About Tyree: From the US Marine Corps to a Professional Artist
Ralph Burke Tyree returned from the island of Samoa and the World War II battle front in April of 1944. He was now a corporal in the US Marine Corps, the highest rank he would achieve. He was first stationed at Camp Elliot, then the Marine Corps Depot in San Diego and finally to the Marine base at Camp Pendleton, near Oceanside, California. There as the resident artist and still working for his old friend General Charles Price he would paint a large rendition of the flag raising on Iwo Jima just months after that horrific battle took place in February 1945.
Tyree and Margo would continue their long romance after being separate for years. He had showered her with pencil and watercolor paintings (“ten thousand word” love letters) twice monthly while on Samoa and then from San Diego bases. He married his high school sweetheart Margo on June 27, 1945.
The war of the Pacific with Japan would end in early August 1945 with the dropping of two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tyree and his new bride would remain in the Oceanside area near his Marine Camp until being honorably discharged from the Marine Corps on January 24, 1946. He could now get on with a career as an artist and begin raising a family. The travels to the South Pacific and all the “practice” portrait work of painting officers and their loved ones would propel him into his professional career as a superb portrait artist of the South Pacific peoples.
Read about Tyree’s middle years in the Marine Corps here.
Read more about about Tyree: A Marine and Artist.
And read about his early years here.
Tyree and US Marine Corps Artists of World War II
With the start of WWII, the Marine Corps leadership requested that General Robert Denig head the Division of Public Relations to promote Marine activities in the South Pacific. He assembled a staff of correspondents, photographers and artists. Some of those included were: John Fabion, Theo Hios, Donald Dickson, Hugh Laidman, and Harry Andrew Jackson, all who would become quite well known. Also soon invited was Private Ralph Burke Tyree who was stationed in Samoa at the time. In 1943-44 the Marines’ art was exhibited in San Francisco at the de Young museum, in New York at the Museum of Modern Art and the Scholastic in Philadelphia. None of Tyree paintings from these exhibits have been retained. Tyree went on to send some pencil drawings to his future wife Margo which have been included in the book Tyree, Artist of the South Pacific (sign-up for a notification of this book release on our home page, here).
In 1943 the book Marines at War edited by Aimee Crane was published with the list of artists including Tyree. General Denig’s introduction stated “They are Marines first, and artists, or anything else, second. Every man a fighting man… No artist was enlisted as a specialist. He has to pass the Corps’ rigid entrance requirement, and then prove that he was physically and psychologically able to undergo the basic training program that steels all recruits of the Corps for combat. These men are sound, red-blooded American men, anxious to devote their talents as well as well as their hearts and muscles to the winning of the war.” The talented and athletic Tyree fit this description.
This WWII book’s editor Aimee Crane said of Tyree: “His unusual pencil technique is ideally suited to catch some of the softer qualities of South Pacific atmosphere, reminding us that these islands, now a bloody battlefield, were once the destinations of dreamers.” How prophetic were her words. After the war and for the next thirty plus years, Tyree’s paintings would depict the softer and sensual beauty of the South Pacific and its people. He would paint thousands of pieces of art, initially oils on board, and later, oils on black velvet.
Read More about about Tyree: A Marine and Artist here.
And read about his early years here.
On December 7, 1941 the Japanese surprised the United States with an all-out aerial attack on the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii. For America, World War II began. Anger and patriotism drove thousands of Americans to join the service immediately. Ralph was 20 years old, and like many Americans passionate about his country. He joined the Marines via the recruiting depot in San Francisco on January 27, 1942 ̶ a mere 7 weeks after Pearl Harbor. Tyree was assigned to the 2nd Recruit Battalion, Recruit Depot at the Marine Corps Base in San Diego. Private Tyree was infantry rifleman and a member of the 22nd regiment of the 6th division just before his departure to Samoa in July, 1942.
On July 19, 1942 Private Tyree and his fellow Marines of the 22nd regiment set sail on the SS Lurline for America Samoa in the South Pacific arriving there on August 1, 1942. With the start of WWII in early 1942 General Charles Price was placed in command of the 2nd Marine Division for the defense of American Samoa. This base would be the staging center for Pacific Theater of Operations of the US Marine Corps. The Marines recognized Tyree’s artistic talents and reassigned him on October 7, 1942 from the infantry to Headquarters and Security unit (Intel) of the 22nd regiment and with his specialty was changed to “Draftsman” for making maps. Tyree would remain as a “Draftsman” until August 10, 1943 when his specialty title was changed to “Sign Painter“. Tyree’s artistic abilities soon caught the eye of his commander, General Charles Price. And as of November 1943 title was changed to the most unusual title of “General Price’s Portrait Painter”. Under Price’s orders Tyree had several responsibilities: creating morale boosting murals in the officer’s mess hall, as well as, other artistic endeavors such as illustrating menus, and painting portraits of the officers and their wives.
Tyree quickly improved his portrait painting using his officers and their loved ones as subjects. He set up a studio so that he could jump to his general’s demands and wishes regarding. .The young artist was pampered with gallons of paint and art equipment, flown in from Honolulu. He saw beauty where there was so much destruction and death. Many of his war related paintings have not been found, probably lost. We know these works were exhibited with other US Marine artists at the de Young museum in San Francisco (1944 & 1945) as well as an exhibit in Philadelphia.
Interestingly, in 1943 a young naval officer stationed in the Pacific, James Michener, was asked by his naval superiors to investigate possible fraud by the military leaders on America Samoa. Michener’s experiences there with the natives and on the other nearby islands inspired him to write Tales of the South Pacific which he published in 1947. This book would win the Pulitzer Prize and later become a successful Broadway musical and movie (South Pacific, 1958). It is fascinating that James Michener, the sailor, and Ralph Burke Tyree, the Marine, began their respective artistic careers from these remote islands of Samoa. Whether these two young World War II servicemen ever crossed paths while together on America Samoa is not known.
Private Tyree, US Marine Corps, starts painting a large mural in officer mess hall in Samoa