Curator's Corner Blog

Tag Archives: WWII

J Rankin Dissenting Vote 1941

Jeannette Rankin

We ought to know that you cannot settle a dispute by violence.”

Miss Jeannette Rankin

Jeannette Rankin was born in Missoula, Montana 11 June, 1880.  She served as the first woman in the House of Representatives in the 65th session of Congress from 1917 – 1919. She said that she was the first woman to be elected, but she would not be last.  Women had had the right to vote in the state of Montana since 1914, but a constitutional amendment giving all women the right to vote was not ratified until 18 August, 1920.  She was welcomed by her fellow congressmen by cheers and had to bow in acceptance twice.



During her first term in congress, she, along with forty nine of her fellow congressman, voted “No” against the United States involvement in World War I. Commenting on her vote, she said, “As a woman I cannot go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.”

In January 1918, she opened the House Floor debate on a constitutional amendment on woman’s suffrage, the very first of such debates.  Many representatives who shared her vote defended her, including Fiorello La Guardia, Representative from New York.  In an effort to distance themselves from Miss Rankin’s views, the National American Woman Suffrage Association wrote, “Miss Rankin was not voting for the suffragists of the nation – she represented Montana.”

As was the pattern of her life, Miss Rankin spoke for miner’s rights, social welfare programs, and peace.

J Rankin Dissenting Vote 1941

Miss Rankin was narrowly defeated in the following election, but when war presented itself on the world stage in 1939, she submitted her bid for re-election and won.  Her purpose in this term was to speak against the United States in World War II.  After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, she immediately returned to Washington D.C. to cast her vote against war.  She was not given the floor to speak against President Roosevelt’s request to fight back.  She was also encouraged to abstain from the vote.  But, when the roll was called, she declared, “No.”  This time, she stood alone, the resolution passed 388-1.  The response was immediate.  She was driven from the House of Representatives amidst hisses and boos, and had to run from the building.  Finding shelter in a phone booth, she waited until the police arrived to escort her back to her office.

Miss Rankin was ignored for the remainder of her term.

15 Jan 1968, Washington, DC, USA --- A group of women belonging to the Jeanette Rankin Brigade march in protest of the Vietnam War. Jeanette Rankin, the first female congress member, stands holding the banner at center (wearing eyeglasses). --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

15 Jan 1968, Washington, DC, USA — A group of women belonging to the Jeanette Rankin Brigade march in protest of the Vietnam War. Jeanette Rankin, the first female congress member, stands holding the banner at center (wearing eyeglasses). — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Jeannette Rankin worked as a seamstress and a teacher after her service in government.  She also stayed active in politics.  She was impressed with Mahatma Gandhi’s adherence to nonviolent protests and had made several trips to India even though she lived on a minimal income.

When war, again, raged at the United States door, she formed the Jeannette Rankin Brigade.  In 1968, she and 5000 protested marched in Washington D.C. against the war in Vietnam.

At age 92, she was considering running for Congress again to put an end to the conflict, but she passed away 18 May 1973 in Carmel, California.

Jeannette Rankin’s life was one of consistency.  She said, “What one decides to do in a crisis depends on one’s philosophy of life, and that philosophy cannot be changed by an incident.”



Every state is allowed two statues to be placed in Washington D.C. to memorialize what is valued most by each state.  Montana chose Charles Russell and, appropriately, Jeannette Rankin, who embodied the spirit of Montana in her perseverance in standing, even alone, for her convictions.

All images are courtesy of the following websites:

Dissenting Vote,

Rankin Statue,

Rankin Brigade,

Miss Jeannette Rankin,

Sloop Marconi, handmade by Umberto Benedetti in 1941, while an internee at Fort Missoula.  On display in our galleries.

Artists Imprisoned: Italian Internees During WWII

This morning, I spent some time digging around in the basement of the museum. It was cold. White sheets covered antique mirrors, highboys, skis, a doll stroller. Bare light bulbs hung at the end of each row, casting shallow shadows on the concrete floor. Now, I’m a huge wimp. I’m afraid of ghosts and enclosed spaces. Basements make me think of spiders and crickets and boogiemen (none of which a museum basement would have). And isn’t every piece of old furniture haunted by the hands that once touched it? Paintings?  Mirrors?

