Thursday, December 15, 2011

Casing the Colors: The End of the War in Iraq

by Gregg Chadwick


40"x30" oil on linen
March 2003-December 2011
painting by Gregg Chadwick

Today, with the casing of the colors in Baghdad, another war has ended. My thoughts are with the families who have lost loved ones and with the troops who are returning home. A few weeks ago I was on a flight from LAX to Monterey seated near a young soldier who had just returned from Iraq. He was eager to talk and chatted about his specialization in the Army and his plans for the immediate future. A tech job in Silicon Valley beckoned. The men and women coming home from Iraq have given much for our country and have much more to offer our society in the future.

I remember when my father came home from Vietnam. Having fought in Korea as well, this was the end of his second war. Our family reunited overseas delaying my father's reentry into life in the US. There were no parades and because my father stayed in the Corps as an active duty Marine, little seemed to change when we finally flew back to the States and moved into what would be the first in a succession of new billets, new homes, and new schools. Even for warriors, life goes on.

War stories weren't often told in my family. I learned more about my father's tour in Vietnam from Philip Caputo's A Rumor of War than I did from conversations around the dinner table. (My father is an important, though unnamed character in Caputo's book.) As a boy, I knew there were things I wouldn't ever truly understand and gave returning soldiers their private psychological space. As an adult, I understand that we all need to have our stories heard patiently and sympathetically. I have also learned that the fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers of those killed in action care deeply that their sons and daughters are not forgotten.


48"x36" oil on linen 2004
painted by Gregg Chadwick
Collection National Museum of the Marine Corps

During the eight year span of the Iraq War, I have had the honor to connect with the families of two young men who gave their all. United States Marine Corporal Kemaphoom "Ahn" Chanawongse of Waterford, Connecticut was killed in action during operations on the outskirts of An Nasiriyah, Iraq on March 23, 2003. Chanawongse was assigned to 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. My painting Arlington, which is now part of the collection of the National Museum of the Marine Corps, was inspired by Ahn's funeral. Chanawongse was a Thai-American Buddhist, so his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery included saffron robed Buddhist monks as well as US Marines in their dress blues.

The painting began as an image of a US Marine in Iraq silhouetted against a gunpowdered sky at dusk. That painting was subsequently worked into and eventually over-painted with the present image when the reports and images in the New York Times of Ahn’s funeral brought back childhood memories of watching “taps” played at dusk during the Evening Parade at the Marine Corps Barracks in Washington DC. I met Ahn's courageous and inspiring parents in Washington DC when Arlington was exhibited at the Arts Club of Washington during The One Word Project exhibition which was curated by J.T. Kirkland and ran from August 28th through September 29th, 2007.

Mark Daily

Mark Daily
    "We Carry A New World In Our Hearts"
5"x5" oil on panel 2011
Painting by Gregg Chadwick

Earlier this year, I was asked by curator Sherry Moore to contribute a painting of United States Army 2nd Lieutenant Mark Daily to the Portraits of the Fallen Memorial. This memorial when completed will include portraits of all the service members from California killed during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. At the start of the project I had the honor to meet Mark's widow, Snejana "Janet" Hristova, at my studio and was inspired by her courage and resilience. She spoke tenderly of Mark and the media attention after his death.

Christopher Hitchens in his moving article on Mark for Vanity Fair described the young Lieutenant's bravery:
"Lieutenant Daily crossed from Kuwait to Iraq in November 2006, where he would be deployed with the "C," or "Comanche," Company of the Second Battalion of the Seventh Cavalry Regiment—General Custer's old outfit—in Mosul. On the 15th of January last, he was on patrol and noticed that the Humvee in front of him was not properly "up-armored" against I.E.D.'s. He insisted on changing places and taking a lead position in his own Humvee, and was shortly afterward hit by an enormous buried mine that packed a charge of some 1,500 pounds of high explosive."
Christopher Hitchens goes on to share a telling portion of a letter that Mark Daily sent home from Iraq to his wife Janet:

"One thing I have learned about myself since I've been out here is that everything I professed to you about what I want for the world and what I am willing to do to achieve it was true. …
My desire to "save the world" is really just an extension of trying to make a world fit for you."

