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Editor’s note: This is the fifth article in a series about famed Ellensburg artist and illustrator John Ford Clymer.

On the eve of World War II, illustrator and painter John Ford Clymer had traveled far from his Ellensburg beginnings. John and Doris Schnebly Clymer resided in Connecticut, where John had built a thriving business illustrating covers and article images for Good Housekeeping, MacLean’s, Field and Stream, Blue Book, National Home Monthly, and many other magazines. Clymer also served corporate clients and sold oil paintings from his Connecticut studio. However, as World War II approached he began to wonder if he might be of further service to his country.

In his mid-30s, Clymer was too old to be conscripted into the military and could have remained a civilian throughout World War II. A humble man, he never discussed any patriotic motives he might have had for enlisting in the military. Quoted in biographer Walt Reed’s John Clymer: An Artist’s Rendezvous with the Frontier West, Clymer instead refers to his enlistment as a sort of lark or adventure. He recalled that when his artist friend Tom Lovell “called up one day and said, ‘Let’s join the Marine Corps,’ I didn’t hesitate more than a minute.” The two served together and Clymer later joked “we’re the only ones in the Marine Corps who knew each other’s serial number” because there was only one-digit difference.

“I was 36 years old at the time and going through boot camp with a bunch of kids nearly killed me,” John Clymer told Reed with chagrin. Clymer and Lovell trained at Parris Island, the legendary South Carolina Marine Corps base. However, the two never saw combat or came close to Marines who served in the Pacific theater of World War II. Like elite Marine Corps musicians (bandsmen), they held the rank of Staff Sergeant (E-6) and were stationed in Washington D.C.

Staff Sergeants Clymer and Lovell became the Marine Corp’s first artist-illustrator team. “The other services had plenty of paintings of their history, but the Marine Corps had none,” Clymer recalled. The Marines published one stateside and two overseas editions of their official Leatherneck magazine, plus the Marine Corps Gazette, an officers’ publication. “Since Tom and I were experienced illustrators, they really piled on the work.”

“In between story and article illustrations, Tom and I worked on paintings depicting the history of the Corps,” Clymer continued. “Many of our paintings became covers for the Gazette” and “the originals are now in the Marine Corps headquarters in Washington.”

They also appear in the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Virginia, and in modern-day issues of Leatherneck and the Gazette. Clymer’s and Lovell’s paintings comprise the first visual history of this legendary branch of the American military, from its Revolutionary War origins through World War II, literally depicting the story of the Marine Corps “from the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli.”

Marine Staff Sergeants John Clymer and Tom Lovell served honorably for the duration of World War II. “We got out in 1945,” Clymer told Walt Reed, and then an interesting and important event reshaped Clymer’s career.

On a trip home to Ellensburg to visit family and friends, John spied his son David “peering into a hole in an old poplar stump, looking for flickers’ (woodpeckers’) nests.”

Clymer soon painted the scene and sent it to America’s most widely read magazine, the Saturday Evening Post. “They bought it, saying they’d like to see a sketch for another idea.”

Over the next decade John Ford Clymer produced approximately 80 covers for the Post. The recently discharged Marine Staff Sergeant from Ellensburg, thus continued his path to become a highly successful and respected American painter and illustrator.

The Clymer Museum and Art Gallery at 416 N. Pearl St. has a display about John Clymer’s service in the United States Marine Corps. The Clymer Gallery is part of the Western Culture and Arts Alliance, which includes the Western Art Association and the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame Association.

Michael Allen is a retired UW Tacoma History professor and member of the board of the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame Association. After graduating from Ellensburg High School in 1968 he served in the Marine Corps.

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