THE POWER OF MUSIC – ASTP SOLDIER CONS HIS WAY INTO PAINTING A MURAL AT THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA

By Pvt. Spencer L. Davidson , ASTP, University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla.

If a contest should ever be held to determine the most convincing fake in the United States Army, my choice is Pvt. Willie Bennett. For instance…



About 8 o’clock one night I walked into the barracks, and there was Willie in his bunk.

“And where have you been?” he asked.

astp

Insignia of the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP). The program sent 200,000 soldiers with high IQ levels to college to provide the Army with future skilled specialists and technicians. The program was cancelled in early 1944 and the ASTP soldiers were sent to combat outfits as privates.

“I have been to the Service Club,” I replied. “Mrs. Billings wanted a mural painted in the music room but she can’t find anyone who knows how to paint a mural.”

Willie looked at me, stared at the ceiling, climbed down his bunk and put on his shoes.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“I’m going to the library,” answered Willie.

“I’m going to read up on surrealism. And then I’m going to tell Mrs. Billings that Willie Bennett is the artist to paint her mural.”

“But Willie,” I pointed out, “You are no artist.”

“I am also not a soldier, but I wear a uniform,” he answered and walked out.

An hour later Willie came back.

“Do you have the job?” I asked.

Willie sat down and took off a shoe. “Yes,” he said. “After I went to the library I saw Mrs. Billings. I told her I was the only painter in the camp but that I was one of those surrealists. I also told her I studied under Duret.”

“Who is Duret?” I asked.

“Duret is a name I made up,” said Willie, “but Mrs. Billings was very much impressed. I start painting tomorrow.”

Four days later I decided to see how Willie was coming along with his mural. I found him in the music room with some paints in one hand and a brush with the other. The wall was partly covered with paints of various colors.



“Well, said Willie, wiping some orange paint off his nose, “what do you think of it?”

“Willie,” I choked, “Willie, it is horrible.”

He didn’t seem to hear me. Instead he stepped back and gave his mural the once over. “I call it ‘The Power of Music,’” he said. “An appropriate title, don’t you think?”

“Where in hell is there anything about music in that mess?” I asked. “I bet even Mrs. Billings won’t be able to find any music on that wall. And I know the GIS who come in here won’t.”

“They won’t even look at it,” answered Willie.

“They’ll be too busying listening to jive. And Mrs. Billings has seen it already. She is very much impressed. Besides, art is the sentiment of the soul. This is how my soul feels.”

It was some two weeks later, on a Sunday, when Willie and “The Power of Music” signed an armistice. I went in to see what effect music had on Willie’s soul. The finished product was just as horrible as the part I had seen before, only it covered more space.

As Willie said, the guys in the music room didn’t even notice the mural. They were too busy listening to Ellington give out with a jump number. The fact that the wall looked like a Section Eight rainbow with a splash of SOS didn’t bother them at all.

I turned around and there was Mrs. Billings. “Isn’t it lovely,” said she, staring at Willie’s mess. “One of our own men painted it, you know. He is a surrealist and studied under Duret. He certainly has put feeling into his work.”



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The Essential Duke Ellington


Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington




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