The Battalion Artist explores the three years, three months, and three days of Nat Bellantoni’s life on the Pacific front in World War II. He had known since childhood that he wanted to be—that he in fact was—an artist. When he packed his seabag and took leave of his family and his sweetheart to go to war, he knew that the best way to manage the narrative of his life and to cope with the ups and downs of his feelings was to create images—visual records that spoke of what he felt, as well as what he saw.

In this stunning book filled with authentic World War II images—many in full color—we see and feel the intensity of wartime life through the eyes of a talented young artist who was also a US Navy Seabee. Natale Bellantoni, a young art student from Boston, sailed across the Pacific in 1943–45 and returned home with a sea chest of art and photographs documenting his experiences in New Caledonia, New Guinea, the Admiralty Islands, and Okinawa. His subject matter was his daily life: endless weeks at sea, harbors and ships, men at work, airstrips, the local countryside, and the view of enemy planes overhead at night from his fox hole. Now collected in a lavishly illustrated volume, his watercolors, sketches, and photographs offer a window onto one of the most significant moments in American history. The Battalion Artist explores the World War II experiences of Nat Bellantoni, but it reflects the story of an entire generation.

About the Artist

Nat Bellantoni was born on December 21, 1920, into a large and loving family of Italian immigrants in Boston’s South End. Two decades later, he found his plans to become an artist derailed by the cataclysm of World War II. Instead of finishing Mass College of Art and launching a career as a commercial artist, he found himself in the South Pacific, assigned to the United States Navy’s 78th Construction Battalion. Nat lived and worked on several different islands; his longest assignment was in the Admiralties, amidst jungle heat and humidity, bugs and snakes, tropical diseases, monsoon rains, and native volunteers who had all too recently been head hunters.

Always gregarious, with a ready smile and genuine interest in the people and events around him, Nat made it his mission to document his experiences. He sketched. He painted. And he saved the flotsam and jetsam of his sojourn.

Once the war was won, Nat returned home, eager to resume the life he had left behind three years earlier. He married his sweetheart, raised a family, pursued and succeeded in a career as Art Director in a prestigious downtown Boston firm. His boxes of wartime memorabilia were stored away, seemingly forgotten. Until… his children were grown, his mortgage was paid, and he began to reconnect with old friends and old memories. At age 91, Nat dreamed of sharing his wartime story. This book is the fulfillment of that dream.


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