"Fire Support at Plei Djereng" 1967
William Linzee Prescott
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Signed in painting by artist as:
" Wm L Prescott 6th of the 14th Field Forces Plei Djereng A-251 SF 3-175MM 2-8" Howitzers "
This painting is in the United States Army Historical Collection
On June 6, 1944, a young Pvt. William Linzee Prescott jumped with the 82nd Airborne Division onto the beach in Normandy, France.
He also participated in an attack that would eventually be transformed into paintings which would cement his modest fame.
Fifty-six years after the battle that began the liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany, Prescott's paratrooper's vision of D-Day endures in the form of two enormous murals at the West Point Museum.
After landing in Normandy and participating in one major battle, Prescott was quickly captured, according to friend, fellow veteran and longtime Tuxedo Park resident Alex Salm.
"He and a buddy found a deserted farm in the south of France and lit a fire," Salm recounted over breakfast at the Orange Top Restaurant on Route 17, where Prescott's name still registers with diners.
"Linzee was always very amusing," Salm recalled. "I said to him, 'Jesus, how stupid were you to get captured going into a house at night and go and light a fire? No wonder the German's captured you.' "
"Well I was cold," was the answer Salm received. "Me and my buddy cooked and then we found some wine in the cellar."
But the imprisoned artist didn't suffer much at the hands of the Germans, remembered his friends. In fact, he sketched his way into good treatment.
As the story goes, Prescott sketched life in prison camp. The German commander caught sight of the sketches and requested a portrait. Pleased with the results, the commander spread the news, and officers at other camps commissioned portraits by arranging Prescott's transfer.
Born in New York City, schooled at the prestigious Groton school in Connecticut, Prescott had studied art at the Chouinard School in Los Angeles, then moved to Mexico to study fresco.
After a tour of Africa, he held a successful exhibition in New York in 1940 before enlisting.
After leaving the Tuxedo Park home his family occupied with the family of actor Fred Gwynn, Prescott traveled around the world before settling in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where he painted as artist in residence at the Swimming Hall of Fame.
His paintings are scattered around the world. In Tuxedo, two golf murals hang in The Junction restaurant and bar, and regulars say old-timers can identify the people. Paintings can also be found in the Duck Cedar Inn, in the Clubhouse in Tuxedo Park, in old friends' homes and at West Point.
If wars were documented by his paintbrush, they were also recorded in his genealogy, which dates back to the American Revolution.
Prescott was descended from the rebel Col. William Prescott, who told his troops, "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes," at Bunker Hill.
"Linzee" came from redcoat Capt. John Linzee, who fought from his ship, the Falcon, on the Charles River.
Despite the extent of warfare Prescott documented, by all accounts, he didn't seem to take himself or his paintings too seriously.
St. Mary's-Tuxedo Episcopal Church had a mural in which the 12 disciples of Jesus stood, wearing long robes that fell to their feet.
When an observer counted 25 feet on 12 men, Prescott conceded it was unintentional in a Fort Lauderdale News story.
"I guess maybe I was a bit looped," he told the reporter.
But the humor behind the man seems only to add to the veracity of his work.
Prescott returned to warfare, at the invitation of General William Westmoreland, in 1967 as a civilian artist in Vietnam were he spent about one year recording the places and activities of the American soldier in Vietnam.
In a 1991 review of his work in American Heritage magazine, Vol.42, No.1, February/March 1991.
authored by Morley Safer "Prescott's War" (pp.100-113)
[the paintings of William Linzee Prescott, a "civilian adventurer" artist in 1967 Vietnam]
Vietnam War correspondent Morley Safer argued that Prescott documented the war with an accuracy photographers should envy. He wrote:
"For the truth of war is that, as tragic as the whole awful persona may be, it is also very funny."
Prescott, who prefered his middle name Linzee over his first name William, died in 1981 in Florida at the age of 63.
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