Monday, May 15, 2017
Legendary illustrator-photographer Ed Vebell today was named grand marshal of this year’s Westport Memorial Day parade.
In addition, William Vornkahl, president of the Westport Veterans Council, announced that in honor of all veterans and first responders, there will be a fly-over by the Stratford police helicopter, Eagle 1, weather permitting.
Vebell will turn 96 on May 25, four days before the Memorial Day parade, which sets out at 9 a.m. on Riverside Avenue.
Vebell, a World War II Army sergeant, was the key artist in Europe and North Africa for Stars & Stripes, the American newspaper reporting on matters affecting the U.S. Armed Forces.
He was also the only artist allowed to cover the 1945, post-war Nuremberg, Germany war trials, which prosecuted members of the Nazi leadership.
Vebell also rode with the cavalry in Algiers, was an Olympic fencer, and upon his return statewide, drew for myriad national magazines and newspapers.
Born in 1921 in Chicago, Vebell’s talent for drawing was evident at an early age. Upon graduating from high school, he won scholarships to three different art schools.
It turned out that each art school ran its summer programs at different times of the day, morning, afternoon and evening. Vebell says he attended all three.
Upon finishing, he said, his work was in demand by a number of advertising agencies, as well as the Sears Roebuck catalog.
“I was 18, and I was making $400 a week from 1939 to 1940,” Vebell told WestportNow last summer. (See WestportNow June 29, 2016) “I was able to buy two cars, and I wrecked them both.”
One of the accidents left him blind in the right eye.
“I was 18, and I paid for that accident the rest of my life,” he said.
But it did not stop him from drawing and succeeding in his craft, one that he credits for a life he calls lucky.
“I was so lucky to be an artist,” he said. “I was the luckiest soldier to be an artist.”
Vebell said initially he was assigned to be an aircraft gunner, an assignment that had claimed many lives. But when superiors learned he was an artist, he first job was to paint camouflage on planes.
“Later I got sent to Stars & Stripes,” he said. “Being an artist saved my life.”
From 1942 to 1947, Vebell served in North Africa and Europe.
“I spent a whole year in Algeria,” he said. “For three months I rode with the French cavalry. I felt like Lawrence of Arabia.”
There, he also resumed another one of his passions forged in a Chicago club, fencing.
It was a hobby that after the war would cost him wounds to his chest, neck and groin, but rewarded him with gold and bronze medals, as well as being a finalist at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.
In 1953, he and his late wife, Elsa, settled into their Westport Quentin Road home he has lived in ever since. Elsa, who he says was a descendant of Spanish royalty, died 13 years ago.
“I guess I’m the last illustrator left in Westport,” he said. “When I arrived here, there were 200 of them. We were called the Westport Artists, not the artists’ school, just the Westport Artists, and we’d meet once a month. Nobody remembers them now.
“The town was unbelievable,” Vebell added. “You had the best talent in the United States, and they were all at one time in my studio.”
James Lomuscio contributed reporting.
Posted 05/15/17 at 02:55 PM Permalink