Among the various paintings and drawings done by Russell Crosby is the painting which relates to his time aboard the USS DAVIDSON. It was done in egg tempera a couple of years ago and is titled “USS DAVIDSON DE-1045 on Naval Gunfire Support at night in Viet Nam”. It has garnered some interesting comments when viewed by others some of which I would like to share with you.
As background, the Davidson was involved in many duties during her various Westpac cruises. I made the first two cruises aboard, the first being in 1967, as a BT. During that time the ship performed plane guard duties for various attack carriers as well as for her primary carrier assignment which was ASW duties with the USS Hornet CVS-12. Davidson also performed many naval gunfire support assignments, many of which were at night in Viet Nam. Most things that occur at night tend to have an increased element of drama, danger, and suspense and the firing of our 5-inch mounts was no exception. The guns seemed awesome and likely seemed unrelenting to the enemy as well. The blasts from our guns and the sound reverberating throughout the ship left a definite impression. Many of the river boat crews would venture out to visit us at different times. I recall seeing the speedy swift boats which were always impressive to me. The Riverine sailors who manned them seemed to be “swashbucklers and real fighting Navy”. They were the stuff of which movies are made.
Now, so many years later, I decided to paint a picture depicting the Davidson and those boats together in a setting which would be representative of Navy duty in Viet Nam. Naval gunfire support duties seemed most representative of this time. Not having a particular boat in mind, I just grabbed a number out of my head, PCF-47, which is the year I was born, 1947. I didn’t give the number any more thought as it would be an accurate boat number for those years in Viet Nam for those boats. I tried to pay homage to the boats and the Davidson equally in this painting. I chose night time as it was a dramatic background for depiction of a war scene. I finished the painting and was pleased with it, so showed it to my dearest critic, my wife Belinda, for her summation as to the success or failure of my mission.
She liked it, but her first comment was, “Why did you put the Statue of Liberty in a scene in Viet Nam?” I said, “What are you talking about?” She said, “ Right there… behind the river boat… the Statue of Liberty.” After taking a second look I saw it, and was somewhat surprised, as my intent was to paint a star shell in the night providing illumination. I had no intention of depicting the Statue of Liberty, but after thinking about it, it actually seemed kind of appropriate. We were doing our part trying to help secure freedom for another nation.
Some time later, after putting my art work relating to the Davidson on the website, I got an email from another sailor who served on the DAVIDSON in the early 70’s. He also served on the swift boats in Viet Nam. His name is Ben Foreman and he has contributed to our site. His comment about this painting was, “I remember the night you depicted in that painting. That was the night the 47 boat was sunk. I was on the 20 boat along with her!” Talk about some strange irony, you now have it. This scene was painted some 30 years after the war. My intent was to depict a scene that would be representative of the many nights destroyers and river boats fought together and I had no idea there was actually a riverboat 47 which was involved in a night action like the one I depicted in this painting.
These things may be just some strange coincidences or maybe not. I like to think this painting was meant to be. It perhaps serves a special purpose in honoring the many unsung Navy officers and sailors who were a vital part of the Viet Nam war and who have helped preserve life, liberty and the pursuit of the American way of life. You be the judge, but now you know the rest of the story behind this painting.
The original painting was sent to Lt. Marcelo De Sousa, who was so helpful and kind to all of us at the DAVIDSON association this past year. He is a lieutenant commander in the Brazilian Navy and has been aboard the Davidson, (Paraiba). He holds a special place in his heart for sailors and their ships, having gone the extra mile to help us. He exemplifies the meaning of SHIPMATE. As it turned out, his father was a career sailor in the Brazilian Navy and take a guess what his job was… you guessed it ..he was a BT.
If you choose to purchase a copy of this print, when you look at it remember the officers and men of the DAVIDSON fondly. Each has given a part of themselves and time out of their lives away from their families to preserve and support the freedom of this wonderful country we enjoy today. Pass this print on to your family and tell them the story of the DAVIDSON, the many little destroyers like her, of the officers and young men who manned her and went to an unpopular war and tried to do their best. Because of generations of sailors such as these, and the generations of sailors yet to come, Americans and our country will live on in freedom forever.