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WWII U.S. Marine Raider Sculpture Comes to NMMC

Triangle, VA – A Marine Corps story that was born more than 70 years ago during World War II now reaches its final chapter in Triangle, VA.  A life-like bronze statue, “Soul of the Forward and Faithful,” honors the U.S. Marine Raiders and was donated to the National Museum of the Marine Corps on Veterans Day 2014.  The sculpture first went on display this past summer in Tacoma, WA. and later at the San Diego Air & Space Museum,  and will now rest among the many exhibits telling 239 years of Marine Corps history at the NMMC.

The Raiders were the Marine Corps’ first elite force created to serve in the Pacific Theater.  They originated the Marines’ appropriation of the idea of “Gung-ho,” the spirit of cooperation and mutual support the sculpture depicts. They were constantly deployed considerably “forward” of the main body of Marines in combat, and as such; pioneered insertion and extraction methods that are still in use by special operations units today.

So iconic were the Marine Raiders that in 2014, Gen. James Amos, then Commandant of the Marine Corps, announced that all units within Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) would change their names from Marine Special Operations Regiment or Battalion to Marine Raider Regiment, Marine Raider Battalion, and so forth.

“I knew in sculpting this piece that all the gear had to be historically accurate,” says nationally recognized sculptor Mardie Rees, “from the sight on the Browning Automatic Rifle right down to the laces on the boots.”

The scene takes the Museum visitor back to November 1943 in the humid jungles of New Guinea.  It features a Marine Raider holding a rifle, a War Dog Handler guiding his German Shepherd, and a Navajo Code Talker relaying intelligence.  “They are each strong and alert, but the keen viewer will also sense the surrounding danger, the vulnerability of the code talker, and the need to protect him at all costs,” says Rees.  “The war dog is in mid-stride with one paw off the ground and the other foot deep in mud, anxious in seeking the enemy.”  In the background, four additional Raiders on patrol creep through the dense jungle, armed with a breadth of weaponry and gear.

“This sculpture is full of life,” said Lin Ezell, director of the Museum.  “It pleases the eye as a work of art and meets the Museum’s high standards for historical accuracy.  The sculptor took great care to model from actual examples of the clothing, weapons, and accoutrements used by these Marines during World War II.  She even factored in the wear and tear of being in the severe environment of the South Pacific for such a long time.  We are excited to have this work of art for the collection as one more tool to interpret the story of the Raiders, dog handlers, and Code Talkers.”

Interviews and extensive research went into the final presentation, which is filled with the emotions of the soldiers depicted. To lend as much depth and authenticity as possible, even the models used had combat experience. The men who modeled for the BAR Man and Dog Handler were former Marines who each served two tours in Iraq. The man who modeled for the Code Talker was from the Navajo Nation. “He even spoke and sang in Navajo while I was sculpting,” Rees said. Even the German Shepherd was sculpted from life. “His name is Finn, and I have a pound of his hair in my studio.”

“It has been a great honor to sculpt a work that by its very nature is a World War II Memorial,” Rees said at the formal unveiling in Triangle. “This memorial is dedicated to our fathers, uncles, and grandfathers who served in WWII, to their bravery, their courage, their resolve and strength.”  Rees added that several of the original Marine Raiders were in attendance for the ceremony. Charles Meacham Sr., an original WWII Raider and the man whose vision was realized that day, related several war stories and the camaraderie he experienced as a marine. When asked what the sculpture meant to him, he summed it up in the two words that speak volumes about the sculpture’s emotive feeling and the very marines that it honors, “Semper Fidelis” – always faithful.

The National Museum of the Marine Corps is located at 18900 Jefferson Davis Highway in Triangle, VA. and is open 9:00 am – 5:00 pm daily except Christmas Day.  The sculpture, “Soul of the Forward & Faithful” is on permanent display at the NMMC and is currently on view in the Leatherneck Gallery (main atrium) in front of the Tarawa Exhibit until new galleries open in 2016. Admission and parking are free.  For more information, please call 703 784-6107 or visit the Museum’s website at www.usmcmuseum.org

Mardie Rees is an internationally recognized and award-winning sculptor based in Seattle, Wa. Her work brings the classical figure into today’s context with an emphasis on emotional dialogue. The relationships between her subjects and their circumstances bring a life to her work that is tangible to its viewers.

Rees is currently enlarging a sculpture of Saint Anthony commissioned by the CHI Franciscan Health for a new Colorado Health Campus. For more information on her work, visit mardierees.com.

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