Sharply crafted works tell the sto­ries of fallen SEALs

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY JEN­NIFER HARPER

They loom over him, bran­dish­ing their weapons, their gaze steady. The sculp­tor can feel the pres­ence of the he­roes he hon­ors in clay and bronze, U.S. Navy SEALs all. And all of them gone. “I am an in­tu­itive artist. I be­lieve and I feel that their spir­its are in the room when I am work­ing, and that they’re help­ing me fin­ish that work,” said Greg Marra, a Florida sculp­tor who is a man on a mis­sion. He is de­ter­mined to tell the sto­ries of fallen Amer­i­can war­riors.

“I know it sounds crazy, but I feel their pres­ence. That’s what hap­pens when you’re cre­at­ing a life-sized im­age of some­one.”

Mr. Marra has fo­cused at­ten­tion on Chris Kyle — a SEAL sniper who was gunned down this year on a Texas shoot­ing range — along with Glen Do­herty and Ty­rone Woods, for­mer SEALs killed dur­ing the 2012 ter­ror­ist at­tack in Beng­hazi, Libya. Also on the ever-ex­pand­ing list of sub­jects: Adam Brown, one of 17 SEALs who died in the 2011 crash of a CH-47 Chi­nook he­li­copter in Afghanistan that killed an ad­di­tional 13 Amer­i­cans. Then there’s SEAL Team 6. Mr. Marra in­tends to im­mor­tal­ize those who took out Osama bin Laden and has picked “Pay­back” as the ti­tle for the group­ing.

It’s de­mand­ing work that re­quires vi­sion as well as mus­cle. The artist has pro­duced a 6-foot-3-inch statue of Kyle in bronze and is work­ing on a sec­ond ver­sion, mak­ing good use of the rare craft­ing and cast­ing tech­niques he learned in the U.S. and abroad. The forms of Do­herty and Woods ex­em­plify valor, the artist said. The rugged, pre­lim­i­nary study of Brown uses a cru­ci­fix as a cen­ter­piece.

“I think th­ese men would un­der­stand why I am do­ing this. Th­ese sculp­tures are meant to honor ev­ery vet­eran, ev­ery ser­vice­man or ser­vice­woman. I fo­cus on Amer­i­can ex­cel­lence, and my mis­sion is to make sure that we re­mem­ber what th­ese peo­ple did, and what he­roes they are,” Mr. Marra said.

“And one thing more. Th­ese stat­ues are not muted by po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. Th­ese are sol­diers in com­bat, th­ese are men who pray,” he said. “My grand­dads on both sides of the fam­ily served in the U.S. Army in World War II. I am so proud of that. I my­self have not served in the mil­i­tary. But vets have told me that mak­ing th­ese stat­ues is serv­ing my coun­try, in my own way.”

There is a cer­tain ca­ma­raderie for a time be­tween the sculp­tor and those he seeks to honor. When the works are at last com­plete, Mr. Marra said, he feels the pres­ence of his sub­jects de­part. “There’s def­i­nitely a spir­i­tual di­men­sion to it,” he said. There’s also a pub­lic di­men­sion and a fi­nan­cial as­pect. News of Mr. Marra’s projects has fil­tered across the na­tion, but not through the trum­pets of a re­cep­tive me­dia. Grass-roots net­works and heart­land talk are spread­ing the word among those who feel a kin­ship with the mil­i­tary, a strong de­fense and the prover­bial Amer­i­can way.

“We have a con­ser­va­tive army of 3 mil­lion mem­bers who hear from us daily. And if there’s one is­sue that doesn’t go away with them, it’s things like the Beng­hazi ter­ror­ist at­tack. Why haven’t our ques­tions been an­swered about what re­ally hap­pened? The me­dia is not dili­gent about cov­er­ing this,” said Todd Ce­faratti, founder of the non­profit TheTeaparty.net.

“One way to get the word out to the gen­eral pub­lic is to use art, like th­ese sculp­tures that Greg Marra is pro­duc­ing. It’s very pow­er­ful stuff,” Mr. Ce­faratti said. “We sup­port him. We’re us­ing a so­cial me­dia plat­form to help Greg with his fund­ing, to help him pro­mote his projects. And at some point, you watch. The main­stream me­dia is go­ing to no­tice.”

It may be im­pos­si­ble for the press not to no­tice. Slowly but surely, like the me­thod­i­cal ad­vance of a fight­ing force, in­ter­est grows in Mr. Marra and his drive to pre­serve the mem­o­ries of the fallen.

“As for our grass-roots sup­port, we are cur­rently work­ing with the Navy SEAL Mu­seum, All Amer­i­can Vet­er­ans Ser­vices, Tea Party Com­mu­nity, ACS Pub­lic Re­la­tions, and the Tea Party Tri­bune,” said Don Smith, a talk ra­dio host and a pub­lic re­la­tions maven who is help­ing Mr. Marra wran­gle the com­plex­i­ties of pub­lic out­reach and fundrais­ing.

The ul­ti­mate goals are to fund, pro­duce and sit­u­ate the stat­u­ar­ies in an ap­pro­pri­ate pub­lic venue.

Taya Kyle also has lent her sup­port to a statue hon­or­ing her late hus­band, Mr. Smith said.

The young widow and mother of two be­came a pub­lic fig­ure dur­ing the me­mo­rial ser­vice for her spouse in Fe­bru­ary. The event drew 7,000 mourn­ers and was held at Cow­boys Sta­dium near Dal­las and was at­tended by a spec­trum of mil­i­tary per­son­nel from all branches of the armed forces, along with law en­force­ment of­fi­cers and mo­tor­cy­cle devo­tees.

“I stand be­fore you a bro­ken woman, but al­ways the wife of a war­rior,” Mrs. Kyle told the crowd.

Mr. Marra, mean­while, con­tin­ues his de­ter­mined work in clay and in bronze from his stu­dio in Braden­ton. He shares time with his wife, Jana, and their three chil­dren, and he con­tin­ues to draw in­spi­ra­tion from the SEALs and their mis­sions.

“Though I def­i­nitely lean right, I try to keep pol­i­tics from over­whelm­ing th­ese works. Again, my fo­cus is on Amer­i­can ex­cel­lence,” Mr. Marra said. “I dis­cover I need to build a cer­tain statue, so I build it and I raise the money — which can come from the left, from the right. Doesn’t mat­ter. What is im­por­tant is the cause, and that is to honor our mil­i­tary.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“I know it sounds crazy, but I feel their pres­ence. That’s what hap­pens when you’re cre­at­ing a life-sized im­age of some­one,” says sculp­tor Gre­gory Marra, work­ing on a statue of Chris Kyle, a SEAL sniper killed this year.

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