Curiosities at the Hall


Most curators that I know will admit that they have favorites within their collection and to be honest this probably changes with each new gift that comes into their museum.  Veterans Memorial Hall and Museum is not exempt from this professional oddity. In fact one of our recent donations has quickly shot to the top of my favorite list.

We, in Rockford are blessed to have families that have made the choice to serve our country, some for a single generation and others for two or three generations. The Chalman Family of Rockford is one of those later families with at least three generations serving and at times more than one member of a generation in uniform.

Since 2009 Veterans Memorial Hall and Museum has been honored to be the curator of pieces this family’s service history, photographs, mementoes, and military records.  The family’s service is represented beginning with: Arthur Chalman, a WWI Army veteran; followed by his 2 sons, Robert Chalman, a WWII Airmen and Charles Chalman, a WWII Navy flyer, MIA, and from here comes a third generation represented by James Chalman, son of Robert, an Army veteran whom served in Viet Nam.

The most recent gift to Veterans Memorial Hall and Museum from the family, our thanks to Evelyn Krueger, is a collection of additional photographs and something rather unusual. A collection of more than 40 assorted covers from the Saturday Evening Post dated 1937 through 1951. Saved by the wife of A. Chalman, the covers have a common theme of military related illustrations or photographs. Several of these covers are done by Norman Rockwell and depict his famous character Willie Gillis, we are now in possession of 7 of the 11 covers Rockwell created using the character of Willie Gillis.

Being the curious person I am, I decided to do just a little bit of research and found that there was a real Willie Gillis. I hope you enjoy these images and the information as much as I did finding it.

“Most artists depicted the WWII soldier as a big, strapping man with chiseled features. Rockwell wanted the boy next door. So he studied faces. “The model Rockwell used for Gillis was my wife’s uncle,” emailed Jarrod. “Apparently, they met in Vermont. He (Bob Buck) said that this guy wouldn’t stop staring at him and that he was about to knock his block off when the guy said he was Norman Rockwell and that he wanted to paint him.” By the time of this 1942 cover, many a soldier could identify with the homesick Willie eager for news from home. The war meant financial strains and spiraling costs for everything: it was with this issue that the price of The Saturday Evening Post rose from five to ten cents.”  
“Willie Gillis
Distant from the activities of the war raging in Europe, Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) was challenged to record his interpretation of the effects of World War II on servicemen, and on Americans at home. For Rockwell, an unassuming fictional private named Willie Gillis told the story of one man’s army in a series of eleven published (and one unpublished) Saturday Evening Post covers, in which he was depicted doing everything from proudly receiving a care package from home to peeling potatoes and reading the hometown news. Rockwell met his Willie Gillis model, Robert Otis “Bob” Buck, at an Arlington, Vermont square dance. Then fifteen years of age, Buck was exempt from the draft, but anxious to enlist, he eventually began his service in 1943 as a naval aviator in the South Seas. The name Willis Gillis was coined by Rockwell’s wife, Mary Barstow Rockwell, an avid reader who drew inspiration from the story of Wee Gillis, a 1938 book about an orphan boy by Munro Leaf.”  

See Artifacts Photo pages for images of the covers.