The Life in Art

Photo by Dr. Eugene M. Gillum

What do Kodachrome film and Dr. Eugene Gillum have in common? They both hitched a ride to Guam in World War II and came back with stories to tell.  Introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1935, Kodachrome was a mass-marketed color film for 74 years.  Kodak stopped selling it in 2009. Dr. Gillum outlasted it.

I met Dr. Gillum and his wife on a recent date to the Fort Wayne Museum of Art’s exhibit of his WWII Aircraft Nose Art. A young man in his early 20’s, Dr. Gillum’s draft notice led him to serve with the 20th Airforce in Guam. Before he left the U.S., Gillum stuffed a roll of the film in the bottom recesses of his bag. There it would stay until September 1, 1945 – 15 days after Japan surrendered.

Dr. and Mrs. Eugene M. Gillum

Then Sgt. Gillum and his buddy, Sgt. Bob Dutcher, talked their way into the use of a military jeep and drove to the tarmac where the 20th Airforce’s B-29 fleet stood. With his roll of Kodachrome, Sgt. Gillum captured the artistry and life of the men of the 20th. Not until seven months later would the images come to life in a U.S. development room.

Depictions of life easily emerge in the themes of the art work.

  • Sexy women – all kinds of them in some degree of undress.
  • Mission – “The Laden Maiden” indicating the 500 pound bombs the planes carried, “Jus’ One Mo’ Time” perhaps both perseverance and prayer, and “Moonshine Raiders” a hillbilly in flight with a moonshine jug and outhouse.
  • Family – “For the Luvva Mike” a young pilot’s son, “Belle Martinez” a pilot’s gal, and “Fuzzy Fuz IV”  named for the cat belonging to the wife of the Commanding General.
  • Patriotism – “Liberty Belle.”
  • Honor – “Rose Marie” the surviving wife of a pilot who had been killed in action
  • Exhaustion, yet still a sense of humor– “Miasis Dragon”

Dr. Gillum stood for over an hour sharing stories of his early years, his journey into World War II, his detailed knowledge of the aircraft of WW II, and how his photos of the aircraft nose art came to be. As his time concluded he walked over to a table, picked up a picture of a current day Air Force officer, and share the story of how the man had recently come to visit him. Then, he turned, looked at us and said, “I delivered that young man when he was born some 30 plus years ago.”

Ah, there it was, the art in life meeting the life in art.

Thank you, Sgt. and Dr. Gillum.

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