“Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What’s a sundial in the shade?”
We all have a talent, something we enjoy doing so much that it rarely, if ever, feels like work. Matter of fact, you probably enjoy doing so much that you even do it for free. That is usually why we tend to think it doesn’t qualify as something worth bringing to the attention of our commanding officer. It could be a special ability like that for sculpting, painting, lettering, a knack for numbers, public speaking, music, or even magic. If you have a gift or talent that you feel can benefit others in anyway, whether they are military personnel or not, it is worth presenting to your C.O. You may be amazed at how well it is received, appreciated, respected and if utilized benefits your entire unit.
As a boy, I would often fantasize about how wonderful it would be to earn a living drawing cartoons. I’d imagine myself living like cartoonist Charles Schultz as I’d seen in pictures of him at his drawing table, cheerfully illustrating the daily adventures of his Peanuts. For me that seemed like the ultimate dream job I loved drawing cartoons.
However, my life seemed to take quite a different course. In 1984 I enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard. Shortly after boot camp, we drew straws to see who would end up having to do a tour aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Jarvis. This was one of the Coast Guard’s long range ships, which meant prolonged time underway at sea. Ever hear the saying, “Do what you love and the money will follow”? Well, it was obvious that wasn’t
going to be happening to me anytime soon. I drew the shortest straw.
The Jarvis was scheduled to patrol the Bering Sea. I wasn’t happy. My fantasy about life in the U.S. Coast Guard was to be suntanned aboard a flashy speedboat like I had seen on the TV show Miami Vice. My reality however was about to be more like the TV series, Deadliest Catch.
I’ll never forget that moment of pulling away from the dock in Honolulu about to set sail to Alaskan waters berating myself, “Now look what you got yourself into!” Once out at sea, my days consisted entirely of mindless grunt work. Being the lowest ranking sailor on board I mainly chipped paint and then repainted the areas I just chipped, cleaned and organized areas that were in desperate need of organizing and cleaning, and I was also assigned trash detail. The only time I got a break from these chores was when I had to stand watch outside in the frigid cold, above the bridge in the crow’s nest I scanned the horizon for anything out of the ordinary. When my duties were finished I would draw cartoons.
Thinking ahead, I had packed plenty of paper, pencils and markers for this tour of duty. This was good old days before smart phones and satellite TV. So that meant the only form of shipboard entertainment was either playing cards with other sailors, reading a book, or smoking cigarettes on the fantail. Instead, I spent each night drawing cartoons based on my daily experience at sea. It became the highlight of my day.
Soon, I began to see each day’s mishap as content for my next cartoon. Crazy as this may seem, a day without some sort of challenge or comical blunder on my part was seen as a disappointment. When I showed my cartoons to two shipmates they were impressed.
“You should show these to the captain!” one of them suggested.
“Yeah, he’d love them!” said the other.
I did and they were right. The captain loved them so much he immediately assigned me the task of creating a new cartoon every day to tack up on “the board” in the main pass each morning. The board was the only bulletin board on the ship. This was where the entire crew was expected to look to for each day’s itinerary as laid out in the P.O.D., Plan Of the Day, written and posted by the ship’s executive officer. It was located in the main pass directly outside the galley where it couldn’t be missed. It was encased in plexiglass under lock and key. Only the executive officer had a key and was granted permission to hang the approved notices therein.
Although flattered, I was apprehensive. Sharing my drawings with a few close friends is one thing, but the entire crew? Plus, this meant it was no longer a pastime for me. In addition to my regular daily duty assignments I was now under orders to create new cartoon every evening.
The captain displayed his confidence by trusting me with a key to the bulletin board case. He then surprised me with access to very my own designated art studio on the ship. There was an available drawing table located in the ship’s Marine Safety Office and from then on it was all mine. That meant no more fighting to find an open table somewhere to draw, nor did I have to unpack and repack my pens and pencils every evening. So I began. Each evening after duty I’d complete a new cartoon and in the morning hang it in the main pass alongside the Plan Of the Day.
Some nights I found it hard to sleep because I was so excited to share what I drew with the crew in the morning. I became a bit of a celebrity too. Sailors would make it a point to pull me aside and tell me how much they enjoyed a specific cartoon. Pretty soon, putting up the morning cartoon became a major event. The sailors would crowd around the bulletin board after breakfast and wait patiently as I pushed my way through the crowd to unlock the case and post my latest one. Looking forward to drawing at each day’s end made tending to my regular duties seem effortless. I was happy, but there was a conspiracy brewing. I was called in to see the captain.