Still hooked by the story of Odette Samson’s dolls, I was in search of objects made by the Italian internees housed at Fort Missoula during WWII. It felt somehow related: this question of productivity and creativity while imprisoned; a question, too, of what it means to be an enemy and how we get past this idea of “other.”

Sloop Marconi, handmade by Umberto Benedetti in 1941, while an internee at Fort Missoula.  On display in our galleries.

Sloop Marconi, handmade by Umberto Benedetti in 1941, while an internee at Fort Missoula. On display in our galleries.

The permanent exhibition on the first floor contains an intricate model ship made by Umberto Benedetti and a tiny life jacket painted in the colors of the Italian flag. A wooden box mounted on the wall contains another model ship, smaller and more whimsical than Benedetti’s. Locally, Benedetti is probably the most famous of the Italians detained at Fort Missoula. When the U.S. joined WWII, he was working as a cabinetmaker on an Italian ocean liner in the Panama Canal. He, along with 1,200 other Italians who found themselves on American soil (or in American ports) at the outbreak of the war, was sent by train to Fort Missoula, which had previously been used to house Civilian Conservation Corps members. The Italians weren’t soldiers. They were civilians who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time: artisans and chefs stuck in New York after the 1939 World’s Fair, for instance, or ship captains. After the internees were released in 1944, many of them opted to come back to the United States as citizens. Benedetti, for example, joined the U.S. army to gain his citizenship and spent the rest of his life in Missoula. The internees called the fort Bella Vista. They played bocce and golf in the summers. They put on plays and orchestral performances for each other and for the town. They made ships and painted. They worked on farms and for the Forest Service. Which is all to say, of course, that despite their confinement, they found a way to live.

Benedetti, we know, loved Missoula. He became a local institution, before his death in 2009. But what about the other internees? What can we find out about these men from their paintings?

Back to the basement! The first three paintings I pulled from the shelves were watercolors done by Francesco Coscia, Second Officer on the Pietro Campanella, which was requisitioned by the U.S. Coast Guard in Panama (*Fun Fact: the Pietro Campanella was renamed Equipoise, after a famous race horse. Many of the ships requisitioned during the war were named after horses, particularly Kentucky Derby winners.). Coscia was held at Fort Missoula from 1941 to 1944, but I couldn’t find very much more about him in our records. My only sources of information were the paintings themselves. So what did they tell me?

Stone Pines (?) detail in Francesco Coscia's watercolor, ca. 1941-1944, painted while an internee at Fort Missoula.

Detail in Francesco Coscia’s Watercolor, ca. 1941-1944.

Francesco Coscia, Watercolor, ca. 1941-1944.

Francesco Coscia, Watercolor, ca. 1941-1944.

Two of the three depict coastal scenes in Italy: rough coastlines and smooth, rippling water; perfect blue skies. Compositionally they’re nearly mirror images. One has two trees on the left side and the ocean to the right; the other has three trees on the right and the ocean to the left. The latter has a more severe coast—bulky rocks that might amount to small cliffs in reality. I’m not a tree expert, but someone, presumably Coscia, has written “Maritime Pines” on the back of one of the paintings. Maritime pines are native to the Mediterranean—a far cry from Montana.

The third Coscia painting, on the other hand, feels like Montana. Unlike the previous two, it has a date, 1943, and a title, Rogue River. I began to wonder if Coscia painted the other during his earlier days at Fort Missoula, when Italy was fresh on his mind. I wondered if he was homesick. If painting the Italian seascape was a way to feel connected not only to Italy but to the ocean – Coscia had been a seaman, after all. And maybe after a few years here, he started to see Montana as beautiful. Or maybe he just got used to it. Or maybe it was easier to paint the world directly in front of him. Maybe he worked on a ranch down in Hamilton or at a lookout in the Bitterroot—there are plenty of small waterfalls in the gulches down there.

Francesco Coscia, Rogue River, 1943.

Francesco Coscia, Rogue River, 1943.

