The world of America's soldiers come sharply into focus without the need for film clips, old newsreel footage or graphic photographs at the National Constitution Center's new exhibition, "Art of the American Soldier."

Soldiers swapped their guns for sketchbooks to tell the stories of their lives brush-stroke by brush-stroke, in jungle greens, ocean blues, desert yellows, night-op grays and bloody reds.

Many of the soldiers risked their lives to capture and record the scenes you'll see in 250 pieces of art that provide intimate and personal portrayals of what these men and women saw and experienced in this country's military conflicts.

This never-seen-before-collection of oil paintings, watercolors, pen-and-inks, pencil and charcoal sketches and cartoons has been drawn from the U.S. Army's hidden treasures — more than 16,000 paintings and sketches that have been in curatorial storage in a Washington, D.C. basement awaiting the 2015 completion of the National Museum of the United States Army.

"The Constitution Center's visitors have a truly unusual opportunity to see a large-scale showing of our art that has seldom been seen beyond military circles," observes Sarah Forgey, art curator for the Army Art Collection

The exhibit offers much more than art on walls. You'll hear the voices of eight soldiers talking about their paintings and their experiences when you press touch-pads. You'll watch a theatrical performance "Through Their Eyes," which draws from soldier-artists' stories. You'll see an online gallery of additional art submitted by former or current soldiers (or their families). You'll be able to write postcards that will be sent to current soldiers.

For an additional $5, you can add an I-pod tour packed with oral histories of soldiers comparing their personal experiences with those portrayed in the artwork, including the observation that most Vietnam-era art shows soldiers with chin-straps unstrapped and holding onto their helmets when they were running — because the straps caused irritating skin rashes in the country's blistering heat.

Working with whatever they could muster, and often under fire, the soldier-artists have framed a much bigger picture for visitors.

Art shows soldiers going about their daily routines, preparing for combat and fighting, giving visitors a broader view of the hardships fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters — generations of American families — endured.

The exhibition's time line runs from World War I, when soldier-artists were first commissioned. It contains a heavy concentration of World War II and Vietnam War art because that's when the greatest number of Army soldiers were deployed. It also takes you through the Persian Gulf War and our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although therew were no soldier-artists during the Korean War, it is represented by donated or purchased art from soldiers.

Laid out in five sections, the exhibition includes an introduction and sections titled A Soldier's Life, A Soldier's Duty and A Soldier's Sacrifice, before marching on to moving portraits in The American Soldier — a final tribute to America's sons and daughters answering the call to arms.

Art shows soldiers going about their daily routines, preparing for combat and fighting, giving visitors a broader view of the hardships fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters — generations of American families — endured.

One soldier his laundry in buckets, another snoozes on a cot draped with mosquito netting and still others wait in line to shave or call home. Soldiers gather to watch a movie on Canton Island, see Bob Hope perform and pray together at an Easter morning service.

You'll see soldiers on the move as they catch a train to war from London's Paddington Station, traverse dusty roads in Jeeps and troop transporters, drive tanks, look down from helicopters and hack their way through a jungle.

Allow yourself to be absorbed by the art and you may hear rifle fire or feel like diving into the trenches as you view scenes of soldiers heroically charging a machine gun position or crawling through a battlefield's hail of bullets. You'll also sense the tension of a soldier probing for land mines in Bosnia and witness the grim aftermaths of bitter conflicts, from wounded soldiers and orphaned children to blackened terrain and burned-out towns and villages.

Among the exhibition's most riveting paintings is one that shows a bewildered young medic at Normandy standing next to a pile of bloody bandages and abandoned boots. Another, "Death in the Snow" by Edward Laning, depicts a soldier lying in the snow, dying from a sniper's bullet.

However, the exhibition is not laden with horrifying blood-and-guts scenes. "Rather than focusing on epic battles, we wanted our art to tell stories about all aspects of soldiers' lives. After all, soldiers say it's 95 percent waiting and 5 percent sheer terror," comments Stephanie Reyer, director of exhibitions for the constitution center.

The 6,000 square foot exhibition is not organized in conflict-by-conflict chronology. Vietnam-era paintings are clustered next to World War II scenes, if they convey the same message.

Reyer explains, "Juxtaposing time periods and conflicts enables us to highlight the soldier experience through time. Some art shows how similar soldiers' lives have been, no matter when or where they served. Others provide dramatic evidence of how technology has changed the face of  battle."