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Captain O.C. McDavid’s World War II Letters

Finding Aids, USS Houston & Military History

Captain O.C. McDavid was a journalist, an artist, and, like so many of the young men of his time and age, a soldier. Special Collections holds a collection of his personal correspondence covering the breadth of his service during World War II, and a finding aid is now available online.

Sketch of facilities, undated

Captain McDavid served much of World War II stationed in the South Pacific, supporting the Allied cause by helping to establish village governments with local populations and building infrastructure to support sanitation, security, and healthcare. As with most correspondence from the war, censorship of operations and engagements with Axis forces provide scant details for those interested in the minutiae of South Pacific strategy. Instead, what emerges in these letters has as much to do with McDavid’s observations of foreign cultures as it has to do with the struggle for the South Pacific. Of particular note, given Captain McDavid’s later career and work as an artist, are the comic and compelling illustrations and sketches he uses to embellish so many of the letters back home.

As Allied troops sought out and clashed with Axis forces, McDavid’s words and pictures show us American G.I.s and their Australian allies working, living, and sharing with native New Guineans.  All of this is set against the backdrop of the realities of war, evenings peppered with what McDavid describes as “The sharp staccato spitting of a machine gun. The throaty hacking of a BAR,” as he and his fellow soldiers wonder at what lurks beyond the palms in the darkness.

McDavid’s letters also reflect a resolve and pleasure towards his service and appreciation of the experience in spite of the perils. He writes home to his children:

“Many times, for sure, I’ve wished I had gotten to an overseas theatre where there’s at least some civilization. But, if I had gone over [to Europe] I probably never would, in all my life, have seen the places that lie behind the Pacific. Only read about them in the pages of the National Geographic. I would have missed the kampong poontooan and I would not have danced with an Indonesian maiden.”

Those interested in McDavid’s career as an artist and journalist will no doubt enjoy these glimpses into his formative years, while those with interest in the Pacific Theatre of World War II may be interested to look into the particulars of his work and time spent in New Guinea. We encourage you to explore the finding aid for more information and visit us if you are interested in studying this collection.

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