After the Coscia watercolors, I unearthed an oil painting by Joe Gianatti—a quiet port, with warm stucco buildings poised just above the water, reflecting in the water, and three small red boats. The texture, thick brushstrokes rising from the canvas, was refreshing after the thinner, colder quality of the watercolors. On the back of the canvas, Gianatti left us with a title of sorts: “Martiquex (France).” And then a lovely and curious inscription, “To Miss Margery Ann Walker, Reciprocating with gratitude and admiration a nice and spontaneous act of generosity. Capt. Joe G. Gianatti / Fort Missoula, April 1943.”

Joe Gianatti, April 1943, oil on canvas.  For Margery Ann Walker.

Joe Gianatti, April 1943, oil on canvas. For Margery Ann Walker.

Gianatti's Inscription to Miss Margery Ann Walker, April 1943.

Gianatti’s Inscription to Miss Margery Ann Walker, April 1943.

I love nothing better than a good inscription when I’m researching! Who was Margery Ann Walker?! What did she do?! I ran back upstairs to the files, hoping, irrationally, that there was some kind of love story to uncover. There wasn’t. According to Margery’s son, who was in touch with the museum about the provenance of the piece, “My mother, Margery Ann Walker Van Nice, was an art student at the U [University of Montana], and involved with the Missoula art scene. She helped organize a few of the area artists to donate canvases, brushes, oils, watercolors, etc. to help the painters in the Fort arts and crafts shop get started.” I love the idea of a young student putting forth so much effort to provide a creative outlet for the Italians held during the war. It goes back to that central idea that art and expression help us to cross boundaries; to see the enemy not as “other” but as human. The Italian internees and the citizens of Missoula fostered a relationship in other instances as well and many of the Italians worked for Missoulians. One of the Coscia paintings was donated by Jacqueline Moore, the widow of William Moore, who was a border patrol officer at Fort Missoula. Notes on the provenance of the piece indicate that Mrs. Moore and the internees would bake cherry pies and bowl together, along with some of the other wives based at the Fort. Maybe it’s true what Umberto Benedetti claims in one of his autobiographical books: that Fort Missoula was the best of all the detainment campuses in the United States, that the men were treated very well. He says, specifically, “What a beautiful place to live accept there were no girls.” A great line!

Watercolor by Rolando Madussi, ca. 1942-1944.

Watercolor by Rolando Madussi, ca. 1942-1944.

The last artist I’ll mention is Rolando Madussi—because this post is already too long, not because there aren’t more paintings to talk about! While Coscia and Gianatti painted the sea, Madussi painted the Italian Alps—bald, rocky mountains foregrounded by grassy slopes and houses plucked straight from fairy tales. One, a gift, was inscribed in Italian. It says (in English): “To Commander Capt. P.S. Saglietto remembering the days spent of our imprisonment. Rolando Madussi, Fort Missoula, (U.S.A.) August 21, 1943.” We don’t know much about Madussi, or at least I don’t. But there’s a thick file about Saglietto in the archives and it includes (drum roll!) a Fort Missoula love story! Saglietto, the captain of the San Guiseppe before it was requisitioned by the U.S. in 1942, became somewhat of a mayor among the internees, liaising between them and the officers at the fort. After the war, he married Wilma Jacobson, who had been the secretary for the Border Patrol Supervisors at Fort Missoula. Like Benedetti, Saglietto opted to remain in the U.S., moving to Baltimore and, in 1947, he founded the Tidewater Commercial Company, which operated steamships. In 1966, the Baltimore Sun reported that Saglietto was awarded the Caveliere Officiale Order of Merit of Republic of Italy, for fostering goodwill between the United States and Italy. It seems like he was a natural-born leader. A pretty incredible life-story (and this is just an outline!) for someone who was detained against his will at our very own Fort!

Watercolor by Rolando Madussi, inscribed to P.S. Saglietto, August 21, 1943.

Watercolor by Rolando Madussi, inscribed to P.S. Saglietto, August 21, 1943.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick survey of paintings done by Italian internees! It barely scratches the surface of what life might have been like at Fort Missoula during the early 1940s, and doesn’t even begin to contemplate the lives of the Japanese aliens held at the camp, but research is like that… no matter how much you learn, there’s always an entire world of information left to uncover. I hope this has piqued your interest and given you something new to investigate.

