William Black Griswold Jr.
603rd Engineer Camouflage Bn : Co A
ASN#33681883 Casualty: Wounded
Born 1924 in PA
Other residence(s): Old Lyme, CT
United States Army, European Theatre of Operations
Occupation before the war: student
Bill Griswold was born on August 1, 1924 in Erie, PA, the older of two children. He was the scion of an old Connecticut family (his 3X great-grandfather, Roger Griswold, served in the House of Representatives, and was elected Governor of Connecticut in 1811—dying while in office the following year). His great-grandfather had founded the Griswold Manufacturing Co. in Erie during the Civil War, thus accounting for their presence in Pennsylvania.
Bill's father worked as a real estate broker in Erie but the family still had strong ties to their Connecticut history (and likely still owned property there). Bill's parents divorced sometime in the 1930s; his mother moved to New York City and he and his sister remained in Erie with their father and grandmother.
Bill attended the University School in Hunting Valley, OH (a suburb of Cleveland). His father remarried while he was in school there, and he became the much older sibling of a half-brother born in 1943.
Bill registered for the draft four months after his 18th birthday, and enlisted on July 28, 1943 after completing his junior year in high school. He found a place in the 603rd Engineer Camouflage Battalion, likely because of his interest in art and his fluency in French, and served in Europe with the unit. Several of his Ghost Army colleagues told about his meeting Picasso after the liberation of Paris. A 2013 interview with Ellsworth Kelly tells the story.
"Kelly arrived in war-torn Paris just after the celebrations. 'There were no cars, just bicycles, and people came up to us because they knew we had candy and cigarettes.' Things might have improved when a close army friend returned from dinner to say he'd met Picasso. 'He was called Griswold, a rich boy from an old family in Connecticut. He met Picasso at Gertrude Stein's. I said I'd like to meet him but Griswold said: "Oh no you're just a country boy." ' Kelly had to be content with Griswold's reports. 'Griswold looked like a Picasso blue period figure, and Picasso did draw him.' . . . Kelly also drew Griswold. 'It's good to know you drew the same model as Picasso.'"
A 1973 MOMA catalog entry for an Ellsworth Kelly show adds the following: "Kelly at this time  could not speak French; moreover his shyness and his tendency to be a loner meant that Paris for him was primarily a visual experience. His buddy, Bill Griswold, a student of architectural history, could speak the language and was one of those hundreds of GIs who sought out Pablo Picasso. But he did not take Kelly along because he ‘would not look good in a drawing room.’”
Arthur Singer's letters tell still another version of this story: "The fellow [Griswold] was doing a sketch of a scene when a Frenchman came up to him and watched him. Fortunately this boy speaks very good French. Well, the man who approached him turned out to be an artist and he invited the . . . soldier to his studio. This artist was none other than Pablo Picasso!!! Can you imagine a thing like that happening--it sounds like some kind of a dream. Picasso showed him his past four years of painting, threw a party in his studio for him, and even painted his portrait."
Bill was discharged from the Army on November 17, 1945. In 1949, he sailed to France, intending to stay two years. In 1950 he was living in "The Willows" in Old Lyme, CT, and he sailed to France in 1951 where he spent the summer. He was in France again in 1954.
Nothing else is known of his life or work.
He died on May 19, 1979 and is buried at the Griswold Cemetery in Old Lyme, CT; there are six William Griswolds buried there.
1942 high school yearbook
1942 draft card
1944 (December 8) letter from Arthur Singer to his wife; GALP archives
1950 Pennsylvania Veteran Compensation File
1949 shipboard manifest (NY to LeHavre for 2 years)
1951 shipboard manifest (NY to LeHavre for 3 months)
1954 shipboard manifest (NY to LeHavre)
1973 MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) catalog for an Ellsworth Kelly show
1979 VA death record
1979 Find a Grave record
2015 article in Apollo about Ellsworth Kelly