Changing Planet

A Soldier’s Sketchbook: From the Front Lines of World War II

Our jeep was named “Connecticut Yankee” by the driver and me. We were both from Connecticut. Illustration by Joseph Farris.


As we remember and honor today all the men and women who did war service for their country, National Geographic has published A Soldier’s Sketchbook, the remarkable drawings and memories of World War II by Joseph Farris, an internationally published cartoonist whose works have appeared in the New Yorker and many other major publications.

Farris was at National Geographic this week to give Society members a lecture about his book. He was joined by Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles. Swofford wrote the foreword to A Soldier’s Sketchbook.

In the foreword to A Soldier’s Sketchbook, Swofford reflects on how pain can often be communicated better through artwork than copious facts and details. He writes, “A Soldier’s Sketchbook is at once a new kind of memoir, multi-narrative and richly visual, and a throwback to a time when national sacrifice at a time of war was indeed national sacrifice.”


Click here for a book excerpt, a brief video interview with Joseph Farris, and to purchase the book online from National Geographic.


Farris and Swofford visited me in my National Geographic Digital Media office earlier this week. They gave me these video interviews:

A Soldier’s Sketchbook is the first-hand account of a young soldier and artist during World War II, told through letters home and sketches of daily life serving with the Army’s 100th Division on the French-German border in 1944 and 1945. Son of a Lebanese-American shopkeeper, Farris left Danbury, Connecticut, for battle during the last months of war on the European front. He wrote hundreds of letters home, took lots of photographs and collected souvenirs. He also made many ink and watercolor sketches, foreshadowing his career as a New Yorker cartoonist.

Street scene in Ober Urbach, Germany, 1945. Illustration by Joseph Farris.
We froze in place, hardly breathing, when the Germans fired flares. Illustration by Joseph Farris.

“Through Farris’ letters, sketches, photographs and memorabilia such as his Order to Report for Induction in April 1943 and his combat infantryman’s badge, readers will understand what it felt like to be a young soldier during World War ll,” National Geographic says in a news release about A Soldier’s Sketchbook. “Farris was exposed to attacks of tear gas as part of his training. He describes life on the troop ship heading to the front, the experience of spending Christmas Eve in a snowy foxhole, the shock of losing close friends, his exhilaration when Germany surrendered and how wonderful a hot shower felt after months on the front line.”

Ft. Freudenberg, Maginot Line Bitche, France 1945. It depicts Frank Burrola getting drunk. He died the next day. Illustration by Joseph Farris.
U.S. Army troops march toward the village of Lutrebois, Belgium on January 25, 1945, during the Battle of the Bulge. illustration by Joseph Farris.


“I entered the army a naïve young man, and left a battle-hardened naïve young man,” writes Farris, who is now in his 80s. “I had much to learn about life, but my experiences serving my country gave me insights that helped me develop into who I am today.”

A Soldier’s Sketchbook: From the Front Lines of World War ll (National Geographic Books; ISBN 978-1-4262-0817-1; on sale Nov. 1, 2011; $35 hardcover)

Joseph Farris is an internationally published cartoonist whose works have appeared in the New Yorker and many other major publications since 1957. His numerous books include “Phobias and Therapies,” “A Cog in the Wheel” and “They’re a Very Successful Family.” Farris’ work is in the private collections of President Jimmy Carter and Paul Newman, among others, and many of his New Yorker cartoons are in the permanent collection of the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City. Farris is also a painter. He lives in Bethel, Connecticut.

Anthony Swofford is the author of The New York Times best-selling book Jarhead. Swofford served in a U.S. Marine Corps Surveillance and Target Acquisition platoon during the Gulf War, and that experience served as the basis for his book, which was later adapted into a major motion picture. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s magazine and elsewhere.

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.

Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship

Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn

Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn
  • […] National Geographic, November 11, 2011, “A Soldier’s Sketchbook: From the Front Lines of World War II” — this piece on Joe Farris, with […]

  • WWII research

    This book would be nice to read, just like Bill Maldiuns Up Front

  • Gina Burrola

    Hello. I just seen your illustration of Frank Burrola he was my uncle who died in France during ww2. Do u happen to have any pictures. I do have a family tree to prove this in the event you need too see it. Also, do you know more about him? Well, if you don’t I think it was amazing that you possibly knew of him.

    Sincerely, Gina Burrola

  • Larry Glade

    I am an artist . I ran a crossed a friend whose grandfather was an artist in World War II stationed somewhere in Europe possibly near Germany .he was on the front lines his name was Frank Marz, I’d like to find out more information about him as well to help his grandson. I’m so thankful we had artist in World War II. Great to have had artist like Joseph Farris.

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