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“The 2000 Yard Stare” by Thomas Lea

Tom Lea - 2000 Yard Stare

“The 2000 Yard Stare” by Thomas Lea

“The 2000 Yard Stare” by Thomas Lea depicts a nameless real-life American Marine at the Battle of Peleliu, during World War II, in 1944. The two-thousand-yard stare is a phrase used to describe the blank, unfocused gaze of combatants who have become emotionally detached from the horrors around them.

The phrase was popularized after Life magazine published this painting as “Marines Call It That 2,000 Yard Stare” by the World War II artist and correspondent Tom Lea.

Tom Lea was an artist reporter of World War II, the first civilian artist hired by LIFE Magazine. Lea wrote about the marine in his painting:

“He left the States 31 months ago.
He was wounded in his first campaign.
He has had tropical diseases.
He half-sleeps at night
and gouges Japs out of holes all day.
Two-thirds of his company has been killed or wounded.
He will return to attack this morning.
How much can a human being endure?”

In 1941, Thomas Lea joined the magazine “LIFE” as a war artist and correspondent aboard a destroyer. He traveled all over the world with the United States military from 1941 to 1945. 

But, it was his time in the western Pacific in 1944 as a combat correspondent with the United States 1st Marine Division during the invasion of Peleliu’s tiny island that he would really make a name for himself among the readers of LIFE.

He later claimed:

“My work there consisted of trying to keep from getting killed and trying to memorize what I saw and felt.”

Lea’s vivid images of the beach landing, and Battle of Peleliu, made an impact with his readers, and “2,000 Yard Stare” would become among his most famous works.

During the battle, 1,794 Americans died in a two-month period in what many called the war’s most controversial battle due to its questionable strategic value and high death toll.

Battle of Peleliu

The Battle of Peleliu was fought between the U.S. and Japan during World War II, from September to November 1944, on the island of Peleliu.

U.S. Marines of the 1st Marine Division, and later soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 81st Infantry Division, fought to capture an airstrip on the small coral island of Peleliu. 

The Commander of the 1st Marine Division predicted the island would be secured within four days. However, the battle extended to more than two months.

After repeated Imperial Japanese Army defeats in previous island campaigns, Japan had developed new island-defense tactics and improved fortifications that allowed greater resistance.

The outnumbered Japanese defenders put up stiff resistance, fighting to the death in the Emperor’s name. 

They Drew Fire-Combat Artists of WWII

The 2000 Yard Stare

  • Title:              The 2000 Yard Stare
  • Artist:            Thomas C. Lea III
  • Year:              1944
  • Category:      American Artist,  History Painting
  • Location:       United States Army Center of Military History

Thomas C. Lea III

Thomas Lea III (1907 – 2001) was an American muralist, illustrator, artist, war correspondent, novelist, and historian.

The bulk of his art and literary works were about Texas, north-central Mexico, and his World War II experience in the South Pacific and Asia. 

In 1941, he decided to paint for LIFE as a war artist and correspondent aboard a destroyer. He traveled all over the world with the United States military from 1941 to 1945.

Thomas C. Lea III

  • Artist:              Thomas Calloway “Tom” Lea III
  • Born:               1907, El Paso, Texas, U.S.
  • Died:               2001 (aged 93), El Paso, Texas, U.S.
  • Nationality:     American
  • Notable works:

Tom Lea’s powerful art

Tour of the National Museums in the United States

What is shell shock?

The Two Thousand Yard Stare: Tom Lea’s World War II

~~~

“Two-thirds of his company has been killed or wounded.
He will return to attack this morning.
How much can a human being endure?”

– Thomas Lea

~~~


Photo Credit: US Army, Tom Lea, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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