Biographical / Historical
The Stephen Douglas Collection consists of eighty-one envelopes that Mr. Douglas mailed to his family from U.S. Army posts in the Pacific during World War II. Mr. Douglas decorated the front of the envelopes with watercolors depicting the life of a GI in the South Pacific.
Mr. Douglas grew up in Wewoka, Oklahoma and trained for one year at the Art Institute of Chicago. He then worked in the Oklahoma oil fields and sold paintings of scenes of oil production. He was drafted in the Army in 1942 and served as a corporal with the 864th Engineering Aviation Battalion, Army Corps of Engineers until war's end in 1945. After mustering out he worked thirty-three years in the Postal Service, retired and continued to paint.
Corporal Douglas began mailing the illustrated letters from Geiger Field, Washington, where his unit trained, then from Los Angeles where it shipped out. By the time the men arrived at Townsville, Australia in September 1943, US forces had already won the battle of Guadalcanal and were occupying much of the Solomon Islands. The rest of the Southwest Pacific including New Guinea had yet be taken before the Japanese could be driven out of the Pacific. His unit's mission was to build and maintain the airstrips and facilities that the allies would use as they advanced on Japan. The 864th moved through various bases in New Guinea then to Cape Gloucester in New Britain, and finally to Luzon in the Philippines.
Using a child's watercolor set, he captured both the deprivations of GI life at these bases and the romance of the islands with their colorful natives, lush foliage, lagoons and tropical moons. Some of the illustrations depict battle scenes involving aircraft and ships, others provide commentary on Army food, housing and recreation, or the lack thereof. They are all humorous or upbeat. The US aircraft or ships are always depicted on the envelopes defeating the enemy and one is a fanciful illustration of Hitler and Tojo on the run. But only fifteen of the eighty-one depict planes, ships, guns or fighting, and most of those are sketches of guard duty. The rest show GI's successfully coping with such mundane activities as laundry, showers, and latrines and overcoming boredom. Illustrating the envelopes was his way of escaping the tedium.