Remembering back when: A Real-Life Uncle Sam

Larry Larkin

It seems only fitting that the accompanying poster advertising Claremore and Rogers County for the upcoming World War II Veterans Reunion has Uncle Sam right in the middle.

The pose of the stern looking gentleman in the top hat stating “I Want You” is the most recognized and successful poster ever created.

Over four million copies were printed for World War I when it was first drawn. U.S. Military Services continued today to use it for recruitment.

If we want to use the poster now for our purposes maybe some credit needs to be sent out to the artist behind it.

Maybe a little hard to believe but the man’s name was James Montgomery Flagg.

He was born in Pelham Manor, New York in 1877.

As a young child he discovered he had talent drawing pictures. At the age of 12 he sold one of his first drawings. Two years later he was contributing to Life Magazine.

By age 20 his skills allowed Flagg to move and work first in London and then on to France.

Once back in the United States he soon became one of the country’s leading illustrators.

His work appeared regularly in Saturday Evening Post, Photoplay, and Ladies’ Home Journal, Collier’s Weekly, Harper’s Weekly, Cosmopolitan, and McClure’s Magazine.

Despite his catchy name, most of his work might have faded away with the years had the following not happened. He was 40 years old when he was asked by the U.S. government to design what turned out to be 46 patriotic posters.

The most famous one was a picture of Uncle Sam pointing a finger at the viewer and the caption, “I Want You for the U.S. Army.

As much as this poster has become an U.S. tradition, it should be pointed out his drawing was “borrowed” in more ways than one. Flagg’s work came out in 1917. Three years earlier a poster of Lord Kitchener, British Secretary of State for War, pointing in the same manner came out with the wording for Britain citizens to volunteer for service.

For whatever reason, Flagg did not hire a model for his Uncle Sam.

The drawn character in various manners dated back prior to the Civil War. Flagg used a neighbor named Walter Botts as the figure of a slender yet strong looking body.

The artist then added his own face, adding age and the white goatee.

That image from the “I Want You” poster is now tradition. Still being used when World War II started in 1941, it continued to instill in U.S. citizens a positive outlook, a sense of patriotism and confidence.

Over 12 million young men passed by one of those posters as they enlisted. At the same time the poster and ones like it were used to encourage all Americans to help with the war effort.

Flagg would continue his career as an artist and magazine illustrator well after WWII. At his peak it was believed he was the highest paid illustrator in America. Following his death in May 1960, James Montgomery (Uncle Sam) Flagg was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery…in the Bronx, New York City.

WWII Veterans Needed Again

Uncle Sam is asking once again for the Veterans of World War II to step out.

On Saturday June 3, a Reunion for these men and women and their families will be held at Claremore’s Gazebo Park.

The key purpose of the event is to honor this gallant and brave generation that served more than 70 years ago.

From 12 noon until around 3 p.m. plans call for the Veterans to share their stories with each other and younger listeners.

The Claremore Progress is seeking photos and service branch of all Rogers County WWII Vets.

A special military section of the newspaper is scheduled for the event.

Individual and groups of volunteers are being asked to provide tables or booths with cookies, donuts, tea, water, etc. While some chairs will be on the grounds it is hoped visitors will bring their own lawn chairs.

Larry Larkin can be reached at 918-341-6027 or

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