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.


Throwing Shade in 1928: A Feminist Takes on Haters

“Since I was a child and my mother first taught me to love women, I have pondered over their needs, capacities and aspirations. As I grew older I added to my musings some study and observation.”                                                                                                                    –  Preface, What Women Want

It’s easy for us to overlook today’s modern conveniences, even when it comes to voicing our disapproval. The Internet offers a fast and open forum for anyone to chide and admonish anything they want. More often than not, our reliance on the “Yelp Effect” is both a blessing and a curse – a life and prosperity, death and destruction bargain we’ve set out against ourselves in biblical fashion. Forgive us, Lord, for we have sinned with syntax errors.

Eighty years ago, the only way you could voice your opinion to the wider world outside of your home or office was through the newspaper. No edit button or page refresh. No Internet. No television pundits. Deep down, it was just pure old-fashioned trash talk in black and white – perhaps the purest kind.

(Source: Stagebeauty.net)
(Source: Stagebeauty.net)

One such incident occurred in February 1928 over a ten-minute Washington area radio broadcast. The program from well-known Feminist and actress Beatrice Forbes-Robertson Hale stirred a series of heated letters published in the Washington Post between supporters and naysayers over a period of several weeks.

The short talk by Ms. Hale came less than a decade after Women’s Suffrage. A woman’s place in society was elevated throughout the 1920s, both in attitude and in practice. To some, the concept was relatively fresh and untested. For her, it was a matter of principle. Her most popular work, What Women Want: An Interpretation of the Feminist Movement (1914), is a well-written treatise on the state of women in America. In the fourteen years between the publication of What Women Want and the 1928 news broadcast, Ms. Hale became an outspoken supporter for feminism and the family.

(Source: Archive.org)
(Source: Archive.org)

Ms. Forbes-Robertson Hale came on the air at 7:50pm for a brief segment called “Compassionate Marriage,” sandwiched between the Kitt Hour of Music and the W.B. & A. Quartet on WRC Radio (now ESPN’s 980 Sports Talk Radio). Although the exact details of her brief talk are not available, one can surmise the subject matter was a direct smack to Companionate Marriage, a 1927 book written by Colorado judge and social reformer Ben Lindsey. Companionate Marriage argued for couples to undergo a one-year trial marriage with the promise of no children in order to decide if they are compatible enough for married life. The book became a major motion picture featuring silent film starlet Betty Bronson in 1928.

Ms. Hale’s arguments against companionate marriage were short. Public response in the wake of the broadcast was a different story.

The Saturday edition of the Washington Post published three days later included a special section on the broadcast called “Radio Obscenity.” Two letters to the editor were chosen for publication. The first from “J.G. Alcorn” called for a stop to the type of “obscene talks” given by the feminist author and activist. The offended went on to demand the Radio Commission to censor such “filth” from the airwaves.

(Source: Washington Post)
(Source: Washington Post)

The second letter from an individual simply known as “H.L.W.” titled their entry “A Vile Radio Talk.” The author echoed similar sentiments of disgust. H.L.W., however, chose to go a bit further. The author penned a short tirade on what they felt was the true intention of marriage. It was not a defense of companionate marriage or the ideas of Judge Lindsey. The venomous prose that follows was directed to Ms. Hale’s personal feelings of matrimony:

“If we should follow the suggestions of this Englishwoman who spoke last night, every male will become a gorilla and every home will become a house of prostitution for children-as well as for grown ups. There will be no chastity in the home, and America will become the mecca of all the lewd and outcast people of Europe.”

The author dug deeper into their own blatant xenophobia, adding that such talk by Ms. Hale would make America “a nation of dope fiends and libertines.”

One week later, a concerned citizen came defended Hale’s short speech in another letter to the editor to the Post. Mrs. Clara Sidney Wiseman rebuked the two previous letter authors by name. She indicated “Alcorn” to be a male. In her letter, Wiseman defended the actions of Mrs. Hale and that of WRC for airing it. She admonished those who would rally against it, and called most of them hypocrites “living in darkness:”

(Source: Washington Post)
(Source: Washington Post)

She hailed the broadcast as “brilliantly and sincerely spoken and delivered in the simplest language.” Compassionate marriage was a right and a privilege in Progressive Era America. Women like Ms. Hale and Mrs. Wiseman simply wanted the world to see their point of view. She ended her defense by asking newspapers to publish her address in “civilized newspapers around the world,” thus implying the real brutes in question were conservatives of the old guard.

As smart as she was beautiful, Ms. Hale also weighed in on the matter in yet another letter. In the time between the broadcast and the first week of March, Hale received several news clippings in the mail about the incident. At the time, Ms. Hale lived in New York City. She wanted to set the record straight and defend herself to readers. Today, we call it a little something different: throwing shade.

She presented a few simple points of interest in her defense. For one, she was a native-born American citizen, not English. Her second response to Alcorn and H.L.W. are as “shade-worthy” as it gets in pre-depression America. Take notes, haters:

(Source: Washington Post)
(Source: Washington Post)

In the end, she had received “scores of letters” by individuals thanking her for her talk. Some letters even asked “the blessing of God on what (I) am trying to do.” No further information on the matter exists. She died in 1967.


Praise be, Based Hale.

Source Information:

Forbes-Robertson Hale, Beatrice. “Opposes Companionate Marriage.” The Washington Post, March 7, 1928.

Forbes-Robertson Hale, Beatrice. What Women Want: An Interpretation of The Feminist Movement. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1914.

“Mrs. Hale’s Talk on Compassionate Marriage is Defended; Children Should Be Enlightened at Home, Says Writer.” The Washington Post, February 19, 1928.

“Radio.” The Washington Post, February 8, 1928.

“Radio Obscenity.” The Washington Post, February 11, 1928.