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Intern Brianna Nunez-Franklin and Exhibit Specialist Alice Webb adjust the holster on the figure of Gunnery Sgt. James Breedlove. Breedlove’s figure will be the copilot of a UH-34D helicopter in a new exhibit at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

Photo by Adele Uphaus-Conner

Marines meet their likenesses when cast figures for new museum display are unveiled

25 Feb 2016 | Adele Uphaus-Conner Marine Corps Base Quantico

It was perhaps the ultimate “selfie” — Cpl. Jhon Espinal snapping a photo of himself and the cast figure he modeled for in November 2015, the flesh-and-blood Espinal making the same sand-in-his-eyes grimace as his doppelganger.

The figure is an ammunition gunner deploying from a UH-34D helicopter in a Vietnam War scene for the National Museum of the Marine Corps. The scene will be on display when the museum reopens April 1 after a three-month closure for the installation of two new aircraft. Museum staff unveiled the new cast figures for their originals to see Feb. 18.

Espinal introduced himself to the figure: “Cpl. Espinal, meet Cpl. Espinal.”

“Hey, that’s me,” he told to the assembled group, almost in awe. “I’m going to live for the next 100 years!”

The figure, crafted in resin, was true to life down to the vein popping from Espinal’s temple, the sweat drops rolling down his forehead, and the shading on his lip. Upon close examination, flecks of dirt are visible on the teeth — which is appropriate, as the figure would be blasted in the face with sand.

“I’m speechless,” Espinal said, examining the figure from all angles and rubbing its bald head. He couldn’t stop smiling. “I can’t stop looking at him. He looks just like me.”

“I always wondered what I would look like without hair,” he added.

“Now you know what you look like winking at a girl, too,” joked Gunnery Sgt. James Breedlove, who modeled for the figure of the co-pilot in the helicopter scene.

Breedlove said seeing his cast figure was surreal. He said his first thoughts were “Is that really me? Is that what I look like?”

“I think it’s awesome,” he said.

Cpl. Thomas Allen, who portrayed the M60 gunner in the scene, said seeing his cast figure for the first time was “kind of scary, honestly.”

“I didn’t think they’d be that lifelike,” he said. “I didn’t realize how big my head was.”

Quantico Marines who’d like to model for cast figures at the museum will have more opportunities. Chuck Girbovan, Exhibit Services Chief, said that over the next four years, the museum will be casting an additional 50 figures for the new galleries, which will present the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

“That is more than we cast when we first opened the museum,” he said.

Girbovan said the museum will work with the sergeant major of Marine Corps University to find Marines to model for the new figures.

“We’ll give them a list of the jobs, age ranges and ethnicities we’re looking for, and they’ll look out across Quantico to find Marines to match,” he said.

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