Iwo Jima 40th Anniversary Exhibit at the Cannon House Office Building, 1985

It’s amazing what you can find at work.

When you work for an organization that’s been around since the 1920s, you are bound to come across some really interesting items untouched over the years. We aren’t talking Holy Grail here, but interesting nonetheless. One such item popped up at the office this week:


The edges were well worn and smelled faintly of mildew. Whatever pile of papers and books stacked above it stayed that way for a number of years – Dust marks of a forgotten past once again uncovered under fluorescent light thirty years later.

Looking at the faded poster, I knew I had to find more information about the exhibit. D.C. is home to thousands of art exhibit openings. It is a rare occurrence, however, to hear about one held in Congressional offices.

The Island War
In honor of the fortieth anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima, a short art exhibition was held at the historic Cannon House Office Building in February-March 1985. The exhibit, titled “Island War: Marines in the Pacific,” drew from the collections of the Navy, Marine Corps, Army, and Coast Guard. Shown above is a framed poster promoting the exhibition. It officially opened on 19 February 1985, exactly forty years after the opening of hostilities at Iwo.

Events commemorating the anniversary of Iwo Jima like the Cannon Building exhibit were held around the country in February. Americans took a moment to reflect on the sacrifices of few for the benefit of so many. The majority of participation from veterans was in Washington, D.C. One day before the 40th anniversary of the landings at Iwo, a large ceremony was held at the Washington Cathedral. Over 350 combat veterans of the battle were present. A ceremonial wreathe laying at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington and a meeting of veterans with President Reagan on the anniversary date rounded out the Capitol’s main commemorative efforts.

There was no mention of the exhibit opening  in the long Washington Post article covering the Cathedral event and wreath laying. Only two short mentions in the “Museum and Galleries” section of the Post have the exhibit listed during the exhibit’s run in February and March 1985.

Marines in Cannon

Cannon House Office Building (LOC Image #LC-H824-T-1144-004)
Cannon House Office Building (LOC Image #LC-H824-T-1144-004)

Located at the intersection of First Street and New Jersey Avenue, SE DC (bounded by First and C Streets), the Cannon House Office Building is a historic piece of architecture within the United States Capitol Complex, complete with elegant Beaux-Arts architecture and coffered dome. The Cannon building was the first set of Congressional offices outside the U.S. Capitol. Completed in 1908, the building is named for former Republican Speaker of the House and outspoken Woodrow Wilson critic Joseph Gurney Cannon. The USMC Museums Branch responsible for coordinating the exhibit displayed the artwork around the building’s picturesque rotunda.

According to an article about the exhibit written by Colonel Brooke Nihart in Fortitudine, the Congressional Marines Breakfast viewed the exhibit opening on the morning of 19 February, composed of former Marines now working on Capitol Hill in various capacities from Senators to Capitol Police (breakfast meetings are still a regular occurrence today). In the evening, the DC Council of the Navy League held a small reception in the Cannon Building.

Instructions to a Patrol by Capt Donald L. Dickson, USMCR.USMC Combat Art Collection
Instructions to a Patrol by Capt Donald L. Dickson, USMCR. USMC Combat Art Collection

Unfortunately, “there was too little art done of that battle to mount a full scale show,” said Nihart. Marine participation in battles from Guadalcanal to Okinawa filled gaps in the historical timeline around the rotunda’s Corinthian columns. All in all, twelve Marine combat artists were represented in the exhibit.

Screencap from Fortitudine Magazine, 1985.
Screencap from Fortitudine Magazine, 1985.

Col. Nihart’s summary of the exhibit is brief and heartfelt. He called the engagement at Iwo “the toughest nut to crack” of any theater during World War II. Few would disagree. By the end of the 36-day battle, over 6,000 men were dead, including one Navy Escort Carrier sunk by kamikazes. Nihart knew well about the combat stress and fatigue shown in each painting. Colonel Nihart himself was a World War II and Korean War veteran who fought at Wake Island and Okinawa as a gunnery officer aboard USS Saratoga.

