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Combat artists from Fredericksburg put themselves in harm's way to capture Marines' Iraq and Afghanistan experiences in painting and sculpture
Michael Fay works on a full-length sculpture of a Marine machine-gunner. It will eventually be cast in bronze.
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Date published: 3/9/2008
The young Marine balanced a 240 Golf machine gun on his shoulder. He gripped a bandoleer heavy with 7.62 mm NATO rounds.
The blasted-out wall of an empty school near the town center of Old Ubaydi, Iraq, gave him cover. And there he waited, focused and intense.
It was November 2005. Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment was sweeping from the Syrian border east and south along the Euphrates River, rousting out insurgents.
The Marine couldn't have been more than 21 or 22, but he was no kid. Michael Fay could see that in his face.
Fay, a chief warrant officer and combat artist traveling with the Marine's unit, stepped away from the security of the school to capture that gunner's image with a digital camera.
Moments later, Marines moved en masse through the school, prepared to encounter booby traps or hidden "spider holes" of sneak attackers.
They cleared the school without getting "lit up," as they call it. And then they moved on.
WAR AND ART
Back home in Fredericksburg, Fay pored through his journals, sketchbooks and photographs to find direction for a new body of artwork.
An accomplished painter and printmaker at 54, Fay was just venturing into sculpture.
Fay and Sgt. Kristopher Battles, 39 and a Spotsylvania County resident, are part of a long tradition of military artists--fighting men who portray their war experiences in sketches, prints, watercolors and oils.
Both Fay and Battles are assigned to the National Museum of the Marine Corps' Combat Art Collection and tasked with going to war and making art.
When they're not traveling fully armed and ready to fight alongside their fellow Marines in Afghanistan and Iraq, they work on the Quantico base.
Their studio is a cavernous World War II-era warehouse filled with the sounds of classical and rock music and the rattling of metal doors in wind.
When Fay decided to try his hand at sculpture, he found little by way of example from his military artist predecessors.
The most famous nearby war-themed sculptures are Felix de Weldon's Iwo Jima memorial and Frederick Hart's "The Three Soldiers" portion of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.
But both de Weldon and Hart were civilians tasked with creating inspirational, larger-than-life patriotic tributes.