Welcome back to another edition of ww2homefront.com's Treasure of the Month. We have scoured the auction and retail landscape around the world once again to bring you a fabulous collectible from that legendary decade of the 1940's. We braved those wilds only to find the landscape barren on this outing. This marvelous collectible comes direct from the basecamp of ww2homefront.com.
This edition we bring to you a most rare find. During the war, T.J. Costa was a sergeant based in the South Pacific in the Army Air Corps with the 310th Bombardment wing. Each time he wrote his girl back home, Miss Virginia Wrozina in New Jersey, he would draw a pen illustration of himself and his life on this Pacific island. Every letter he sent was saved by Miss Wrozina.. One year ago, after almost sixty yearsafter the war and long after the death of Mr. Costa she released this grouping of hand-drawn letters to an auction company for sale. ww2homefront.com was there and successfully bid the lot.
A picture paints a thousand words. This set of 38 hand drawn covers chronicles life on an island in the South Pacific during WWII that could never be duplicated in text. Remember also that all letters were censored by army and navy examiners so that sensitive, potentially compromising information did not find its way through the U.S. mail. However hand drawn pics were harder to censor and consequently more information can be gleaned. This grouping of covers perhaps singularly unique forms a historical journal for the ages.
Finding a homefront item(s) that successfully links homefront with frontline is very uncommon. This is one of the few homefront items in our archive that effectively does this. I have photographed the majority of the covers in the set and have written comments beneath each cover to help pick out detail you might have otherwise missed. This set of covers goes into the Dream Gallery following this posting.
Cover #1: Here we introduce T.J. Costa in a pen drawn self portrait. In the bulk of these drawings he has no shirt on reflecting the intense heat of the South Pacific and understanding of his officers for the need to deviate from proper military attire. He is almost always unshaven reflecting the remoteness of his locale, rationing of razor blades and officer's allowance for deviation from usual attire and grooming. Here he is washing his clothes in a stream abundant with fish. Facilities for washing of clothes were primitive and the boiling cauldrons were sometimes not utilized.
Cover #2: On this cover we get a clear look at the Army Examiner censor marking. Most were pasted across the front of the cover. This one fortunately was one of the only ones with the marking on the back. Costa is seated at a table losing at poker with a native. Tucked into the waistline of the native are a few aces indicating that they picked the game up very quickly and did whatever it took to win. Costa is losing his shirt. Note both are topless reflecting the heat. Also note the Bully Beef crates being used as improvised furniture. Obviously furniture was hard to come by and supply crates were use as improvised furniture.
Cover #3: Here he trades with a native for pearls and a rudimentary comb. Pearls were abundant in the South Pacific and were a major trade item with the natives. Costa holds a rucksack with Camel cigarettes, Bully Beef, and canned salmon. Fresh meat was obviously a premium and GI's lived mostly on canned meats and dehydrated veggies. This cover also indicates there was a black market between natives and GI's.
Cover #4: Here a native woman is seated on Swift Bully Beef crates. This indicates there were two manufacturers of Bully Beef; Armour and Swift. Costa has broken hearted amorous intentions. Clearly she is not interested. Note the extraordinarliy long fingernails on the woman. Note Costa's hot weather GI ballcap and waist canteen.
Cover #5: Our GI is seated on a crate of supplies here including Armour Bully Beef, dehydrated eggs, dehydrated tomatoes, dehydrated carrots and beans. He is calling for a finger bowl from a native servant. Note the crate furniture and army mess kit and army utensils. This cover implies that natives were utilized as servants on this island in the South Pacific. Whether they were paid, forced or were just being hospitable is unclear.
Cover #6: Here Costa tries to barter with a native chief for the woman behind the chief. Perhaps Costa's failed direct attempts to bed this native down forced him to try a different approach. Here cultural differences must have played a role. The chief looks less than interested despite knife, scissors, money and fabric being offered. The "No Soap" comment to the upper right may have been a plea for a care package of soap which must have been rationed and hard to get.
Cover #7: A native girl appears topless bearing more than fresh fruit for Costa seated atop a Bully Beef crate. Note the tent in the lower left bacvkground. Evidently tents AND huts were utilized.
Cover #8: Here Costa lounges in the lap of luxury seved by two topless natives. He dines on bananas, fresh fruit and who knows what else... He seems most content.
Cover #9: Well it appears here that Costa got his wish and more !!! Having bedded down one of the natives he is on the run from a woman bearing his child. As he shirks his responsibility we can conclude that sex was at least in this case, no more than a need that needed to be fulfilled on this remote outpost. We can also conclude that Costa was on this island for at least 9 months. As an editorial note, perhaps Costa should have practiced a bit of censorship of his own. I sure wouldn't be sending this stuff back to my girl in the states. Not exactly a morale booster on the homefront. I imagine there were many many many Amerasians born as a result of these circumstances.
Cover #10: This cover is one of his more complex drawings. Here he stands at the foot of a scrolled map of the Pacific theatre while a seated native man listens attentively. The Korean peninsula is clearly delineated as is Japan. Costa points to Japan and at the native who in turn points to himself. It is not clear to me what the implication is here. The native is seated on a crate of C rations with the weight 100# listed. Bulletins of war news are posted behind the native. Note too the USGPO malaria poster posted behind Costa. A GI footlocker is seen left along with a typewriter. This appears to be a command center of which natives were permitted entry. It also implies some rudimentary understanding of language between the GI's and the natives.
Cover #11: Costa is seen here fishing with a native with a primitive lashed trident style spear. Fish must have been quite abundant to fish successfully in this manner. The loin cloth clad native holds the days catch. Note the tattoo on the right arm of the native. GI's must have learned to fish like natives as a source of fresh meat.
