COALE, Griffith Baily, CDR

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Last Rank
Last Primary NEC
165X-Special Duty Officer - Public Affairs
Last Rating/NEC Group
Line Officer
Primary Unit
1945-1947, Fleet Public Affairs Center
Service Years
1941 - 1948

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This Military Service Page was created/owned by Steven Loomis (SaigonShipyard), IC3 to remember COALE, Griffith Baily, CDR.

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Contact Info
Home Town
Baltimore, MD
Last Address
Griffith Baily Coale: Muralist and author (North Atlantic Patrol: The Log of a Seagoing Artist), marine camouflage artist in World War I, an official U.S. Navy artist in World War II; died, age 60, of a heart attack; in Stonington, Conn.

Date of Passing
Sep 04, 1950
Location of Interment
Evergreen Cemetery - Stonington, Connecticut
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Not Specified

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US Naval Reserve Honorable Discharge

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Last Known Activity

Commander Griffith Baily Coale 

(1890 - 1950)
Marine Camouflage Artist WWI
USNR, D-V(S), Service #113470
Direct Commission to LCDR August 1941, age 51
During World War II, Coale was a founder of the Navy's Combat Artists Corps and served as a Lieutenant Commander. In addition, he was a member of the Charcoal Club, Baltimore; Ship Model Society, New York; and the Rhode Island Ship Model Society.

Griffith Baily Coale was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the eldest son of a prominent family that encouraged his interest in art. Eventually he studied at the Maryland Institute of Art until 1911, where he served as president of the Art Student's League for two years. He then studied mural painting in Spain, Germany and Paris for three years. Returning to Baltimore in 1914, he worked as a professional painter, and when World War I broke out, Coale worked as Marine Camoufleur for the U.S. Shipping Board from 1917 to 1918. In 1922, Coale moved to New York where he painted portraits, decorative paintings for buildings, and murals. He executed murals in a number of prominent buildings, including the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Building, the Criminal Courts Building, the City Bank Farmers Trust Building. His work was not confined to New York City, but is seen throughout the East. In 1941, sensing that war was imminent, Coale approached Admiral Chester W. Nimitz with the idea of having combat artists on board navy ships to observe operations and document what they saw in paintings. From his experience in World War I and knowing that the British Navy had a successful war art program, Coale wanted to convince the U.S. Navy of the value of art in documenting war. Artworks could go beyond the photographic image and written document in providing a different perspective of the experience of war. Admiral Nimitz agreed to the plan and established the Navy Combat Art program.

On August 8, 1941, Coale received a commission as a Lieutenant Commander in the Naval Reserve working as a Combat Artist for the Office of Public Affairs. His first assignment put him on a patrol in the North Atlantic, where he witnessed the sinking of the U.S.S. Reuben James. He described and illustrated this experience in a book entitled North Atlantic Patrol. His next assignment took him to the Pacific, where after observing the wreckage from the attack on Pearl Harbor and hearing eyewitness accounts, he rendered illustrations of that disaster. He also observed troops training for the invasion of Midway and traveled to that island shortly after its recapture. This led to the publication of another book, Victory at Midway. Navy Public Affairs next sent him to the Southeast Asia Command and Ceylon, and for his final assignment at the end of the war he painted two murals (now lost) for the Naval Academy, depicting the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway.

Coale left the Navy in 1948 with the rank of commander and returned to New York. He died in 1950 and was buried at Stonington, Connecticut. His headstone reads: United States Navy Combat Artist 1941-1948.

Commander Coale's awards include the Navy Commendation Medal, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, Europe/African/Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Asiatic/Pacific Campaign Medal, and World War II Victory Medal.

Burial: Evergreen Cemetery, Stonington, in New London County, Connecticut.

There are fifty-three works in the Navy Art Collection by Commander Griffith Baily Coale.
Other Comments:

GRIFF'S STORY (entire story: see Prologue pages)

In Griff's report from January 4, 1943, he noted the final steps of his start in the Navy:

Aug 9 - 1500 Commissioned Lieutenant Commander, USNR, D-V(S), #113470, at Headquarters Third Naval District, 90 Church St., New York City. Rank from July 2, 1941. Instructed to return home and await orders. Spent this intervening time in studying Navy regulations, usages, nomenclature, etc., supplied by 90 Churc ach Street, and bought and read a number of books.

Aug 30 - Orders received to report for Physical Examination at 90 Church Street.

Sep 4 - Reported for Physical Examination at 90 Church Street. Qualified.

Sep 15 - 0900 Reported to the Director of Public Relations, Navy Department, Washington, D. C., for active duty in the Public Relations Office.