He told me that a couple of the chief petty officers were wondering if I could be given a new daily duty assignment and he agreed with them. From that moment on I was relieved of all my previous daily grunt work. My new full-time shipboard job was to create and paint murals on designated doors of the ship—all to be done in my unique style of cartooning. If this hadn’t happened to me personally I would have never believed it possible. It was official, under what seemed to be the most unlikely circumstances my dream became a reality—I was a professional cartoonist.
On the last day of our tour, the Plan Of the Day item number three read: “Also, a good job to Darrell ‘The Door Painter’ Fusaro, for his artwork on the doors to sick bay, supply office, hobby shop, ship’s office, and the barber pole. I’m glad the Coast Guard doesn’t pay by the hour but he has done a lot to improve many of the spaces aboard JARVIS.”
After my time aboard the Jarvis I continued to volunteer my talent as a cartoonist throughout my enlistment. While assigned to Hawaii Armed Services Police I created the Coast Guard 14th District’s cartoon mascot “Poki” used in newsletters and advertisements promoting the U.S. Coast Guard throughout Hawaii.
Other veterans who shared their talent during active duty include comedian Flip Wilson, whose real name was Clerow. While enlisted in the United States Air Force, his outgoing personality and funny stories made him popular; he was even asked to tour military bases to cheer up other servicemen. Claiming that he was always “flipped out”, Wilson’s barracks mates gave him the nickname “Flip” which he used as his stage name. Tonight Show legend Johnny Carson joined the U.S. Navy in 1943, starting as an apprentice shipman and eventually a midshipman assigned to the USS Pennsylvania in the Pacific Ocean. The then 20-year-old entertained his fellow Navymen with magic and comedy while aboard the ship. Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Bill Mauldin joined the Arizona National Guard, and went on active duty with it as a rifleman in the 45th Infantry Division. He accompanied the 45th through the Army camps in the United States, and in 1943, as a sergeant, went overseas with the division to Sicily, where he was transferred to the “Stars and Stripes” with and assignment to cover the war in cartoons. He created “Willie and Joe” the two-mud-covered, dry-humored infantrymen who typified the front-line soldier to all our combat troops. This strip won him a 1945 Pulitzer Prize and the reputation as WWII’s outstanding cartoonist.
Darrell Fusaro is an artist, keynote speaker, U.S. Coast Guard Veteran, and the co-host of Funniest Thing! with Darrell and Ed on Unity Online Radio. Throughout his colorful life in the arts and entertainment industry Fusaro has stepped out optimistically from one adventure to the next. He has exhibited with Andy Warhol; worked as a Hollywood stunt coordinator on the blockbuster, Con Air; acted in numerous commercials; and was a producer of the Emmy-nominated Local Edition on CNN.
Having stumbled aimlessly through his early life, he served in the Bering Sea before being chosen as the sole Coast Guard member assigned to HASP (Hawaii Armed Services Police). The remainder of his enlistment was served as a member of this joint military law enforcement task force. It was during this time that he was sent to Pearl Harbor for rehabilitation training. There he was introduced to metaphysical laws and the practical application of spiritual principles. This knowledge brought radical success in every aspect of Darrell’s life. He was awarded the Army Commendation Medal by the Secretary of the Army for personally bringing about superior relationships between the military and the civilian law enforcement community.
Articles on Darrell Fusaro’s artistic adventures have been covered in dozens of programs and publications from The New York Times to American Artist Magazine, LA Weekly to L’Italo Americano (Italian), Military Times to Cinefex Magazine, and SoCal News to CNN. He is also featured as an artist and filmmaker in the following books; “The Documentary Moviemaking Course: The Starter Guide to Documentary Filmmaking” By Kevin J. Lindenmuth, “Pastel School: A Practical Guide to Painting and Drawing with Pastels” By Hazel Harrison, and “How to Get Hung A Practical Guide for Emerging Artists” By Molly Barnes.
Each week on his Funniest Thing! with Darrell and Ed radio show, his personal stories inspire and entertain a global audience. In his new book, What If Godzilla Just Wanted a Hug?, Darrell has packed his experience into easy-to-digest, bite-sized stories encouraging the talented and timid to trust their gut, act on intuition, and step out boldly.