Like Mark I graduated from UCLA. My wife, MarySue Heilemann, is a tenured professor in Nursing at UCLA and teaches on ethics and the philosophy of science. To stir up the latent creativity in her graduate students, MarySue brought in the musician Peter Himmelman to lead a creativity session. As a friend of Peter's and at my wife's request, I attended the session and I ended up writing a song on my experiences painting Mark's portrait. Peter Himmelman added music to the lyrics and the song, Spit and Polish Blue, was finished for Veterans Day.

 Written on the back of this photograph Mark Daily sent home from Mosul, Iraq is the phrase, "We carry a new world in our hearts." I included the phrase as a coda at the end of the song Spit and Polish Blue:

Spit and Polish Blue 
 Lyrics by Gregg Chadwick

Music by Peter Himmelman 

How do I paint a picture of a man I never met?
Your wife brought me images she never wants to forget.
If I had met you, there would be a clue 
-as I looked into your eyes of spit and polish blue.

 I’m sitting in a classroom, the place where you first signed on
The chalk dust still hovers here , everything else is gone.
L.A. was just a start for something new
as you first dressed in green and spit and polish blue. 

How do I paint a picture of a man who gave it all?
And what colors give justice to the way you answered your call?
Mother Mary, can I borrow your hue?
Only lapis could color your eyes of spit and polish blue. 

And the sands outside of Mosul blind your buddy’s eyes.
And the Desert wind carries its own peculiar sighs.
You went first –took the point.

Like words written on a photograph,
The wind it whispers its sacred epitaph
The wind whispers as breath departs,
“We carry a new world in our hearts.”

More at:

Matt Gallagher in the New York Times on Mark Daily

Portraits of the Fallen Project

Info on Peter Himmelman

The author Christopher Hitchens' piece on Mark Daily in Vanity Fair in 2007.

The One Word Project

Take a minute to look back at the moments that brought us to this point, then share a personal message of gratitude with those who have served.
Send your message of thanks
Part of ending a war responsibly is standing by those who have fought it. It's not enough to honor our heroes with words; we must do so with deeds.

That's why we've worked to send 600,000 veterans and family members back to school on the Post-9/11 GI Bill. That's why one of Michelle's top priorities as First Lady has been to support military families and why she's worked with the private sector to get commitments to create 100,000 jobs for those who've served and their spouses. That's why we worked with Congress to pass a tax credit so that companies have an incentive to hire vets and have taken steps to help veterans translate military experience to the private sector job market.

In America, our commitment to those who fight for our freedom and our ideals doesn't end when our troops take off the uniform.

You can be a part of this effort to honor our heroes.

Help mark this moment. Write a quick note that troops and veterans all over the world will be able to see:
Thank you,

President Barack Obama


PeterAtLarge said...

A moving tribute, Gregg--and fine, elegiac paintings. Thanks, P

Gregg Chadwick said...

Thanks Peter.

@ngel ~ said...

How do I paint a picture of a man who gave it all?
And what colors give justice to the way you answered your call?...

very sincere and touching tribute!

Gregg Chadwick said...

Deepest thanks @ngel~
I am also moved my your poem paired with my painting Acadia at

@ngel ~ said...

Hi Gregg Thank you for visiting my site :)
I am really sorry for being careless about giving credits to you for your painting and using it without your permission.
Here , I made amendments :)

God bless you!

Unknown said...

I went to a contemporary art fair in Shanghai recently, which was a real eye-opener. Chinese contemporary art
has come leaps and bounds from the watery Zen landscapes to huge canvases of strange-looking beings. The
prices being asked and paid were huge too.
Oriental, if not Chinese, my print of Jean-Léon Gérôme's painting,,
bought some time ago from, is as lovely as ever.