Sep 16 Office of Public Relations, Navy Department, Washington, D. C., Sep 21 in Photographic Section, Lieut. Comdr. E. John Long, who gave me every co-operation.

Sep 22 - Received orders to proceed to Newport, R.I., to report for transportation to Newfoundland. Left Navy Department, Washington, 1600.

These were the orders:

September 22, 1941

From: Director, Office of Public Relations

To: Lt. Comdr. Griffith B. Coale, USNR.

Subject: Sketching, drawing or painting for data to be used for mural decorations and paintings desired by the Office of Public Relations.

1. You are being assigned for public relations duty in accordance with the authority granted by Admiral E. J. King, Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet, to sketch and collect data where and when, in your judgment, it is necessary for background in portraying such historic subjects as:

(a) Founding of, and unclassified operations at U.S. Base at Argentia, N.F.

(b) U.S. Naval Vessels entering the harbor of Reykjavik Iceland. Landing of Marines, July 7, 1941.

(c) Life and routine activities, U.S. Naval ships on patrol, etc. Transports connected with the port of Reykjavik.

(d) And other historic and picturesque activities in connection with outlying U.S. naval establishments and ships.

2. All of your activities, of course, will be conducted at the convenience and discretion of the Executive Officers of ships and planes you board in connection with your duties, and of Senior Officers present at land bases.

3. To assist you in obtaining background materiel, the Recruiting Bureau, Bureau of Navigation, has assigned Chief Photographer Francis X, Clasby, who will take photographs in connection with your activities. These photographs are to be returned to the Office of Public Relations for review.

4. Upon completion of your duties you are to report to the Office of Public Relations, Washington, D.C.

Rear Admiral, USN
Director, Office of Public Relations

With this Griff was in the Navy and beginning a remarkable journey.

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  Prologue: Page 2 part 1
Mar 20, 1941

Last Updated:
Dec 23, 2010


page 2

The meeting with Admiral Wood was followed by a letter of application.

1 9 4 1

Comdr. H. R. Thurber, U.S.N.
Room 1050
Navy Department
Washington, D.C.

Dear Comdr. Thurber:
As I am an artist who has made a lifetime study of maritime lore, as well as historical research which I have used in my many big murals, apparently with telling effect; and as I am a small boat sailor and a thorough lover of the sea and ships, I would like to offer my services to my country by applying for a commission as a reserve officer in the United States Navy. This would enable me to do a thing which I trust would be of value to the government in the future as well as the present.
I propose to make paintings from sketches and drawings ashore and afloat of ships, yards, docks and all the many intricacies incorporated in the running of a mighty navy. For example, the turning over of our destroyers to Great Britain was an extraordinary event in the history of this country, and as far as I know, no painted record was made. That would be an interesting document to exhibit throughout the country within a few months, had a convincing record been made, and I am sure that it would be even more interesting fifty years from now. Already this type of destroyer is passing.
In England Muirhead Bone was at Scapa Flow in 1917-18 when the American fleet steamed in, and in this war he was on the cliffs at Dover at dawn to record the queer assortment of bottoms that brought the men back from Dunkerque. These and other contemporary records made by English painters for the Admiralty have already become so exciting to the American public that they were only recently published in "Life". I would willingly give my life and the knowledge of a lifetime to have a chance to make such records for our people. I know that at 90 Church Street under Comdr. O'Brien, McClelland Barclay is putting out posters and publicity for the Navy. My idea I feel, dove-tails with but does not overlap this more commercial branch of publicity. Theirs is a selling job, mine a recording one, for an historical record must be made by a man who thoroughly under-stands ships and knows how they perform in a seaway.
To show how sincere my interest has always been in helping to keep for posterity a record of maritime development, I have given freely of my time without remuneration to the enclosed list of nautical affiliations, together with many others not listed. In an entirely different field, it might interest you to know that I was commissioned by Columbia University, and am at the moment finishing, a large painting commemorating the visit of the King and queen of England to the University, as an historical record to be placed on the walls of the great library.
As I am thoroughly American, the first William Coale having landed in Virginia in 1620, I should like to donate these services were it economically possible. But through my efforts since a young man of eighteen I have made my living by painting, and having put up over thirty big mural decorations and many small paintings of ships, I have acquired a house in New York with a large studio which I would naturally wish to hold until my return to civilian life. Therefore if the Navy would accept my whole-hearted labor and endeavor, I must have the temerity to ask for a Reserve Officer's commission as a Lieutenant Commander, with the marriage, rent and travelling allowances, etc.
Trusting that this letter contains the information that you asked for, I am

Yours very sincerely,


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