John Thomson Jarvie
T/5 in 603rd Engineer Camouflage Bn : Co C
Born 1922 in NJ, Died 2017
United States Army, European Theatre of Operations
Occupation before the war: clerks, general office
College education before the war: Cooper Union 3 years
John Jarvie was born on February 28, 1922 in Kearny, NJ, the youngest of four children. His parents were both born in Scotland; they'd emigrated in 1910 and his father found work as an ironworker in a foundry.
John graduated from Kearny High School in 1939 and went on to Cooper Union in New York City to study art. He filled out his draft registration on June 30, 1942, after completing three years at Cooper Union. At school he had learned that there was a special unit being formed that was looking for artists. He enlisted on October 27, 1942, and was assigned to his chosen unit, the 603rd Engineer Camouflage Battalion. He went to Fort Meade in Maryland for basic training, and then on to Camp Forrest in Tennessee to join his fellow Ghost Army soldiers.
John was a jeep driver in the 603rd and one of the very talented artists in the unit, creating evocative drawings and watercolors documenting his war-time experiences. He sent these home to his mother as time went on; the work eventually filled three 3-ring binders. He captured everything from bombed-out churches to busy brothels, from Russian refugees to weary soldiers in the rain. "We were sleeping in hedgerows and foxholes, but nothing kept us from going someplace to do a watercolor," recalled John.
He also brought home pieces of stained glass from the shattered windows of those bombed-out churches; he and his fellow soldiers had purchased the glass from French children in exchange for chocolate. (John eventually had a stained glass lamp made from his salvaged treasures.)
After his discharge from the Army with the rank of CPL, he married Kathleen Clark and settled down to an art career. John and Kathleen were parents of a son, John Jr. John Sr. worked his way up to Art Director for the in-house agency of Fairchild Publications, owner of Women's Wear Daily. He spent 30 years with that in-house agency, supervising a staff of 10 artists and 6-7 writers.
After leaving Fairchild, he became VP and Art Director for an auto agency. He was also a member of the Salmagundi Art Club.
John's wife died in 1992; the companion of his later years was Kathleen "Kat" Butler.
Well into his retirement, John became the inspiration for Rick Beyer's interest in the Ghost Army, and the film, book, and ongoing work that resulted.
John's niece, Martha Gavin, had borrowed one of his wartime binders for her son who wanted to use it for a school project. She was introduced to filmmaker Rick Beyer by a mutual friend who thought Rick might be interested in the material. They met at a Starbucks in Lexington, MA in February 2005 and Rick was stunned by the artwork she showed him, and by the circumstances of John's wartime service. He quickly arranged a meeting in Kearny, NJ, and the rest is history.
John attended the world premiere of the film at the Salem MA Film Fest in 2013, and was a frequent presence at many Ghost Army events over the years.
He died on July 11, 2017 and is buried at Arlington Cemetery in Kearny.
Want to know more? Watch the Rick Beyer interview of John Jarvie.
1939 high school graduation
1942 draft card
1942 enlistment record
1945 marriage record
1952 US city directories (Harrison NJ)
2013 article in the Kearny NJ Observer re his Ghost Army experience
2013 article in New Jersey Monthly re his Ghost Army experience
2017 death record