P.S. For more, visit


The Fort Missoula Flag from the USS Missoula

The Flags over Iwo Jima: What’s Fort Missoula’s Connection?

This week, millions of American flags will be raised across the country to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence 238 years ago. As my own small tribute to the founding fathers, I decided to take a look at Fort Missoula’s collection of American flags and compile some kind of survey, sharing photos and a bit of history where I could find it, attempting in my own small way to show that despite the ubiquity of the American flag as symbol, individual examples have a lot to teach us about history and patriotism. Of course, once I submerged myself in the collection, my research began to take a completely different, completely fascinating route.

The Fort Missoula Flag from the USS Missoula

The Fort Missoula Flag from the USS Missoula

Most of Fort Missoula’s flags are stored together in one of the small textile rooms in the curatorial space on the second floor. However, there is one flag kept in its own unwieldy, somewhat enormous, albeit shallow, box in the main photography room. The naval flag, measuring 33½” x 61½” (that’s almost three feet high and just over six feet long), is mounted on a stretched canvas, sewn onto the canvas along its outer edges in an effort to preserve it. In many ways it is a standard 48-star American flag: white stars arrayed systematically over a blue canton (24¾” x 18”), seven red stripes, six white, the cotton seemingly battle-worn, or simply deteriorating with age. I found it interesting that the stars were printed onto the blue canton rather than sewn, while the stripes were comprised of individual strips of cloth sewn together. In terms of wear and tear, there are at least seven holes in the canton alone and the stripes, especially the red stripes, are littered with tears while stains are obvious on the white cloth. The colors are faded, especially as your eye moves away from the hoist. The 48-star flag was in use from 1912, with Arizona’s admission into the Union, until 1959, with the admission of Alaska, and there are countless extant examples—some of them rich with war stories, some simply flown at the neighbor’s house on the 4th of July.

Tears on the USS Missoula Flag

Tears on the USS Missoula Flag

This particular flag, flown over the USS Missoula from 1944 to 1946, is one of former. It is the sister flag to the flag first raised on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima, undoubtedly one of the most significant flags of the 20th century. Naturally, my eyes widened as I read the page of information kept with the flag. Sister flag. That meant that the iconic Iwo Jima flag, immortalized by Joe Rosenthal’s photograph, was also flown over the USS Missoula, alongside ours, right?

No, not right at all.

Here is the real story behind the flag and the Rosenthal photograph: On the morning of Friday, February 23, 1945, forty Marines led by Lt. Harold G. Schrier ascended Mount Suribachi, a volcanic vent and the highest peak on Iwo Jima, an island with major strategic importance for both the Japanese and Americans during WWII. They’d been instructed by 2nd Battalion commander Lt. Col. Chandler W. Johnson, “If you’re able to get up the mountain I want you to take this flag… If you can’t make it all the way up, turn around and come back down. Don’t try to go overboard.” The men had arrived at Iwo Jima on the USS Missoula and they carried a small flag from the ship with them on their mission. When they reached the summit, they managed to find a 20-foot rainwater pipe constructed by the Japanese and then, using the pipe, six men hoisted the flag at 10:20 am. Luckily, Leatherneck photographer Louis Lowery had ascended the peak with the men and was there to capture the moment.

Louis Lowery's Photograph of the First Flag Raising over Iwo Jima, 2/23/45

Louis Lowery’s Photograph of the First Flag Raising on Mount Suribachi, 2/23/45

James Bradley describes the excitement that washed over Iwo Jima with the raising of the first flag in Flags of Our Fathers, “As Lowery clicked this exposure, an amazing noise rose from the island below and from the ships offshore. Thousands of Marine and Navy personally had been watching the patrol as they climbed to the volcano’s rim. When the small swatch of color fluttered, Iwo Jima was transformed, for a few moments, into New York City’s Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Infantrymen cheered, whistled,and waved their helmets. Here was the evidence of Suribachi’s conquest. Here was the first invader’s flag ever planted in four thousand years on the soil of Japan.”

