On Feb. 24, 1991 a truck filled with a dozen marines in an endless convoy for Kuwait City stopped when I yelled, “Hey look a body!” The paralyzed figure of an Iraqi soldier lay 30 feet from the incinerated jeep he was thrown from. His knees were bent, eyes and mouth open, and his intestines poured out from under his shirt. We were both covered with specks of oil from the fires nearby, and soaked by the rains that made me dirty and miserable, yet washed his face clean. Before he died he waved his arms, like the way kids make snow angels. He made wings in the sand. My angel in the desert.
I never forgot him, or the grimaced faces of the living ones missing arms and legs, or the piles of dead men at the Highway of Death. Years ago I began sculpting that first dead soldier I saw. I began with an old uniform, fiberglass resin, and plaster to make molds. I lined the molds with 70,000 steel ball bearings, and welded them together over 3 years. In a desert war all that moves is sand, flesh and steel, in varied directions and velocities. It weighs roughly 300 lbs, but comes in two pieces, much like I found him.
Memorial Note - 2011
The first Iraqi soldier I saw 20 years ago during the Persian Gulf War is the subject of an art installation opening at the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago this Memorial Day, 2011.
I remember many details about him. He was thrown from a vehicle, torn apart, and landed on his back. Before dying, he waved his arms in the sand and made wings, the way children make snow angels. He was soaked with rain and oil, like the rest of us were.
To make this sculpture I took 70,000 ¼ inch steel ball bearings and welded them together to create a life-size image of him. I chose these projectile-like objects because in a desert war there is only steel, sand and flesh in motion, moving in and out of each other at varied velocities. The eyes, mouth and stomach of my sculpture are open, like I found him, this Iraqi Angel.
Today, 4770 Americans have died in the Iraq War and 2463 in Afghanistan (icasualties.org), and official military and civilian casualties in Iraq are estimated to be 49,544 since 2005. In Afghanistan 14,221 civilians, army and police officers have died to date (Afghan Casualties: Congressional Research Service, May 4, 2011).
On this Memorial Day I ask that we reflect on this suffering. There are millions of veterans that have come home. Art is a method of deliberate expression that is tremendously healing. I ask you to make a donation to the National Veterans Art Museum. Your donation will directly support art programs for vets.