In cataloging the papers of Grayson B. Boyer (1915-1970) of Grayson County, Virginia, one cannot help but notice the dramatically-titled and cheekily-illustrated “Certificate of Survival” issued to Boyer upon completion of the Battle of the South Atlantic during World War II. As well as being a unique marker of the end of a major wartime naval effort, the document also helps offset the Library of Virginia’s surprising scarcity of holdings featuring cartoon images of lusty, bare-chested mermaids.
Dated 2 May 1945 and given some semblance of credibility by the facsimiled signature of Admiral J.H. Ingram, commander of the South Atlantic forces, the document humorously celebrates the various achievements of Boyer and his fellow sailors. These range from spending months (19, in Boyer’s case) “in a state of moral indecision and physical peril,” to “enduring the rigors of Gin tonicas and Caçhaca.” The mock-solemn text concludes by commending Boyer’s “placing in sacrifice the best years of his life on the gilded altar of Pan-American Relations.”
The document’s light tone is further indicated by its comic drawings. The aforementioned mermaid and two similarly-clad women (who are given the courtesy of names–Maria and Inez–if not opaque bikini tops) are surrounded by fish, sea horses, and shells. Still, the accompanying aircraft carrier, blimp, and seaplane remind the viewer that this is war, not merely a pleasure cruise.
Our hero the American sailor is featured triumphantly, flanked by his mermaid gal pal and a couple of open-mouthed fish of indeterminate identification, relaxing without a care on an island off the coast of Brazil. We learn his name and that of the artist by means of a notation at the bottom right of the certificate: “Drawn by the creator of ‘Salty’ the Sailor – ‘Wee Willie’ Walton.”
Alas, Walton’s “Salty” seems to be lost to history, or at least to history as recorded by the Internet. A quick Google image search for him reveals only a confusing array of anime, teddy bears, troll dolls, and a creepy “merman” ornament featured on an Australian shopping site. Weep not for “Salty,” however – through this “Certificate of Survival” he lives on in a perpetual state of self-assurance, calmly surveying the spoils of victory, a mermaid under one arm, and a neutralized Nazi submarine in his grasp.
Grayson Boyer’s hard-earned “Certificate of Survival” is available for research, as part of a collection of his papers at the Library of Virginia (Accession 50238).
-Jessica Tyree, Senior Accessioning Archivist