U.S. Army Vietnam Combat Artists

This sketch (Door Gunner) by combat artist Jim Pollock is one of many, which he made while in the field in Vietnam. Later, he and the other artists on the U. S. Army Combat Art Team IV (Samuel Alexander, Burdell Moody, Daniel Lopez and Ronald Wilson) spent two months in Hawaii completing their paintings of the action in Vietnam. The paintings were retained by the U. S. Army for inclusion in U. S. Army Military History War Art Collection in Washington, D. C.

I wish to thank Jim Pollock and Donald Anderson (Editor of War, Literature, & the Arts, Department of English and Fine Arts, United States Air Force Academy) for their assistance and permission to reference the following links and articles.

Jim Pollock writes a first hand account for War Literature and The Arts (WLA Vol. 21, 2009) about some of his experiences as a soldier artist in Vietnam. http://www.wlajournal.com/vol/21_1-2/images/pollock.pdf

Middle Border Sun editor Todd Epp reviews WLA essay "US Army Soldier-Artists in Vietnam" by Jim Pollock. http://southdakotawatch.blogspot.com/2010/01/south-dakota-army-artists-essay-and.html

War, Literature and The Arts (WLA), An International Journal of the Humanities. http://www.wlajournal.com

Donald Anderson, Editor of WLA. http://www.donaldanderson.us

click on the thumbnails to enlarge the paintings


About Jim Pollock




On July 15, 2003 Jim Pollock gave a presentation about the U.S. Army Vietnam Combat Art Program at the U.S. Library of Congress before the Library of Congress Professional Association (LCPA) Veterans Forum. Below is the opening statement given at the Mary Pickford Theater on that date that gives an overview of the U.S. Army Vietnam Combat Art Program. Contact Jim Pollock for information if your school or organization is interested in this same presentation.

In June 1966, the Army Vietnam Combat Artist Program was established, utilizing teams of soldier-artists to make pictorial records for the annals of military history. Artists interested in joining the program were asked to submit applications through the Army Arts and Crafts Program facilities nearest their unit. Applications were to contain samples of drawings, photographs of paintings and a resume. Selections were to be made by a civilian committee supervised by Army Art Curator Marian McNaughton. As originally initiated, the program was a joint effort of the Office, Chief of Military History, Center of Military History; the Adjutant General's Office; and the U.S. Army Arts and Crafts Program with support from the Office, Chief of Information.

The first nine Combat Art Teams (CATs) operated in Vietnam. Typically, each team consisted of five soldier artists who spent 60 days of temporary duty (TDY) in Vietnam gathering information and making preliminary sketches of U.S. Army related activities. The teams then transferred to Hawaii for an additional 75 days to finish their work.

On March 17, 1969, due to the widespread interest shown by soldier artists and the impact of their work throughout the Army, the official name was changed from the VIETNAM COMBAT ART PROGRAM to the ARMY ARTIST PROGRAM. Coverage was expanded to include portraying the U.S. Army worldwide. All art created by soldier artists becomes a part of the U.S. Army Art Collection maintained by the U.S. Army Center of Military History, Washington, D.C.

The concept of the Vietnam Combat Art Program had its roots in WW II. In 1944, the U.S. Congress authorized the Army to use soldier-artists to record military operations. During the Vietnam era, the U.S. Army Chief of Military History asked Marian McNaughton, then Curator for the Army Art Collection, to develop a plan for a Vietnam soldier art program. The result was the creation in 1966 of the Vietnam Combat Art Program under the direction of McNaughton's office. Her plan included involving the Army Arts and Crafts Program, and then headed by Eugenia Nowlin. McNaughton's office relied on Nowlin and her cadre of local Army Arts and Crafts directors to solicit applications from soldiers, which were forwarded to McNaughton's office at the U.S. Army Center of Military History, where selection and team assignments were made. The U.S. Army provided logistics support as the teams of artists were sent to Vietnam and then to Hawaii.

What really set the program apart from other military artist programs was the use of on-duty soldiers on a continual rotating basis, ensuring a variety of styles and points of view. Most of the selected artists were young, not established, nor well known except to their family and friends. (The army also continued to contract with and send to Vietnam experienced civilian artists.)