In a 2005 Missoulian article, WWII veteran and Missoula resident Bill Worf recalls standing on the beaches and seeing the first flag go up: “‘It went through the ranks like an electric shock,’ says Worf, who was 18 years old that day and is now 78. ‘We were getting really chewed up by artillery strikes that had been called in from the top of Mount Suribachi. So it was a big deal to see that flag go up. When it went up, a lot of us thought in another day or two we’d wrap things up and go home’” ( Of course, Worf and the others were wrong in their hope that the battle would end early: it lasted until March 26 and saw 26,000 American casualties alone, including 6,800 men killed in action.

Pvt. Bob Campbell took this photograph of the first flag coming down and the second going up, 2/23/45, courtesy of

Pvt. Bob Campbell took this photograph of the first flag coming down and the second going up, 2/23/45, courtesy of

Shortly after the flag from the USS Missoula was raised, Lt. Col. Johnson ordered the small flag taken down and replaced with a larger one. The story goes that Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal landed on the beach just as the flag went up and, recognizing its importance, said he wanted it as a souvenir. Johnson, upon receiving Forrestal’s message, supposedly declared, “To hell with that!” Johnson wanted to secure the original flag for his battalion, so he raised a larger one in its stead, a 56” x 96” flag taken from the LST 779. On the advice of Lowery, AP photographer Joe Rosenthal and Sgt. Bill Genaust made their way to the summit of Suribachi just as the men were attaching the second flag to a 100-pound pole. As they hoisted it, Rosenthal took the picture that would earn him a Pulitzer Prize, serve as the symbol for the Seventh War Bond Drive and as the model for the Marine Corps Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Genaust captured the event on video, although he would never have the chance to see it. Genaust was killed in battle just days later.

Joe Rosenthal's Photograph of the Flag Raising at Iwo Jima, 2/23/45, courtesy of the National Archives

Joe Rosenthal’s Photograph of the Flag Raising at Iwo Jima, 2/23/45, courtesy of the National Archives

The men in Rosenthal’s photograph—Sgt. Michael Strank, Pfc. Rene Gagnon, Pfc. Ira Hayes, Pfc. Franklin Sousley, PhM2c John Bradley (Pharmacist Mate, 2nd Class) and Cpl. Harlon Block— the second group of six men to raise an American flag that day, would become celebrities. Three would be killed in action during the subsequent days of fighting, while FDR would bring the survivors home to tour the country and participate in the drive. Bradley’s son, James Bradley, further commemorated the flag-raisers with the 2000 book, Flags of Our Fathers, which spent 46 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Meanwhile, the men in Louis Lowery’s photograph would remain virtually anonymous—First Lt. Schrier, Sgt. Boots Thomas, Sgt. Hank Hansen, Pfc. Louis Charlo, Pfc. Jim Michaels, and Cpl. Charles W. Lindbergh. Charlo, the great-grandson of Chief Charlo of the Bitterroot Salish, was killed in action just a week after participating in the ascent of Suribachi. A Montana-native, Louis Carlo is commemorated by an exhibition at the Rocky Mountain Military Museum on the grounds of Fort Missoula, right next to an exhibition about the history of the USS Missoula. For his part, Lowery never achieved the fame of Rosenthal. He continued to work for the Marine Corps’ publication, Leatherneck Magazine, until his retirement in 1983, and he and Rosenthal remained close friends well after the end of the war.

Both the first and second flags raised on Mount Suribachi are now, appropriately, at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. The flag at Fort Missoula was, in comparison, just a bystander. But both USS Missoula flags—both the flag in Quantico and the flag at Fort Missoula—accompanied the USS Missoula—from Richmond, VA, where the ship was launched in September 1944, then to Pearl Harbor, where she trained, and then to Iwo Jima, where she ferried cargo and served as a floating medical station. However you want to look at it, this flag has seen a lot of action!

The Signal Gang of the USS Missoula, taken March 1945, donated to Fort Missoula by Arthur Loveridge (pictured bottom row, second from right)

The Signal Gang of the USS Missoula, taken March 1945, photograph donated to Fort Missoula by Arthur Loveridge (pictured bottom row, second from right)

The sister flag to the first flag raised over Iwo Jima was given to Fort Missoula in 2006 by Arthur C. Loveridge, a USS Missoula signalman who, after the war, hung the flag in his machine shop every year on the 4th of July.