US Army Quartermaster Foundation
Fort Lee, Virginia

Watson Painting

watson_painting.jpg (153640 bytes)

"The Congressional Medal of Honor Painting"
Artist: Gary S. Schofield
A depiction of the heroic actions of Private George Watson, 8 March 1943
The original painting, along with Private Watson's Medal of Honor are on display at the U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum, Fort Lee, Virginia

Gary Schofield's dedication speech at the Quartermaster Museum:

Distinguished guests

I am honored and very pleased to see that my painting will reside here in this fine museum where it will help to inspire stories about the past that tell us who we are in the present.

Private George Watson was serving with the 29th Quartermaster Regiment as it interlaced the vast Pacific with supply lines essential for the struggle of the Second World War. He was himself following an ancient tradition as old as Earth History. In ancient times the leader who could assemble, organize and feed an army of great size was usually victorious. To sustain and feed an army of twice the size of your enemy in the field was as important as any battle tactic. If we were standing here watching Xerxes' army march with their baggage train, wagons, support, and entertainers, on their way to invade Greece in 480BC we would be standing here for three days. Consider Alexander the Great 150 years later traveling back the other way with his miles of baggage train conquering the logistics of marching an army through a foreign land. His spectacular victories of Issus, and Guagamela pale to the tragedy of losing his lines of supply. After wandering through parts of India Alexander's army mutinied. He turned westward and built a fleet in the Persian Gulf hoping to supply his army from the coast but his march through the desert of Gedrosia lost him thousands of his men, nearly three quarters of his army.

Even our understanding of military strategy is clouded unless supply is considered. To have your supply cut may mean annihilation. So a maneuver to cut supply can even force a disadvantaged enemy to fight. It may not sound as dramatic as Jackson falling on the Union flank at Chancellorsville but it is as powerful.

Napoleon did exactly that to the Austrians, out maneuvered them and forced them to fight but it was he that found himself in a burning Moscow his army unsupplied on Russian scorched earth, soon to be destroyed.

Rommel in the desert of North Africa had his supply line harassed by the allies because he did not control Malta and this is what allowed Montgomery to attack and win at El Alamein. Have you ever wondered why Patton had this great thirst for fuel on his dramatic sweep through Germany. His supply through the invasion beachheads of Normandy had balanced ammunition and fuel in proportion to what was the expectation of need. The overwhelming victory at Falaise meant he didn't need the ammo he needed the fuel!

This brings us to the 8 March 1943

There is a special place in our country's heart for those who make the supreme sacrifice in war. For their loved ones and comrades they risked all, but with sad irony, lost their own immortality. For, in Private Watson's case, there were no descendants or even family to proudly receive his Congressional Medal of Honor awarded in 1997.

Early in 1942, a three-pronged Japanese Invasion swept through the Dutch East Indies. Twenty-one Dutch vessels had taken refuge in Australian ports after the fall of Java and the Dutch Government, intent on keeping its vessels in operation, charted, among others, the Saint Jacob to the United States Army. Private George Watson was on that steamer a fateful year later as the bombs fell, ripping open her deck. You can still see her today lying remarkably intact, her rudder still turned hard to starboard 120 feet below the surface near Porlock Harbour, New Guinea. Below the murky water and resident Gray Reef Sharks you can make out the black and white coral trees intertwined with her two pounder stern gun.

What depths and caliber is also contained within the human spirit for Private Watson, without regard for his own safety, spent the last precious moments of his own life assisting those who could not swim, helping those to safety and makeshift rafts, and assuring others in the chaos. Without a life jacket himself, he was a life jacket to others but could not save himself as the steamer, built before the Titanic, drew him down towards the same grave.

In the painting itself I have tried to show the intensity of the moments of which we can only hear stories. The three anguished figures draw our eyes towards the struggling ship, her hulk shuddering at the misfortunes of war. The smoke represents the veil across eternity for Private Watson and the stars indeed are the Southern Cross. I have lit Private Watson from behind so that the light from the explosions highlights the spray around the comrades in arms and he is the only person looking at the viewer in a way that his eyes will search and follow you.

I believe this image illustrates the universality of our Comrades in Arms. Our services are linked with a bond of honor and self-sacrifice that transcends all endeavors and is painted in human compassion. Thank you.

Return To: Watson Medal of Honor Page

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