Coast Guard's important D-Day role recalled in Custom House program

New London - A picture is worth a thousand words. In the case of artist Tony Falcone's murals scattered throughout the campus of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, those words are steeped in Coast Guard history.

Falcone spoke at the Custom House Maritime Museum Sunday in conjunction with his current exhibition at the museum, "Vision. Process. Finished Painting: the Creative Process of Tony Falcone."

The exhibition focuses on the process of painting two murals from Falcone's "U.S. Coast Guard Historical Murals Project." The project, commissioned by the academy's class of 1962, included 10 murals depicting different phases of Coast Guard history.

Falcone devoted his talk Sunday in part to explaining his process, but also made room for banter with the small audience about Coast Guard history, especially the Coast Guard's little-known role in D-Day. The historic landing at Normandy is depicted in Falcone's mural, "Coast Guard Manned Landing Craft at Normandy, June 6th, 1944," which is referenced in the exhibition.

"I thought this could be a real learning moment," Falcone told the gathering.

The Coast Guard commanded all landing craft at Omaha and Utah beaches in Normandy on D-Day, according to Jeffrey Stone, a flotilla administration officer in the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

"The history of D-Day is huge, but no one actually knows what the Coast Guard did," Stone said at the academy, where Falcone's Coast Guard murals are displayed in various buildings.

Museum Executive Director Susan Tamulevich said the museum wanted to promote recognition of the Coast Guard for its lesser known duties outside of domestic maritime rescues.

"They do so much else," she said. She provided as an example the Coast Guard's role in wars oversees, where officers rescue people regardless of what side they fight on as part of the Coast Guard's humanitarian mission.

The exhibition includes materials used in the process of painting the murals, such as sketches, three-dimensional models and photos of amateur re-enactors acting out the events depicted. It does not include the actual murals due to their size, according Tamulevich. The D-Day mural is 9 by 11 feet - "wallet-sized" compared to some of his other murals, which are as large as 10,000 square feet, according to Falcone.

The museum planned the exhibition to celebrate 40 years since Falcone, a former firefighter who lives in Cheshire, started work on the first mural of his career. The exhibition happened to coincide with the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

Falcone's historical murals commissioned by the Coast Guard depict scenes considered representative of Coast Guard history, but for which no photos are available. He bases his imagery on documents provided by the Coast Guard and suggestions from history buffs knowledgeable about the events and people actually involved in the events depicted.

Tamulevich's mother Barbara said she was fascinated by how Falcone achieved historical accuracy with no photos to go by.

"The Pendleton took my breath away. It was so dramatic," she said of the mural "CG-36500 Rescues the Crew of the Tanker Pendleton near Chatham, Cape Cod, Massachusetts - February 18, 1952." Tamulevich said that the Pendleton painting is the actual focus of the exhibition.

The mural depicts Boatswain's Mate Bernard Webber's rescue of 32 crew members from the Pendleton, using a 15-person capacity boat in rough waters. The rescue is considered the greatest small-boat rescue in Coast Guard history, according to Stone.

The exhibition will be on view at the Custom House through June 23.

t.townsend@theday.com

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