Cover #12: Costa has lost his buddy Joe in the dense jungle. Behind him a fanged serpent with a belly full of struggling Joe, licks his chops. Here we get a glimpse of the hazards and reality of life in the South Pacific. Dense jungle, snakes, heat etc..
Cover #13: Here we discover why Costa preferred washing his clothes in the stream. He stands by a boiling cauldron in the baking South Pacific sun washing cloths. Daily chores as underscored by this cover must have been arduous in this environment. Perhaps the streams dried up in the dry season so no other choice but to boil clothes was had. Note Costa's classic herringbone twill trousers with pleated hip pockets. His E-5 buck sergeant stripes are clearly visible here. Note the clothes drying on the clothesline in the right background.
Cover #14: Our favorite GI goes on leave in this cover. With several bottles of beer and assorted liquors at his feet and in his hand and a woman under both arms he sings and hiccups yippee. His tie is loosley pulled down from his collar. Behind him at left a large breasted woman is fleeing an amorous GI also on leave. Note the GI lying dead drunk on the bottom right under the smiling sun. Leaves then were much the same as they always have been: girls, booze, singing, fun.
Cover #15: Here Costa and one of his buddies are inebriated having drunk some kind of home-brewed alcoholic beverage called jungle juice likely fermented from some native fruit. They stand singing and hiccuping as one GI sleeps soundly drunk bottle still in hand. It is not surprising on a remote Pacific island that alcohol provided needed release and recreation. But it was hard to come by and so fermentation was utilized.
Cover #16: Costa has obviously had a problem with theft of his alcohol, food and personal effects. He has rigged and booby-trapped a burglar-proof safe to prevent theft. Theft from natives or fellow GI's is unclear. His GI cot is seen here with helmet, trousers and shirt in the background hanging. Effects were probably hung to keep them off the ground from centipedes, snakes, scorpions etc..
Cover #17: Costa and a new arrival stand ankle deep in the rain as Costa exclaims, "Wait till the rainy season". Obviously rain was common in the South Pacific contributing to the humidity but the rainy season was even worse. Conditions were obviously extreme. Costa wears a pith helmet which was a common issue as a sun helmet for South Pacific duty.
Cover #18: Here Costa and a buddy are on a dead run to go watch talkies, slang for non-silent movies. Boredom must have been an enemy as well on the island and any entertainment was a welcome relief. Note Costa wears an AAF T-Shirt and carries a chair while his buddy has a crate for seating purposes.
Cover #19: Costa is prodded by fellow GI's to cast a vote for President. One yells Dewey and the other Roosevelt. This cover dates the collection to 1944 when if I'm not mistaken Dewey ran against Roosevelt. This was the same Dewey that later lost to Truman in that famous debocle of 1948. Nailed to a tree is a flyer telling to vote for Ted Costa as people's choice for mayor of a crossed out destination or the SW Pacific. Here we can identify T.J. Costa as Ted Costa. Note the early quill pen and ink bottle in this pre-ballpoint pen era.
Cover #20: Here Ted places a winning bet on a horse race in Hawaii. The radio operator morse codes in the bet and monitors the race via radio receiver. Gambling is one of the staples of GI life and is not surprising that they found a way to gamble on their remote island. Poker with the natives and each other undoubtedly got old. Note the careful outline of a straw hut can be sen here implying both tents and indigenous housing were utilized.
Cover #21: Here Costa and his buddy are in the doldrums. They sit by a radio that tell that total victory is uncertain. A newspaper dated 1950 is on the table. The despair and loneliness and impatience for the end of the war must have been overwhelming at times.
Cover #22: Fresh meat has arrived and Costa carges across to get it tired of Bully Beef. Fresh meat was clearly a premium. Note he has a full beard here.
Cover #23: Once again our GI sits by a calender dated June 1950 reading a newspaper telling of no victory this year. His anger and depression are obvious. Note the GI lantern hanging on the pole; a rare 40's item indeed.
Cover #24: Here Costa recieves his pay shoveled into his helmet from the AAF kitty. Another GI stands by with a duffel bag. This implies that the perception was they got more money than they needed largely because there was nowhere to spend it. It also implies payment was somewhat imprecise.
Cover #25: Here Ted is seated writing a response to a letter and plagued by large and numerous mosquitos. Dirty Sons of Bitches can be discerned from his scribble. An Esquire magazine sits on the table. The insects must have been oppressive. And apparently they were able to receive magazines from the homefront.
From these 25 covers and from the remainder of the set we can conclude that life in the South Pacific during WWII was mostly a battle against the elements including snakes, mosquitoes, rain, heat, floods etc.. There was boredom and as a result servicemen resorted to whatever forms of stimulation they could find including sex, gambling and booze among others. There was interaction with the natives and they became allies to some degree. There was also trade.
Mr. Ted Costa has provided us a with an archive of life in the South Pacific told in a way that no film or letter can. His memories are now tucked away behind archival glass and acid free matte for eternity. The overall dimensions of the framed display are 32" x 49". Cost of the 38 covers was 1400.00 and framing was 600.00 by the Naked Wall in Santa Barbara, CA. The actual value then of this framed cover archive is 2000.00. It is one of our very best pieces.
We thank you for coming to ww2homefront.com's Treasure of the Month. Back into the Land Cruiser we go on safari for that big game homefront trophy that you crave. We'll see you next month with a beauty. Until then stay safe and stay alert on the new homefront and we'll see you then.
Good Luck. Good Hunting...