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Canvas Commemoration

Movie Role Inspires Artist to Paint Mural Depicting Pearl Harbor Attack

December 07, 2000|H.G. REZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was only a movie shoot of the USS Arizona burning at Pearl Harbor, but the scene drew an emotional response from Pete Carolan, a Navy veteran who had a bit part in the upcoming movie.

His eyes welled with tears after the filming of the attempt by American sailors to escape the sinking battleship, destroyed in the Japanese attack. It was only a movie, but Carolan--an artist and former SEAL with two combat tours in Vietnam--was inspired to honor the dead and the dwindling number of those who survived the Day of Infamy 59 years ago today.

"I vicariously put myself in the same position those sailors were in on Dec. 7, 1941, through my movie role. Short of death, I experienced exactly what those sailors experienced," he said. "There were some Pearl Harbor survivors on the set. Every one of them became emotional and cried when they saw the attack and rescue scenes. That set me back."

The Huntington Beach native, 53, who had already painted three recruiting posters for the Navy SEALs, decided to commemorate the attack on Pearl Harbor with a giant mural.

Carolan's canvas painting--48 feet long by 9 feet high--will be dedicated today at the American Legion Post 555 in Midway City, where members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Assn. will be the guests of honor. The six-hour ceremony will begin at noon and is expected to attract several hundred people, said post spokesman Ed Crone.

On Wednesday, Carolan did some final touch-ups on the artwork that he has worked on full time since July, when he and about a dozen SEALs finished a two-week stint as extras in the Disney movie "Pearl Harbor." The film, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Michael Bay, is expected to be released next summer.

In the mural, a Japanese plane has already dropped its payload and is flying behind a Zero that is banking to the left after strafing the burning and exploding U.S. warship.

Next to the ravaged Arizona is the Arizona Memorial that was erected over the sunken ship, which went down with more than 1,000 men. Carolan painted the ghostly images of three servicemen--a sailor, a soldier and an airman--looking down at the memorial.

The brawny Carolan became teary-eyed when he explained the significance of the images. "They represent all of the men who died in the attack," he said.

Flying over the Arizona Memorial in the mural is a B-25 Mitchell bomber, like the one flown by the Doolittle Raiders over Tokyo. The 1942 raid, which did little damage, nonetheless dealt a psychological blow to the Japanese and boosted U.S. morale early in the war.

To the left of the Arizona Memorial, Carolan painted F-4U Corsair fighters heading for two U.S. aircraft carriers. At the bottom of the ocean, beneath the carriers, is a wrecked Japanese Zero.

Carolan said painting the mural helped him better appreciate his father's World War II service:

"I was proud of my dad's service, but I never thought much about it until I began painting the mural. He served aboard the [cruiser] USS Boise during the entire war. He's buried across the street [at Westminster Memorial Park], so he was in mind just about every day that I worked on the mural."

Carolan said he hopes people will enjoy his art "for many years after I'm gone." While the mural was painted to honor those who fought and died at Pearl Harbor, he said, it conveys several messages, including a condemnation of war.

"It shows that only the dead have seen the end of war. But I also want people to see this and rejoice in our country. I am also honoring our Navy, which guards our shores.

"But more than anything," he added, "I want people to understand that unless we remain vigilant, we will always be vulnerable. This is the lesson we learned from the men who died at Pearl Harbor."

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