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James FeeThe Story of Peleliu
The Peleliu Project
The Story of Peleliu brings back the images of that horrible battle in the South Pacific through the eyes of a Marine, who was there, and a son, who went back in search of his father‘s past. Fee brings an interpretation through his vision of the island, and the documents of his father‘s diary and photographs of the raw reality of man made destruction and death. Fee, while known for his silver and selenium prints of surrealistic nudes and landscapes, has taken a colorful, tragically beautiful road to this present exhibition of The Peleliu Project.
"The Peleliu Project"
Seraphin Gallery, 2003
ISBN-10: 0971928916, ISBN-13: 978-0971928916
Foreword by William Levinson
THE BATTLE OF PELELIU BEGAN ON SEPTEMBER 15, 1944. It was supposed to be over in three days. It lasted for 73. Under a scorching sun, in temperatures that reached 115 degrees, American and Japanese forces struggled for control of this six mile by two mile coral island in the South Pacific. When it was over, 8,769 Americans had been killed or wounded, and all but a handful of the 10,500 Japanese who had dug themselves into caves to defend the island were dead. There are many who believe the battle served no purpose.
Photographer James Fee’s father, Russell James Fee, a 21 year old Marine corpsman from Iowa, spent the first day of battle going back and forth from shore to ship under heavy fire tending to the eleven hundred men wounded in the initial hours of combat. In the days and weeks to follow, the demands on the young corpsman would grow exponentially as thousands upon thousands more men were wounded. When the battle ended, Fee would be assigned to bury the dead both Japanese and American.
Two months before the invasion, writing in pencil in a thin, black, cloth covered notebook eight by four and a half inches in size, Russell Fee began to record his experiences. "This is not a day to day diary," he writes in the opening sentence, "but rather just the important days of my overseas life". The entries which follow in this 23 page "book of facts" begin the day after he ships out for the South Pacific, and end sixteen months later as he is returning home. Russell Fee’s prose is uncrafted. He was not writing for an audience. There is no attempt to create a literary effect or dramatize events in any way. In simple, declarative sentences, he relates what happened and records his emotions. His words are like hammer strokes engraving each moment in the mind of the reader.
Russell Fee returned from Peleliu with a fierce, uncompromising vision of America which would have a profound impact on the life and work of his son. Fifty-three years later, armed with his fathers’ snapshots and diary which he had just uncovered, James Fee went to Peleliu to see with his own eyes the place where his father’s vision had taken shape. The result of his five year quest is The Peleliu Project. Do not be deceived by the simplicity of that title. Beneath the calm, luxuriant surface of James Fee’s color images of the island today lies the terrible history of this battle, and the long, dark shadow which it would cast on the family of Pharmacist’s Mate 3rd Class, Russell Fee.
© William Levinson - courtesy of the Seraphin Gallery