A skinny, young sailor reported in to the hot and humid Naval Training Camp at the Charleston Navy Yard on 23 August 1918. Being from New Rochelle, New York, the Lowcountry South Carolina weather must have been a eye opening experience for the young artist.
Norman Rockwell was twenty-three years old when he attempted to enlist in the United States Navy in 1918. He was underweight on his first attempt and so he had to resort to the “tried and true” method recommended by recruiters of stuffing himself with bananas, donuts and all the water he could swallow. Shortly afterward, Norman was officially a sailor!
His original orders were to take him to a base in Ireland, where he would paint insignia on airplanes, but a German submarine off the East coast detoured his ship to Charleston, SC. While awaiting a duty assignment, several personnel noticed his portraits drawn while waiting and he was assigned to draw cartoons and making layouts for Afloat and Ashore, the Charleston Navy Yard’s official publication. The work only took him two days a week and the rest of the time he could work on anything he wanted as long as it related to the Navy. Below is the cover for the Saturday Evening Post published 18 January 1919.
Seaman Rockwell survived the 1918 “Spanish Flu” pandemic while stationed at Charleston and eventually moved his studio on the base to the Commanding Officer’s site of employment on the USS Hartford, Admiral Farragut’s famous Civil War ship…”Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”
Not long after his transfer to Commander Ellis’s staff, the war ended on 12 November 1918 and Norman Rockwell found himself discharged from the Navy and a civilian once again…More on Rockwell and the Boy Scouts on Friday…