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Marines in Action

Since the first day of World War II, the American public has had occasion to read a good deal about the Marine Corps and to see Marines in action as portrayed by the camera. But no insight thus afforded can compare with that offered by the work by Kerr Eby.

For long months this distinguished artist, no stranger to war, shared the dangerous life of the Marines in the Pacific. He landed with us at Tarawa, and he went from that terrible battleground to live with Marines fighting in the jungle warfare of Bougainville. He slept on the hard coral, he slogged through the jungle mud, he shared the minor pleasures and the major discomforts of the Marines at war, the good hot cup of coffee at the end of thirsty hours, the threat of enemy bombs and shells and bullets near him. Like many a Marine, he fell prey to tropical ills: one of his weeks in Bougainville was spent in a hospital.

Kerr Eby was with the Marines long enough to get the feeling of their war. With rapid sketches on the spot, whether in jungle skirmish or at beachhead landing or just living between battles, he used his art to capture that feeling and make it visible to all. It is small wonder, and yet it is the eternal miracle of art, that his finished paintings and drawings are so richly successful. They have caught the dramatic intensity and spirit of men at war, the feeling of men in battle, the sludging through the jungle and the terrible murky heat, the charge on the pillbox, the savagery, the terror, the exhaustion of battle.

Kerr Eby has made a great contribution. The Marine Corps and the public are in his debt. If he has somewhere expressed a high opinion of the Marines, let us for our part make public declaration that it is mutual, both for the life he lived among us and for the work here presented.

By Major General Julian C. Smith, USMC, who commanded the amphibious assault at Tarawa

The captions are by the artist.

Down the Net
Kerr Eby #10
Charcoal, 1944
Gift of Abbott Laboratories


Like a flowing stream, Marines come over the side of the transport for the attack of Tarawa.


The Wave Breaks On the Reef
Kerr Eby #2
Charcoal, 1944
Gift of Abbot Laboratories

Jarred to a halt by a hidden reef, an assault boat is abandoned by a unit of Marines. Doomed to near-extinction by a storm of enemy fire, long since trained on this objective, the group pushes forward to a man into the hindering water, into the teeth of the deadly storm.


Bullets and Barbed Wire
Kerr Eby #4
Charcoal, 1944
Gift of Abbot Laboratories


Both constituted tremendous barriers to victory in the bloody battle for Tarawa; but this Marine, rifle swung grimly in one hand, typifies the resurgent spirit of the thinned but indomitable ranks of the conquerors of the Gilberts. Past the brutal wire on which hung the bodies of his comrades, the tattered Marine presses on toward the beach and the redoubts of the hated enemy.


D-Day On Tarawa
Kerr Eby #5
Charcoal, 1944
Gift of Abbot Laboratories

Wading through a leaden surf under an overcast sky, wave on wave of U.S. Marines doggedly brave a deadly sheet of fire to secure a beachhead on Tarawa in the Gilberts on November 20 1943. Overhead, Navy dive bombers scream down through a blanket of black smoke to blast at the Japanese, entrenched in nearly invulnerable pillboxes.


The Hard Road to Triumph
Kerr Eby #1
Charcoal, 1944
Gift of Abbot Laboratories

Bodies angled forward, grim Marines press forward against the entrenched Japanese of Tarawa in the Gilberts in November 1943. In the background, an armored tractor lumbers forward with them prodding the enemy defenses with fingers of fire.


March Macabre
Kerr Eby #20
Charcoal, 1944
Gift of Abbot Laboratories

Shuffling slowly across blood soaked sand, Marines bear a wounded comrade back to the first aid station on embattled Tarawa, their tautened muscles constrained to gentleness. With painful care they hoist the slumped body of the desperately wounded man over the sea wall on the historic battleground.


Marines Fall Forward
Kerr Eby #3
Charcoal, 1944
Gift of Abbot Laboratories

The road to victory in the Pacific is littered with the bodies of gallant fighting men. Like this Marine (right center) who fell in the assault on a Tarawa pillbox, the honored dead fell forward, facing the foe, their feet driving to the last ebb of strength to carry on to the objective.


Ebb Tide, Tarawa
Kerr Eby #33
Charcoal, 1944
Gift of Abbot Laboratories

The attack was at flood tide. When the sea went out over the reef, this and much besides was left. In two wars, this I think is the most frightful thing I have seen, perhaps because of its isolation on the reef.

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01 August 2001