Jack Fogarty and John MacDonald served with the Army’s 98th Evacuation Hospital in World War II’s Pacific Theater from 1944 to 1945, where they spent “many an hour sitting around in a jungle clearing,” according to Fogarty, who is now 92 and living in Teaneck, New Jersey. The two soldiers developed a tight friendship as they worked and relaxed together.
Fogarty became close friends, too, with John’s wife, Mary MacDonald, who remained home in Queens, New York. Fogarty had met her before he and John shipped out, and he struck up a correspondence with her that lasted until he and John returned home. An amateur artist, Fogarty illustrated his envelopes to show Mary daily life around the camp—jungle hikes, beach swims, evenings in tents under gaslight.
“My drawings were an expression of love for the MacDonalds,” says Fogarty. “I loved them and they loved me in the best of terms.”
The letters sealed a lifelong friendship between Fogarty and the MacDonald family. Mary MacDonald died in 2003; her husband in 2007.
Meg MacDonald, one of the couple’s four daughters, recently donated 33 illustrated envelopes, eight letters and a watercolor made by Fogarty to the National Postal Museum, which is currently exhibiting them online.
We spoke with Fogarty recently about his time in the War, his art and his enduring friendship. An excerpt of our conversation follows.
When did you first meet Mary?
I met Mary in 1943 when John and I were stationed in an evacuation hospital in the Yuma, Arizona desert. She came to visit John in the first few months we were there. All the soldiers went into town whenever we had time off, so I bumped into John with Mary in town one day. John introduced us and that began our friendship. I started corresponding with her after we went overseas, and she was very loyal, a very good friend. Since I was so close with her husband, she liked hearing about my relationship with him and our time in the service.
What made you decide to illustrate the envelopes you sent her?
I’ve always drawn—all my life I’ve had a talent to paint. I had another dear friend from high school, a cartoonist, and he and I exchanged letters when we both joined the service. He would illustrate his envelopes, so I would do the same. That started it. Then when I was in the South Pacific Islands in World War II, John started a weekly bulletin just for the 217 men in the evacuation hospital. He did the editorials, and I did the artwork on a mimeograph machine. That got me doing more illustrations, so I started drawing on the envelopes to Mary.
Tell us about the illustrations.
They illustrated what was happening at the time. They showed the places we were at, the fantasies we had. They were an outlet, and I had the talent to make them. And they meant so much to Mary, because they showed her husband’s life while they were separated, and she loved him so much. It’s funny, too, because a lot of the drawings would be considered chauvinistic now—you know, jokes about women and so forth.
What was your relationship like with the MacDonalds back then?
It’s difficult to describe, because it’s such an important part of my life. It’s a love relationship. John and Mary were just wonderful, wonderful people. They were friends, and friendship is very important to me. We had the same values, as far as our faith and our family. And John was a mentor to me. I’m a little slow in my growing up, shall we say—I’m still a little naïve. John was a married man, and worldly. He had been a reporter before he joined the service. We would just discuss everything, discuss all the topics that young men would discuss at the time. It was an exchange of values and thoughts and experiences.
A few years ago, Meg MacDonald told you she had found your letters and illustrations among Mary’s things. What was it like to be reunited with them?
I was completely flabbergasted that Mary kept them. But I was flattered. It was a very warm feeling to know that Mary had kept them all these years. It’s strange reading the letters now, looking back on the past. It happened, and yet it’s incredible that it did happen.
Many young people who see your illustrations online will never have known a world without e-mail. What do you hope younger viewers take away from your letters?
My niece is a teacher, and a while ago she has a fellow teacher who invited me in to talk about World War II. I brought souvenirs from the war, my patch, and cap, and pictures, and things from Japan. It was the most rewarding experience. The children were so attentive and interested. They have no idea of the world as I knew it, and yet they were so excited to realize a world they didn’t know. They were learning about something other than Lady Gaga or all these things they need to have today, iPads and so forth. I hope these letters do the same for others.