YOUNGSTOWN - Two years ago, John Grantonic Jr. was rooting through an old trunk that belonged to his brother. In the bottom of the trunk he found 14 old drawings.
The drawings, which now comprise the "Over Here, Over There" exhibition on the second floor of the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngs-town, were rendered by his father, John Grantonic Sr. during the elder's tour in Verdun, France, during World War I.
Drawn in pencil on French YMCA letterhead stationery and American Expeditionary Force paper, the cartoons all portray images of military life through a comic lens.
Tribune Chronicle / Dan Pompili
John Grantonic Jr. stands Sunday by a photo of his father, John Grantonic Sr. The father’s comic depictions of World War I are on display at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown.
One cartoon depicts a soldier watching a large-caliber ammunition shell passing narrowly between his legs with the caption, "Bless the day that the Lord made me bow-legged!"
Grantonic Jr., of Youngstown, said he wasn't sure what to do with the pictures after initially showing them to family, but thought they may be of interest to a museum.
When he attended a motorcycle exhibit at the Butler months ago, he showed some of the cartoons to director Dr. Louis Zona.
"He asked me 'What war did you say these were from? Are you sure?'"
Zona said the historical importance of the cartoons is a big reason he wanted to display them.
"It's been really quite nice, it's like a time machine," he said. "To realize some of the challenges the 'Dough Boys,' faced, as they were called. I also love the idea that it's an Ohio artist and his son lives here in our community."
Grantonic Jr. said he remembers his father drawing murals on the back of rolls of wallpaper. Grantonic Sr. worked on the railroad both before and during his tour of duty, and would often draw and paint murals related to trains. Grantonic Jr. said he doesn't know the whereabouts of any of the murals.
Grantonic Jr. said his father did all the works free-hand and without ever having taken an art lesson.
As well as an insight into WWI, the cartoons also provide a link to the beginning of a long and proud legacy for the family.
"I'm not going to leave them buried for another 90 years, believe you me," Grantonic Jr. said.
The Grantonic family has a lengthy history of military service across several branches, dating from Grantonic Sr.'s tour. A list at the display shows 24 Grantonics from 1917 all the way up to 2004, including Thomas Grantonic, John Jr.'s brother, who was killed in action at Colmar, France, in 1945.
Grantonic Jr. said his brother George ate breakfast with renowned WWII war correspondent Ernie Pyle the day that reporter was killed by Japanese sniper fire on an island near Okinawa.
Grantonic Sr. was active in the American Legion and VFW and was vehement about making sure all veterans' graves were properly adorned with flags. Something his son still tries to do.
Grantonic Jr., who served during peacetime in the Ohio National Guard, said 11 of his relatives-in-arms are still alive and live in many places across the country.
Still, he said he doesn't know many of his relatives' war stories.
"My dad didn't talk about it much, and my brother has only just started sharing some things with me," he said.
Among the crowd Sunday at the Butler was board of trustees president Dan Tidrick.
"I didn't come today because I'm president of the board. I did it because it seemed like a nice Memorial (Day) weekend thing to do," he said.
The cartoons remain on display through July 8.