edition books

Armed Service Edition books

Titles were decided upon by a committee that tried to cater to “all levels of tastes within reasonable limits” and had to be acceptable to both the Army and the Navy. Minor disagreements arose between the committee which wanted to print serious literary works, and the Army that wanted popular best sellers, westerns and mysteries, while the Navy held opinions somewhere in between the other two. Works deemed anti-democratic, offensive to an ally or religious or racial group were excluded.

Starting in September 1943, Armed Service Edition books found their way to the front line in the Pacific as men traveled from island to island before entering the combat zone. In England in June 1944, each soldier boarding an invasion ship for Normandy was given an Armed Service Edition book. Newspapers reported at the time that, although many things were found discarded from soldiers packs before going into D-Day, not a single book was left behind.

From 1943 to 1947 nearly 123 million copies of 1,322 different titles on all subjects were printed and became the only type of book reliably  available to service personnel overseas. Authors received hundreds of letters from people who before the war had never finished reading a single book. Some would meet ex-servicemen years later telling them how they had read their book in a foxhole in France, in some Pacific jungle, or in a frigid Alaskan or Icelandic outpost. The most reprinted book was Webster’s New Handy Dictionary, a book that depression kids with little education wanted to help them understand the new written world given them.

The men and women of World War Two came home with something other than memories of war, they came back with educations in history, the arts, poetry, science and popular fiction, all from little books named Armed Service Editions, a side effect of a war.

Ink for Ammunition

Mr. Hook

Mr. Hook

In 1942, Henry K. Ketcham was sworn into the Naval Reserve. Henry was from Washington State, where he had dropped out of college in his freshman year.  He had hitchhiked to Los Angeles, California in 1938 where he lived until he joined The Navy.

Navy poster with artwork by Henry Ketcham

Navy poster with artwork by Henry Ketcham

Mr. Hook eyes his target after coming home rich on war bonds

Mr. Hook eyes his target after coming home rich from investing in war bonds

The War brought thousands of men like Henry together; Americans who were ready to serve their country in its time of need. Henry was going to fight the Japanese and his weapon would be his pen.
Henry was an animator. He had worked on Woody Woodpecker films until he made it to the big show at Disney, working on films like Bambi, Pinocchio and Fantasia. Studios such as Disney and Warner Brothers threw themselves into supporting the war effort by designing insignias and creating military films.

Many of Hollywood’s best and most talented men served their country in the Armed Forces. Henry’s job was to make war posters. He came up with catchy slogans mixed with funny pictures: A fat sailor eying a curvy beauty is told to  “Watch your own waistline”  being reminded that “Food is scarce, don’t waste it on your waist!”. Cartoons were a fun and innocuous way to teach and indoctrinate. It gave Henry an outlet for his humor and creativity. He created Half Hitch, a comic strip about everyday navy life.

He also worked on propaganda films for The Navy. He created a character named Mr. Hook,  a sailor who fought treacherous, buck-toothed Japanese. Henry wrote four short films with titles like “Tokyo Woes” and “Take heed Mr. Tojo” featuring Mr. Hook  winning his battles by using war bonds.  Henry reminded the viewers to “Sink the Rising Sun with war bonds as your gun. War Bonds are ammunition!” and “Be a hero down a Zero with war bonds”.

Ketcham at work for the US Navy

Ketcham at work for the US Navy

Henry also appreciated women and the roles they played in providing humor for a male audience. Wolves were a common way of depicting overactive and excited males. One of Henry’s works of this period was entitled “COMWOLFPAC STAFF” a play on navy acronyms of “Com” short for “Commander” and “Pac” for “Pacific”. One wonders how much of Henry’s art imitated his own life.

Henry served in The Navy until 1946 when he returned to being a civilian. He married and had a son.  He changed his focus from animation to comic strips. He started to sign his work “Hank Ketcham” and in 1951 created a character based on his son entitled “Dennis the Menace”.

Zero being attacked by War Bond in "Take heed Mr. Tojo"

Zero being attacked by War Bonds in “Take heed Mr. Tojo”

Ketcham's "ComWolfPac Staff"

Ketcham’s “ComWolfPac Staff”

Henry’s four years in World War II continued to find it’s way into his work.  Dennis the Menace’s father Henry was a navy man and Henry’s wartime character Half Hitch was revived into a comic strip in the 1960’s.

Though The War was just an interlude in his career, Henry Ketcham and many other talented young men and women served their country in its time of need, using their wit as a weapon and ink for ammunition.