10 things you should know about the Three Servicemen Statue
The Three Servicemen Statue is a heroic, traditional depiction of those who served in Vietnam. The statue is part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial site and was unveiled on Veterans Day in 1984, two years after The Wall’s completion. A flagpole that flies the American and POW/MIA flag was dedicated at the same time. Through the years, the Three Servicemen Statue has remained a powerful tribute honoring Vietnam veterans. 2019 marks its 35th Anniversary.
Here are 10 things you should know about the Three Servicemen Statue.
- The Three Servicemen Statue was born out of controversy
When the design was chosen for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (The Wall), it was the unanimous choice of the judging committee. However, its unusual and abstract design did not appeal to everyone. The controversy over the Vietnam Veterans Memorial design threatened to derail it ever being built, so a compromise would have to be reached.
In January 1982, there was a compromise. The Wall would be built as planned, but two traditional elements would be added to it—a flagpole and a statue.
- The designer was Frederick HartFrederick Hart sculpts the Three Servicemen Statue while a model, James Connell III, sits for him.
On July 1, 1982 Frederick Hart was selected to design the sculpture. Hart was a well-known and respected sculptor whose team had placed third in the open design competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Hart spent two and a half years completing the statue.
- The statue is made of bronze and is eight feet high in its enitrety
The Three Servicemen Statue is cast in bronze, differing from other monuments and memorials in Washington, D.C. It is finished with a patina which provided a variety of subtle color variations. The flesh areas are a rich caramel bronze and the uniforms are a slightly olive color. High polish is accented on the eyes, hair, buttons, and pieces of military equipment.
Hart used 2,500 pounds of clay to make the statue. The statue itself is placed on a granite base, which makes it eight feet high.
- Five men modeled for the statue – none were Vietnam veteransPictured L to R: Guillermo Jose Smith-Perez de Leon, Sculptor Frederick Hart, U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. James Connell III, and U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Terrance Green )
The three figures that make up statue represent American racial and ethnic diversity. They are purposefully identifiable as Caucasian, African-American and Hispanic-American. The selection of the models was done in an unconventional way.
Three men modeled for the African-American figure. The first was selected when Hart was walking the streets and surveying the pedestrians and found the face he long sought. The second model was selected during a search through the Marine Corps Barracks in Washington, D.C., and the third was found in a hospital while Hart was visiting a sick friend.
The African-American figure evolved over the study of three men: Corporal Terrance Green who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, Rodney Sherrill, and Scotty Dillingham, a 15-year-old Washingtonian.
The Caucasian figure was modeled after James Connell III, then a Corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps.
The Hispanic figure was modeled after Guillermo Jose Smith-Perez de Leon, a resident of Maryland at the time.
Each model sat for two to three hours at a time for two months.
- Hart wanted the statue to convey “youth and innocence”
The common characteristic Hart sought in all of his models were youth and innocence. The balance between childhood and manhood was the essence of the sculpture. Hart’s use of young models rings close to the war experience. The average age of a service member who was killed or MIA was 22 years old.
Hart said this in describing the sculpture: “They are young. The contrast between the innocence of their youth and the weapons of war underscores the poignancy of their sacrifice. There is about them the physical contact and sense of unity that bespeaks the bonds of love and sacrifice that is the nature of men at war. . . Their strength and their vulnerability are both evident.”
5. The Three Servicemen is located approximately 150 feet away from The Wall
It was decided that the statue should be placed in a plaza to the southwest of The Wall. It is positioned so it looks as if the three figures are emerging from a grove of trees. Some visitors say they appear to be looking for their friends on The Wall. Others feel they are looking for their own names there.
Once they had determined the location for the statue, Cooper-Lecky, VVMF’s architect-of-record, reworked the walkway system so that the flag could be placed at an intersection in order to create an entranceway.
Hart was confronted with how to work with the simplicity of The Wall. His solution was to keep the figures of smaller scale – as to not interfere with The Wall’s much larger scale. He also wanted the statue to withdraw from The Wall so the men would not infringe upon it.
4. The weapons and uniforms are true to Vietnam service
Hart wanted to ensure accuracy for the details on the uniforms and weaponry. He relied heavily on historians. He was advised by members of the Army Institute of Military History and the Marine Corps Historical Society. Along with employing the help of several experts, he borrowed military gear from Vietnam veterans.
The three figures wear cracked boots and crumpled and tightly rolled fatigue pants. One figure is wearing a worn hat, an overstuffed jacket, and a bandolier full of bullets draped across his chest.
The uniforms are representative of all branches of the military and each figure wears a variety of gear.
3. The depiction of ammunition on the statue has come under scrutiny
The bandolier, which holds ammunition, is a design feature that has come under scrutiny. The ammunition is facing upwards, which some claim is inaccurate.
In Dec. of 1993, Frederick Hart wrote a letter to Robert Horton, then the Regional Director of the National Capital Region for the Department of Interior, defending the way he positioned it.
He said that trying to dress and equip the figures was difficult because of the diversity in service member’s habits. He said that units would use things and wear things different from another unit at different places and different times. He met veterans who argued vehemently for the bullets pointing up as for those who argued for the bullets pointing down. He was also further advised that wearing a bandolier was not done at all, since the ammo should be transported in its case. Exceptions would include combat or near-combat situations where it would be slung over one shoulder to be able to quick-feed it into the gun. The wearing of the bandolier crisscrossed “poncho villa” style was not desirable or practical.
While Hart said he did his best to remain faithful to realistic details, his ultimate goal was to “capture the spirit of the Vietnam experience.”
As a result, the ammunition on the bandolier is faced upwards.
- The statue is cared for and maintained four times a year
As The Wall requires regular cleaning and maintenance, the Three Servicemen Statue needs special care. The statue is exposed to pollen, insects and pollution throughout the year. It receives preventative conservation cleaning four times a year. Russell Bernabo, an Object Conservator, is responsible for cleaning the statue. The cleaning involves buffing with gentle non-ionic detergents and applying corrosion inhibitors.
As time passes, bird droppings can eat through the patina and the patina must be carefully re-coated to not damage the sculpture. Bernabo’s job also involves retrieving spider nests in crevices, usually in the helmets carried by the soldiers. There is also the occasional retrieval of coins from the side pockets of the servicemen where tourists have come to drop spare change.
“My job is to maintain the artist’s intent,” Bernabo told VVMF in 2014. “Restoration means having made the artist happy.”
The Three Servicemen statue also underwent a $100,000 restoration in 2010.
Through the support of our generous donors, VVMF pays for care and maintenance provided to the Three Servicemen Statue and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial site.
- The statue and flagpole were dedicated on Veterans Day 1984
The flagpole and Three Servicemen statue were dedicated on Veterans Day 1984, when the entire Vietnam Veterans Memorial site was turned over to the U.S. government by VVMF as a gift to the American people.
Today, the 12-foot-by-8-foot flag flies from a 60-foot pole, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in honor of the men and women who served in Vietnam. The flagstaff, donated by The American Legion, features an inscription and the seals of the five branches of military service at its base: Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy. An inscription on the flagpole base reads: “This flag represents the service rendered to our country by the veterans of the Vietnam War. The flag affirms the principles of freedom for which they fought and their pride in having served under difficult circumstances.”