Auggie Acuna, from CAT II (1966-67) illustrated how young and inexperienced these artists were when he wrote: "My ability was self-taught. I never took more than one art class in college . . . My exposure to my fellow team members and their various art techniques was a great learning experience for me . . . My artwork was spontaneous because I didn't have any hang-ups brought on by any earlier (training). I didn't tell my other team members that I had never had any formal art instruction, especially since I was Team leader. I just looked over their shoulders a lot and learned how to work with all types of medium." Artists were allowed complete freedom as to subject matter and were encouraged to use individual and unique styles. Another former Vietnam combat artist was Phil Garner (CAT V 1967-68) who had been drafted. About his freedom to express himself as a soldier-artist he said, "As a military artist, I was allowed a great deal of creative freedom. And, of course, I didn't have to support myself, so in some ways it was a much more liberal situation than what I was to find later as a freelance media contributor." This was the essence of the program: Rotating teams of young soldier artists who, at times, risked their lives in the war-torn jungles and fields of Vietnam to record their experiences for the annals of Army history.


  • On January 14, 1970, the members of Vietnam Combat Art Team IX, the last U.S. Army art team to set foot in Vietnam, disbanded.
  • Like members of eight other Army soldier art teams before them, they left their sketchbooks and paintings of war-torn Vietnam behind and quietly returned to their respective military units scattered throughout the world or were re-assigned.
  • Talent and chance had brought more than 40 young soldiers together for a common purpose: To be artists day in and day out for 120 days and to translate their personal Vietnam experiences as soldiers into art.
  • They did their jobs well.
  • All of the artists were exposed to the inherent dangers of being in a war zone. While visiting units in the fields of Vietnam, they encountered difficult conditions and some had to deal with life-threatening incidents. None were wounded or killed.
  • Individuals on each of the teams came together as strangers and departed as friends with a bond difficult to explain to anyone who did not share this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
  • The post-Vietnam era destiny of these soldier artists varied as they went on to establish and nurture families and careers. Some continued successfully as artists, some became art teachers; some laid down their paintbrushes and found careers outside the field of art. Some have died, and the whereabouts of others is unknown. No matter their post-Vietnam destiny, these formerly young soldier artist can echo words written by Harold G. Moore and Joseph Galloway for the title of their book We Were Soldiers Once. . . And Young.

They can proudly say "We Were Artists Once . . . And Soldiers." Jim Pollock (CAT IV 1967), U.S. Library of Congress Presentation, July 15, 2003, Mary Pickford Theater, Sponsored by Library of Congress Professional Association (LCPA) Veterans Forum

U. S. Army Official Documents About Vietnam And Art Combat Art Program

Circular 28-30 Announcement of U.S. Army Vietnam Combat Artist Program for FY 1968 including overview and application instructions. http://pie.midco.net/vietwarart/catext01/cafact01.html

Combat Art Program Fact Sheet U.S. Army Vietnam Combat Artist Program fact sheet dated 15 July, 1967. http://pie.midco.net/vietwarart/catext01/cafact06.html

USARV Memorandum 860-1 Official USARV Memorandum 860-1--Historical Activities of US Army Combat Artist Teams in Vietnam Dated 10 July 1967. http://pie.midco.net/vietwarart/catext01/cafact07.html

Vietnam Combat Artist Program Standing Operating Procedure (SOP) http://pie.midco.net/vietwarart/catext01/cafact02.html

Combat Art Security Rules Health Hazards in Vietnam and Personal Security Rules directed to Vietnam Combat Artists. http://pie.midco.net/vietwarart/catext01/cafact04.html

Duty Hints in FAQ Form Duty in Vietnam/some helpful hints and general information sheet-for newcomers to Republic of South Vietnam. (Publication is in a frequently asked question format). http://pie.midco.net/vietwarart/catext01/cafact03.html

Letter Orders 7-76 This is copy of official Letter Orders 7-76 dated 27 July, 1967 that authorized temporary duty as Combat Artist to Jim Pollock. All Soldier Combat Artists received similar temporary duty orders and travel orders. http://pie.midco.net/vietwarart/catext01/cafact05.html

They can proudly say "We Were Artists Once . . And Soldiers."

Jim Pollock (CAT IV 1967) U.S. Library of Congress Presentation, July 15, 2003, Mary Pickford Theater, Sponsored by Library of Congress Professional Association (LCPA) Veterans Forum