In his Spotsylvania, Virginia studio, former Marine Corps combat artist Kristopher Battles added a stroke of paint to a Marine Corps Reservist's Gulf War-era helmet. On the 6-foot by 4-foot canvas before him, the Gulf War Marine and his fellow service men and women from 1916 through the present were coming to life, preparing to hand the Marine colors to the reservist of the next 100 years.
July 18, 2016 - Kristopher Battles, a veteran Marine combat artist, works on the painting he was commissioned to paint for the Centennial celebration of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves in his Spotsylvania, VA studio. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Adele Uphaus-Conner)
“They answered the call,” Battles said of the Marine Corps Reserves. “They played a big role in several of the wars in which the U.S. was victorious. They bring a skill set from the civilian world to active duty.”
Battles, who served as a Marine Corps reservist for 10 years, was commissioned by U.S. Marine Corps Reserve (USMCR) earlier this year to complete a painting celebrating the command's centennial. On August 29, 1916, with U.S. involvement in World War I looking increasingly likely, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Naval Appropriations Act of 1916, establishing the USMCR. The organization grew from 35 Marines in 1916 to 108,000 today.
The oil painting depicts Marines in the uniform of each war in which reservists served: World War I, World War II, Korea, the Persian Gulf War, and the Global War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan (they were not called into active duty during the Vietnam War).
During World War II, reserve Marines made up 70 percent of the 520,000 Marines fighting in the Pacific. During the Korean War, reserve Marines were recalled to assist in the landing at Inchon and other battles, comprising 50 percent of the 1st Marine Division's ranks. And since 9/11, more than 83,800 reserve Marines have been mobilized as both warriors and peacekeepers in the desert conflicts.
“I was happy to be a reservist,” Battles said. “It was the best of both worlds. I could go to school, be an artist, and be a Marine.”
He chose the Marine Reserves because as a young man, he was both “a history buff and a patriot.”
“I felt it was the best way to serve,” he said. Even after he left the service, the Marines played a big part in his life. His first date with his wife, in 1999, was to the Marine Corps Embassy Security Guards' birthday ball in Haiti, where he was on a missionary trip. In 2005, he found out about the Marine Corps' combat art program and decided to re-enlist in the Reserves and be mobilized to active duty as a combat artist.
He was deployed to Iraq twice and to Afghanistan, Haiti, and the Philippines. In April of 2014 he left the service and now works as a civilian artist for the Navy.
Battles said that coming up with a single image to represent 100 years of the USMCR was difficult. He sent several sketches to the command for its input. He originally had the Marines passing off an M16 rifle to their successors, but he decided to replace the rifle with the Marine Corps flag.
“The colors represent more than just the martial part,” he explained. “The colors represent tradition, history, heritage. The Marine Corps definitely believes in passing on its culture and values to the next generation.”
To prepare for the painting, present-day reservists posed in the costumes of their predecessors (dressed by veteran Marine gunnery sergeant and costume expert Tom Williams and his company, United States Marine Corps Historical Company) and Battles photographed them. He printed the photographs out in large scale and pinned them to his easel to figure out the layout. Then he painted from the photographs.
“This is the largest painting I've ever done on an easel,” Battles said.
USMCR requested a bigger size because they intend the finished painting to hang in the command's headquarters in New Orleans, Louisiana. Battles said that painting on a larger scale has presented some challenges—figuring out an appropriate stance, sore arms from using them more than the wrists, moving back and forth to get a good perspective on the whole painting—but they are challenges he welcomed.
When the painting is complete next month, a custom crate will be built for it and it will be flown in a military aircraft to Louisiana.
Cori Parker, USMCR Centennial Project lead, said that art has a place in a commemoration because it transcends words. “Being a Marine and all that it encompasses is hard to articulate. It is more of a feeling that resides in a Marine that includes: toughness, grit, camaraderie, loyalty, resiliency, and esprit de corps. For every veteran Marine, their experiences in the Marine Corps are chiseled into their soul. Having an original piece of art created for this commemoration will make this 100-year milestone memorable, and serve to inspire Marines for the next 100 years,” she said.
“The Marine Corps has always felt strongly about its traditions and it has a tradition of making art ...There is something about the artist's hand that makes the work more alive. A painting focuses and distills, humanizes and communicates. It has value both as an historic object and as a piece of art,” Battles said.
The USMCR centennial will be celebrated through events planned by reserve units across the country, Parker stated.
“It is [USMCR Commanding General] Lt. Gen. Rex McMillian's intent to showcase the strong history of support that Reserve Marines have provided to the active forces and their ability to be ready to fight tonight,” Cori Parker added.
By U.S. Marine Corps Adele Uphaus-Conner
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