WWII sketches of the men from the 857th Engineer Aviation Battalion

Karl R. Rittmann served in the Pacific theater during WWII. His duties would include being a platoon commander, an adjutant, and later battalion historian with his engineer unit. When the men where not busy building airstrips, fixing roads, or constructing bases Lt. Rittmann would sketch the troops.

Mechanic and a Republic P-47D Thunderbolt

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, Karl Rittmann, a senior at the Rhode Island School of Design, put his education on hold and enlisted in the Army. Following Officers Training in Virginia, lieutenant Rittmann was assigned to the 857th Aviation Engineers and was off to the Pacific theater. The 857th was one of many segregated Engineer Aviation Battalions active in the Pacific theater during WWII. These segregated units consisted of black soldiers and white officers. It would not be until 1948 that the desegregation of the armed forces was order by President Truman. Their primary assignment was to build bases and airstrips to support the military operations against the Japanese. They also had to be on the lookout for Japanese soldiers that had remained concealed during initial military operations and occasionally were pressed into action when enemy planes would pay a surprise visit. Rodman Gardiner Their travels would take them from Australia, to New Guinea, and on to the Philippines where they would be instrumental in supporting the military campaign in the Southwest Pacific lead by General MacArthur. As was his nature, Karl got on extremely well with both officer and enlisted man alike. When there was a pause in their duties, Rittmann would swap stories with the men and when there was pencil and paper, do sketches of the troops. Many sketches of the Rhode Islanders where sent back stateside and published in the Providence Journal. The experience helped mold Rittmann as a person and set his future course. He became close with lifelong friend Lieutenant Bob Goligoski, who suggested he write to a friend of his named Margery back in the Midwest as pen pals. After the war was over, Karl returned to the states, met Margery, and proposed nine days later. Their marriage endured 55 years, and 3 grateful if occasionally difficult sons.

Laurie Harper The following are excerpts from an article written by Karl Rittmann and published by the Providence Journal in January 1945 while he was stationed in New Guinea.

We work under difficult conditions most of the time. The jungle is often so thick that its like midnight under the trees, and yet when you cut down some of them the light pours in is literally blinding. Sometimes I cant draw because the light is too strong.

Our engineers have performed extraordinary feats in providing water where it is needed and in overcoming obstacles of all kinds. Destroying pillboxes is one of their specialties. Some of the pillboxes are so heavily made, with many layers of coconut logs, that hand grenades bounce off like tennis balls. The engineers have to creep up and demolish them with TNT.

The images on this page are some of the drawings Karl produced during his time in the Pacific. Although the originals are not in the best condition, they still convey a strong impression of what life was like for this battalion. Anyone having more information about any 857th Aviation Engineers or any of the troops pictured are welcome to send us an email. See additional images below

- Guy Rittmann -

Othiniel Lewis

Joe Clements

John McDow

"Gunboat" Davis

Norman Humphrey

Seigal Rallis

At Ease

Bland Simpson

Bob Goligoski

Corporal Portrait

Machine Gunner
Workers and a Douglas A-20G
Airfield Workers

40 winks

40 more winks

Harold Ross

Sunday morning

Officer Portrait

Back Study

Bob Goligoski

Mother & Child 
New Guinea

Company Clerk


George Williams

Walter Merriweather

Bob Hackney

Abandon Hope
We received the above sketch of 1st Lt. Bob Hackney from his family. Lt Hackney had sent the sketch to his home in Kansas during the war.

For information on the United States Military Engineers visit the Vets Home and the Army Engineers Assocation websites.

Site Developer (Guy Rittmann)