Nihart also remarked on the need for such an anniversary. Such an event seems odd, so close to the 50th in 1995. Why not wait for ten more years? Nihart noted that in ten years, he would “see only about half of today’s number.” Most of the Marines who fought at Iwo Jima were well into their sixties by the mid 1980s. Today, only a handful is still alive. Let’s hope their memory never remains as faded and weighted down as the poster I found on a short art exhibit inside the Capitol thirty years ago.

To all the men who fought and died on the sands of Iwo: Semper Fi.

Source Information

McCombs, Phil. “From the Sands of Iwo Jima.” The Washington Post, February 19, 1985.

Nihart, Brooke. “Center Aids Observances of Iwo Jima 40th Anniversary.” Fortitudine 14, no. 3 (Winter 1984-1985): 10-12.

Schudel, Matt. “Marine Col. F. Brooke Nihart; Wrote Military Code of Conduct,” The Washington Post, September 30, 2006.


Death at Daylight: NC Man Stabbed During Rush Hour

“Beatty drew a gun on him, and lied and double-crossed him, and he wasn’t taking any more off anybody.”

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We are conditioned to believe that most violent crimes occur at night in dark places. After all, Bruce Wayne’s parents weren’t killed on their way to a cozy Sunday brunch. Here in the nation’s Capitol, the most heinous acts against individuals are reported on the 11 o’clock news, not the morning edition.

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 11.04.04 AM copyIn July 1951, 33 year-old Donald C. Beatty of NC was violently stabbed to death in NW DC in broad daylight. He was murdered in full view of residents during the morning rush hour. No one stopped to save his life. Frank Williams, Jr., the assailant, was reportedly drunk at the time of the incident.

Both men were from Salisbury, NC. According to his official statement, Williams and Beatty were in DC looking for employment. After a brief stay in Alexandria for a job, they spent Tuesday evening at the Trailways Bus Station at the 1200 block of New York Avenue. By Wednesday morning, Beatty was dead.

According to the Afro-American, Williams ran after Beatty along the 900 block of New York Avenue on the morning of the 11th. Beatty tripped and fell along the sidewalk of the street and into a gutter, rendering him unable to escape. Williams turned him over and proceeded to stab him five times while people walked by.

Beatty reportedly cried out for help to onlookers as Williams continuously stabbed him in the heart and chest. Others said Beatty desperately pleaded to spare his life moments before Williams delivered the fatal blow. Either way, no bystander cared enough to take action. One witness to the tragedy commented to reporters, “Would you have stopped him with a knife in his hand?” Williams rifled through his dying friend’s pockets after the act. His demeanor was cool and collected:

“After the crime was completed, witnesses said that Williams stepped on the sidewalk and asked a bystander for a cigarette.” (Memphis World, July 13, 1951)

Williams stood there and puffed on his cigarette while he watched his friend grasp to the last seconds of his life. He stood clutching the bloody knife when police arrived moments later. By then, Beatty was dead.

At the time of his arrest, Williams swore self-defense. Williams stated that Beatty had a gun and threatened to kill him, which prompted him to pull out his knife and defend himself. No eyewitness interviewed at the crime scene or in Grand Jury saw Beatty carry or pull out a gun.

Justice came to Frank Williams, Jr. one year later. District Judge Alexander Holtzoff sentenced Williams to seven to twenty-one years in prison for second degree murder. His defense attorney argued for temporary insanity “due to excessive alcohol,” which did not sway the jury. Judge Hotlzoff stated during the court decision that there was sufficient evidence to find him guilty of first degree murder – enough for the electric chair. The last DC execution occurred five years later in 1957.

Source Information:
“Jury Praised By Judge in Murder Case: Holtzoff Says Verdict Of Second Degree Was ‘Illogical But Wise.’” The Washington Post, May 17, 1952.

“Man Fatally Stabbed in D.C. Street Fight.” The Afro-American, July 21, 1951.

“Man Fatally Stabbed In DC While Hundreds Watch.” Memphis World, July 13, 1951.