Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Closer Look at The Veteran's Monument

A few weeks ago was the 70th anniversary of the WWII battle of Normandy and D-Day. As I watched the Veterans being honored on TV, I remembered what a great honor and privilege it was to work on the Veteran's Monument for Hartsville SC. I remembered all the Veterans that my dad and I interviewed for the project. These men and women had the most amazing stories and details that we were able to add into the monument. I thought it might be nice to share a few of these stories.

The first panel of the monument was WWI. The figure in the front is actually a portrait of my great grandfather, William Hardy Russ. He actually looks a lot like my dad and uncles. Grandpa Russ served with the 118th infantry of the 30th Division aka "Ole Hickory". He was in the Signal Corp, responsible for communications mostly by telegraph. 
While creating this sculpture, Dad and I wanted to include lots of small details that would forever capture the stories we heard from the veterans and invite viewers to pursue more stories on their own. The portrait includes one of these small details; a tiny Signal Corp button on Grandpa Russ' jacket.

Each panel of the Veteran's Monument was created with a different feeling. The WWII panel is the most proud of the five. The WWII veterans that we interviewed acknowledged the horrors of war, but they all showed great pride in their service and what was accomplished during the war. The figure in the very front was intentionally made to mimic a beautiful painting, "Americans at War" by Norman Rockwell.

The man just to the left, in the bronze WWII panel is a portrait of William (Billy) Farrow. A native of the Hartsville area, Billy Farrow was a part of the Doolittle bombing raid over Japan. He was captured and ultimately executed. In the sculpture he holds a letter that was written to his mother before his execution.
"Don't let this get you down. Just remember God will make everything right and that I'll see you all again in the hereafter. . . . Read "Thanatopsis" by Bryant if you want to know how I am taking this. My faith in God is complete, so I am unafraid." -William Farrow

For the third panel, we decided to have the central figure giving a "thumbs up" signal, as is common among fighter pilots.  Since this was the first great conflict in which jet airplanes were commonly used in combat, we wanted the scene to include an authentic representation of that.  The Korean War is often referred to as the "forgotten war" because of the lack of attention it received both during and after the conflict. This is also due to the war's position in history between two of American conflicts (WWII and Vietnam) that were so large. The Korean War panel shows the only figure of the entire monument that makes direct eye contact with the viewer, drawing him or her into the scene and begging them not to forget his time Korea. 

The Vietnam War panel conveys a different mood. We observed from our interviews that this conflict did not end with a victorious and heroic atmosphere like WWII; so we tried to communicate that through the artwork.  Many veterans that we interviewed suggested that the message that Dad and I should try to convey is simply one of tragedy. In the center of the panel there is a female nurse holding a dead GI. This is the only dead soldier depicted in the monument.

Out of the five great 20th century conflicts, the Persian Gulf War was most recent in American history.  During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm the US forces had to be ready to face a chemical attack. They were facing an enemy that had already shown both the capability and willingness to engage in chemical warfare. This threat of chemical warfare added a whole new dynamic to the horrors of war. The unforgettable image of soldiers in gas masks haunted Americans who were shown televised pictures from this war like never before.