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The Artist Goes To War Exhibit (www.charlesrossetti.com)

The Artist Goes To War exhibit was displayed at The Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial from April to December 2013. The exhibit consists of The World War II US Navy Art of Charles M. Rossetti. Rossetti (1922-1991) was an aircraft ammunition handler aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-4) in the North Atlantic in WWII. Most of the art are pencil sketches of his shipmates and other US Navy personnel in WWII. About 30 pieces of Rossetti’s WWII US Navy art were on display in the center of the USS Battleship NEW Jersey.

“The youth of the US Navy in WWII is evident in these sketches,” says Battleship New Jersey (BB-62) V.P. and Curator Jason Hall. “We are pleased to be able offer a collection of quality WWII US Navy art as the first new exhibit on the Battleship New Jersey in some time.”

The exhibit is on loan from the collection of Theresa Rossetti, Charles Rossetti’s widow. The exhibit was developed by the artist’s son, Tim Rossetti, the artist’s granddaughter, Amy (Rossetti) Williams, her husband Commander Christian Williams, USN, skipper of the Los Angeles Class nuclear submarine USS Springfield (SSN-761), and Ron Gottardi, nephew of the artist and current Battleship New Jersey Docent and volunteer Assistant Director of the Battleship New Jersey Oral History Program.

* * * * *

It was September, 1942. Things were heating up in the war with the Axis powers. Charles Rossetti had just started art school in Philadelphia a month earlier. He was there on a scholarship from Atlantic City High School. He was twenty years old, thin, handsome, with curly dark hair and a warm smile. He and his classmates sat nervously in the class room as the Navy recruiter explained the Navy V6 program. If he enlisted right now, the Navy would guarantee that he will be discharged and his military obligation ended within six months of the end of the war, letting him resume your education or career ASAP. This was true even if the war ended tomorrow; he would then be home in six months.

It gave Rossetti something to think about. Chances were good his number would come up soon and he would be drafted and not able to return to school or work for several years. His older brothers were already in: Tim had enlisted in the Navy and his brother Eddie had been drafted into the Army. His younger brother Victor wanted to enlist but his father was urging him to wait because he needed his help in the family business back in Atlantic City, masonry and tile work.

Most of Rossetti’s art school class opted to drop out of school and immediately enlist, not only because the program had a quick out after the war but also because they were patriotic and wanted to serve and help fight and defeat the Axis powers. Moreover they were optimistic that America and its allies would defeat the enemy soon, enabling them to resume their education and careers.

Rossetti enlisted in the U.S. Navy on October 1, 1942. He went through boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois and Aviation Ordnance School in Memphis Tennessee, graduating as an Aviation Ordnance Mate 3rd class in February of 1943. In May he was assigned to the USS Ranger (CV-4), the first U.S. ship built from the keel up as an aircraft carrier. Aboard Ranger Rossetti handled aircraft ammunition on the busy and dangerous flight deck. Rossetti’s unit was CASU-22 (Carrier Aircraft Service Unit) and it supported Bombing Squadron 4 (VB-4) which was part of Air Group 4. A major responsibility of the Ranger Air Group was antisub patrol and convoy escort duty in the North Atlantic.
For relaxation, practice and a little extra income, Charles Rossetti did pencil sketches of his Ranger crewmates and other US Navy personnel. Many of the sketches are labeled with only the last names of his crew mates (which is the way crewmen referred to one another) and the ship or shore station to which the subject or artist was assigned (e.g., Ranger, Providence, Ayer, Quonset, Hyannis). During World War II the Navy operated Naval Auxiliary Airfields at Hyannis (now Barnstable Municipal Airport) and Ayer and both the Navy and Army Air Forces flew antisubmarine patrols from there. The Navy operated a major Naval Air Station at Quonset Point Rhode Island, including bases for Naval Construction Battalions known as the Seabees (where the Quonset hut was developed), numerous aviation squadrons, a major aircraft overhaul and repair facility, and was home port to several Essex class aircraft carriers, as well as their respective carrier air groups and, later in the war, USS Ranger.
Ranger served as flagship for several commanders of Carriers, Atlantic Fleet. She carried a squadron of army planes to Accra on the Gold Coast of Africa. Off of Casablanca, Morocco, she participated in Operation Torch, launching her aircraft to support landings on the Atlantic coast of North Africa. Her Wildcat planes attacked the French airdromes in Morocco and strafed French destroyers in Casablanca harbor, destroying more than 70 enemy planes on the ground and shot down 15 in aerial combat. Sixteen Ranger planes were lost. Casablanca capitulated to the American invaders 11 November 1942. Ranger returned to the US to patrol the waters off New England and Atlantic Canada. She then steamed to join the British Home Fleet based in Scapa Flow Scotland to patrol the approaches to the British Isles, including several stops in Iceland.

In April of 1943, German radio claimed that U-Boat U-404, commanded by Commander Otto von Bulow, sank the Ranger. Adolf Hitler personally decorated von Bulow with Oak Leaves to the Knights Cross for this action. The U.S. Navy, concerned about the impact of the German announcement on families of Ranger crewmen, immediately issued a denial of the German assertion. Captain Gordon Rowe, commanding officer of the Ranger told CBS foreign correspondent Quintin Reynolds in a February 1944 radio broadcast: "The story that we were sunk was a coward's trick – spreading anxiety and fear among the innocent." Germany did not retract or correct the claim until after the war.

After damaging German shipping off Norway in October 1943 as part of Operation Leader, Ranger returned to the US in December. In January 1944, Ranger became a training carrier out of Quonset Point, Rhode Island.

Rossetti then left the Ranger and was detached to Ayer Naval Auxiliary Air Station at Moore Army Airfield in Fort Devens Army Base in Massachusetts until the war ended. This station supported training operations at Squantum Naval Air Station in Quincy, Mass and was the land base for Carrier Air Group 4 which took its numerical designation from its first aircraft carrier, the USS Ranger (CV-4).

Six months later, Rossetti had earned his 44 points to go home and was discharged on February 7, 1946, as the Navy had promised. Rossetti received 12 weeks of training as a commercial sign painter to ease his transition back to civilian life.

Rossetti came home to New Jersey in 1946 and still in his Navy "cracker jack" uniform he walked into a sign painting shop and asked for a job. That day he met the shop's secretary, Theresa Noviello, who would become his bride and partner. After just a few years Rossetti ventured out on his own, starting his own sign shop and used his artistic talent to build Beacon Sign Company in Perth Amboy, his family business that still operates there today.

Charlie passed away in 1991 but is survived and fondly remembered by his bride Tess, his three children Tim, Mary and Ron and his three grandchildren Amy, Gregg and Kaitlyn.

Charles Rossetti (1922-1991) was one of 14 members of the same family who served in the armed forces during World War II, including four brothers, four brothers-in-law, and six cousins. The exhibit of The US Navy World War II Art of Charles Rossetti includes a panel on the service of the 14 family members in WWII.

 
 
 

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