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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

Standish Backus (1910-1989)

 

Hiroshima, 1945
Standish Backus #20
Watercolor, 1945
88-186-AG

At 1:45 AM on August the sixth, 1945, the B-29 "Enola Gay" took off from Tinian Island; at 8:15 it dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima which killed 78,150 Japanese. This total is the recorded number.

 

Garden at Hiroshima, Autumn
Standish Backus #23
Watercolor, 1946
88-186-AJ

 

When Naval investigation teams went into Hiroshima City after the bombing about a month later, inhabitants generally stayed away. This sense of isolation amid the ruins left the teams with an eerie feeling as they worked.

 

At the Red Cross Hospital, Hiroshima
Standish Backus #33
Watercolor, 1946
88-186-AT

 

 

The Japanese Director pointed out the various types of casualities, the fractures, the contusions, the loss of hair, the blood degeneration, the dysentery-like cases of radiation after-effects, and mostly the burns. Among the latter were the cases of girls wearing flowered prints who showed the pattern etched in burns on their bodies where the dark patches had been.

 

shows the devation of HiroshimaStill Life, Hiroshima
Standish Backus #30
Watercolor, 1946
88-186-AQ

 

 

 

In Line of Duty
Standish Backus #6
Watercolor, 1945
88-186-F

 

This man has been fighting two great battles. One has been against the enemies of his country and he has won a great victory. As symbol of this victory a silk flag of the conquered country has been hung by his bed. His second battle is against cancer and he is not winning. He has fought the war against Japan aboard an aircraft carrier. The day Japan surrender he took up his second great fight in a cellophane oxygen tent aboard a naval hospital ship in Tokyo Bay. Then his carrier departed for stateside. He has been in the tent thirty days in which he hasn't been able to lie down, but only to peer heavily and enviously with glazed eyes at those around him who are free to engulf great draughts of fresh air if they choose. Right now that is what he wants to do more than anything else in the world. He tries very hard at times and the strain is beginning to show in his ruddy complexion and swollen ankles. Shortly, Arnold Arvin, S 1/C, USNR, of Kentucky, age 20, died in line of duty - and I was glad.

 

Recent Guests of Japan
Standish Backus #7
Watercolor, 1945
88-186-G

 

You could see them up at Yokohama almost any day for the first few weeks of the occupation, at the POW processing center down on the docks. They came in by trainload and would be bathed, deloused, reclothed, medically examined and interviewed by nurses. Those who were ill or very low in weight were separated and put aboard hospital ships (Army, Navy, British) which were alongside. The rest were flown out to Manila. Their appearance varied from the unhealthy rotundity of beri-beri to mere skeletons. They had the fine features of girls; the constant urge to keep eating small tid bits and a short endurance which kept them lying down or sleeping most of the time while waiting for the next move.

 

American POWs and Red Cross Girl, Yokohama
Standish Backus #14
Watercolor, 1945
88-186-AA

 

The sight of the first Red Cross girls was almost unbelievable to our boys who were lucky enough to survive as prisoners of the Japanese, some of them since 1941. Most of them would just stand and gape with an awestruck attitude. They all had a big story to get off their emaciated chests and someone was always telling these gals their experiences. And she would look unbelieving and horrified. These men were young, old and ageless all at once. They never laughed. Some were bitter but nobody was cynical--not yet.

 

Online Exhibits that feature Standish Backus's work

The Navy Art of Standish Backus
The Japanese Surrender at Tokyo Bay
World War II Navy Art: A Vision of History
Operation Deepfreeze I: 1955-56:

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07 March 2003