He looks like he’s on the set of a horror film … with his face, head and neck covered in a “thick, pinkish goo” that drips down his chest — covering his eyes, ears and nose.
But Marine Sgt. Chasen Upshaw is no actor trying to portray an Egyptian mummy. The machine gun instructor is preparing himself for his current operation. A “thumbs up” means the mission is on, but if he waves his arms, it’s scrubbed.
Wearing blue surgical gloves and a white apron, a sculptor is immortalizing Upshaw for a dramatic new tableau at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, the Washington Post reports.
The museum this week has been bringing modern-day Marines to its exhibit fabrication shop on the base in Quantico, to pose as their brothers- in-arms from a half-century ago.
The fiberglass model is being made for the life-size re-creation of a scene from the Vietnam War’s Operation Starlite, a bloody engagement that killed dozens of Marines and Viet Cong.
“We had veterans who had jumped out of helicopters, who had been in Vietnam,” the museum’s gallery manager said. “They said, ‘This is what you’re thinking. This is what it feels like. This is what’s happening.”
Lead sculptor Shawn Hensley says they wanted to be as true to history as possible so they used models with the same MOS as those being depicted in the exhibit. Upshaw’s is one of eight figures being cast for the scene.
As the process began, the room was relatively quiet , curtains drawn and containers of Krazy Glue, ear plugs and petroleum jelly on a nearby table.
Sculptors first smoothed petroleum jelly on Upshaw’s eyebrows and eyelashes so the molding goo — called alginate — would not stick when it cured. Afterwards, he was covered with a second, thicker layer of alginate. Once preserved, the molding was covered with cloth strips of plaster soaked in water — for the bandages– like those used in a cast for a broken bone. After drying the plaster with a hair dryer, the two sculptors began cutting the material off with a table knife.
The exhibit’s creator wanted to use real Marines as models, for the 1965 fiberglass Marines. “As if they are in the midst of a battle, they appear frozen in full stride, with their weapons and gear.”
Museum specialists said they plan to create a simulated rice paddy and add props, such as scattered machine gun shell casings and ammunition crates. They also might add a simulated land-mine explosion, the Post reports.
The museum used a spreadsheet of about 150 different uniform pieces — to make sure everything looked authentic. The casts are so detailed that some of the Marines’ tattoos were faintly visible.
The models still have to be taken to a special studio in Illinois– for fine tuning and the installation of glass eyes.
While the sculptors worked on him, Upshaw could not see, speak, or even hear very well, because of the ear plugs. He also had to hold an intense facial expression for about 20 minutes. When it was all over and the material removed – the room erupted with cheers. Mission accomplished.
The museum, which is undergoing a major expansion, will reopen in April –when the Vietnam exhibit will be installed in a large gallery near the entrance.