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STEPHEN DOUGLAS WORLD WAR II ENVELOPES, 
1943-1945

#755

(.33 cubic feet: 1 Flt B)

by: Frank R. Jenkins, April 2002

Biography

The Stephen Douglas Collection consists of eighty-one envelopes that Mr. Douglas mailed to his family from U.S. Army posts in the Pacific during World War II. Mr. Douglas decorated the front of the envelopes with watercolors depicting the life of a GI in the South Pacific.

Mr. Douglas grew up in Wewoka, Oklahoma, and trained for one year at the Art Institute of Chicago. He then worked in the Oklahoma oil fields and sold paintings of scenes of oil production. He was drafted in the Army in 1942 and served as a corporal with the 864th Engineering Aviation Battalion, Army Corps of Engineers until war's end in 1945. After mustering out he worked thirty-three years in the Postal Service, retired, and continued to paint.

Corporal Douglas began mailing the illustrated letters from Geiger Field, Washington, where his unit trained, then from Los Angeles where it shipped out. By the time the men arrived at Townsville, Australia, in September 1943, US forces had already won the battle of Guadalcanal and were occupying much of the Solomon Islands. The rest of the Southwest Pacific including New Guinea had yet to be taken before the Japanese could be driven out of the Pacific. His unit's mission was to build and maintain the airstrips and facilities that the that the allies would use as they advanced on Japan. The 864th moved through various bases in New Guinea, then to Cape Gloucester in New Britain, and finally to Luzon in the Philippines.

Using a child's watercolor set, he captured both the deprivations of GI life at these bases and the romance of the islands with their native peoples, lush foliage, lagoons, and tropical moons. Some of the illustrations depict battle scenes involving aircraft and ships, others provide commentary on Army food, housing and recreation, or the lack thereof. They are all humorous or upbeat. The US aircraft or ships are always depicted on the envelopes defeating the enemy and one is a fanciful illustration of Hitler and Tojo on the run. Only fifteen of the eighty-one depict planes, ships, guns or fighting, and most of these are sketches of guard duty. The rest show GI's successfully coping with such mundane activities as work detail, the mess, physical exercise, medical care, laundry, showers, latrines and overcoming boredom.  Illustrating the envelopes was his way of escaping the tedium.

Scope & Content

This collection is divided into two series. Series 1: EIGHTY-ONE ILLUSTRATED ENVELOPES, 1943-45 drawn by Stephen Douglas and mounted on mat boards. Series 2: UNIT HISTORY, 1943-45 "Engineers in the South West Pacific - The 864th Aviation Engineers in World War II" by Bob George, a member of the unit. The history contains anecdotes and photographs of many of the locales Mr. Douglas drew.

Provenance

This collection was donated to the National Museum of American History by Mr. Stephen A. Douglas, the artist on January 7th, 2001.

Related Collections

BILL MAULDIN CARTOON COLLECTION, 1946-1987. Believed to contain all of Bill Mauldin's published cartoons during those years; also periodical and newspaper articles about and by Mauldin, personal items, including his genealogy, and an original sketchbook used by Mauldin while he was in Vietnam, February 1965.

WARSHAW COLLECTION OF BUSINESS AMERICANA, ca. 1724-1977: WAR POSTERS, ca. 1914-1960s (mostly 1942-1945).  Isadore Warshaw donated this collection of 350 items. Artists such as Howard Chandler Christy, James Montgomery Flagg and Norman Rockwell are represented. 

JES WILHELM SCHLAIKJER POSTER COLLECTION, 1942-1952. Twenty posters designed by Schlaikjer during World War II and after.

Container List

Box Folder
Series 1: ILLUSTRATED ENVELOPES, 1943-45
1 1 Eighty-one illustrated envelopes mounted on 27 mats, 1943-45
   

Series 2: UNIT HISTORY, 1943-45

2 One fifty page brochure: "Engineers in the South West Pacific" - The 864th Aviation Engineers in World War II"

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E-mail: archivescenter@si.edu
Revised: June 6, 2002