Excerpted from A Soldier's Sketchbook by Joseph Farris. Copyright © 2011 by Joseph Farris. Excerpted by permission of National Geographic, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Q&A with Joseph Farris, author of “Soldier’s Sketchbook”
Q: Your parents saved hundreds of letters and illustrations that you made during the war. Why did you decide to publish them now, more than 60 years later?
A: I didn't plan to publish them. I hadn't revisited the letters and drawings in almost 60 years -- I couldn't get myself to -- but around 2004, I realized I was nearing the inevitable end of my life and decided to make a scrapbook for my family so that they would know what I went through. Susan Hitchcock [the book’s editor], who is my sister-in-law's step-daughter, happened to be visiting and when I showed her the scrapbook, she said it should be published. To my great and delicious surprise, it has.
Q: Was art therapeutic for you during the war? How so?
A: I drew because I always drew, long before I went into the army. Since I enjoyed drawing, it might be considered therapeutic, but it was just a natural source of communication for me.
Q: Do you have a favorite cartoon from your time serving overseas?
A: Perhaps the corny cartoon, shown in the book, that appeared in the service newspaper The Stars and Stripes. It was my first and only published work at that time.
Q: You're a cartoonist, and a funny guy! How were you able to maintain that sense of humor during the war?
A: Of course I wasn't a cartoonist or anything else at that time, since I had just graduated from high school. I was quite a serious person and my sense of humor started to blossom, I suspect, to counter the fears and horrors of war.
Q: With email and Facebook, it's now much easier for soldiers abroad to communicate with home than it was when you went to war. Is that an advantage or a disadvantage for today's soldiers?
A: I imagine it's a mixed blessing. It's wonderful to see and hear from your loved ones but I wonder if it makes homesickness greater and the contrast between the home front and the war zone almost unbearable.
Q: What do you hope the children and grandchildren of WWII veterans will learn from reading your letters?
A: I hope they will have a greater understanding of what the word "war" means. It's not a fun adventure. It should be an absolute last solution to solving problems.
Q: Do you have any advice for children who want to talk to their grandparents about their experiences during the war, but aren't sure how to bring it up?
A: Some veterans I know find it extremely difficult to converse about their war experiences and I have always respected their reticence. It may be too painful for them to return to that part of their life. A child might tell their grandparents of their interest in that seminal event and perhaps open an avenue for the veteran to share their memories.