Artist Rip Caswell unveils a bronze sculpture of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Admiral Chester W. Nimitz was commander in chief of the United States Pacific Fleet during World War II.The 8-foot sculpture of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz stands tall in Troutdale artist Rip Caswell’s studio, the reddish-brown clay carefully molded to emulate the World War II hero’s exact features.

From the relaxed posture to wrinkled eyes, Caswell said he constructed the statue with the utmost precision. That includes the Navy-issued khakis, submarine belt buckle and bald eagle-crested cap Nimitz wore — even going so far as to place a horseshoe on the base of the sculpture, the kind the admiral used when he played horseshoes during his downtime.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Rip Caswell collaborated with his son, Chad, on the Admiral Nimitz statue to be revealed Wednesday, July 31.But when Caswell looks into Nimitz’s deep-set eyes, the ones that oversaw the retreat of the Japanese fleet at Pearl Harbor, he does not see the admiral whose image he shaped over the past nine months. Caswell sees his grandfather.

“My grandfather served in World War II. He was in the Navy,” Caswell said. “As I hear about Nimitz, I keep seeing my grandfather.”

In 2011, Caswell was approached by the Naval Order of the United States to create a national monument of the five-star commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet for the Battleship Missouri Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Admiral Nimitz is known for his leadership during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the defeat of the Japanese in the Battle of Midway. For his wartime efforts, Nimitz received numerous awards, including the World War II Victory Medal and British Pacific Star. A street, town, ship and glacier were named after him.

After 18 months of negotiations and application procedures, which included reference checks and a visit by the commander general and director of the Naval Order of the United States, Caswell was selected as the sculptor, in part for his habitual background research on subjects and his own familial connection to the war.

Before touching the clay, Caswell read biographies, spoke with Nimitz’s family members, visited Nimitz’s hometown in Texas and interviewed a war photographer who followed the admiral around for six months.

“I like to have that information and build an understanding and respect for the person,” Caswell said. “That’s important to me.”

Caswell’s research also inspired him to launch an investigation into his own grandfather’s life. He said his grandfather rarely spoke about the war, but Caswell had a shoe box collection of memorabilia including a diary that revealed descriptions of watching Kamikaze planes strike and fleets sailing into Tokyo Bay. As Caswell learned more about his family history, he formed a greater appreciation for his grandparents and the sculpture became a way to honor their legacy.

“As I hear about Nimitz … and I see these emotions and attributes, I realize I knew them from my grandfather,” Caswell said.

According to Caswell, the similarities between the two men included humility, respectability and loyalty to their fleet. Nimitz rescued his men from Japanese invaders, while Caswell’s grandfather retrieved injured men from the battlefield. Both men had a code of honor that prioritized serving the greater cause.

“Nimitz was always not wanting to take praise,” Caswell said. “He would probably be against us doing his sculpture.”

Caswell’s recent wave of nostalgia trickled down to his son, Chad, who also assisted on the project.

“I didn’t really know my grandpa, so it’s been neat,” said Chad, a 20-year-old business student and artist. “It’s been a big honor to work on an important piece that will be seen by millions and be around for a long time.”

Chad’s work on Nimitz caught the attention of the city of McMinnville, and he is discussing a potential project to construct a World War II monument there.

The sculpture is being cast in Caswell’s foundry, but will be unveiled to the public at 10 a.m. Wednesday, July 31, in Mayor’s Square. The event will include a visit by Admiral Douglas Moore of the Naval Order and performances by Gino Vannelli and the military color guard. Veterans are invited to attend as the community says goodbye to Nimitz before the sculpture’s journey to Hawaii in mid-August.

The statue will be on display again in Mayors Square in downtown Troutdale from 5-9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2, during the city’s art walk. The event will be Hawaiian themed with hula dancers and leis.

When the sculpture is unveiled in Hawaii on Wednesday, Aug. 14, the 68th anniversary of the Allied victory in the Pacific, Caswell will meet Nimitz’s family members and veterans in attendance.

“I am looking forward to meeting them and seeing their response,” Caswell said. “Hopefully vets will see themselves … We want to honor them and their service through this sculpture.”

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