TROUTDALE, Ore. - A national monument, created by a local artist, is now on display at Pearl Harbor.
Rip Caswell, an established sculptor who has been perfecting his craft for 20 years, was commissioned by the Naval Order of the United States to create a bronze likeness of U.S. Navy Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz.
Nimitz was the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet during World War II and played a key role in what happened following the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941.
Caswell unveiled the work in Troutdale back in July and the piece was on display here for a few weeks before being shipped off to Pearl Harbor. The statue is now at its permanent home on the pier where the USS Missouri is tied.
Caswell's son, Chad Caswell, assisted his father in creating the statue. The two worked out of Rip's studio in Troutdale and for the father and son duo seeing their work on display at Pearl Harbor was an experience they will never forget.
"It was so powerful to see him (Nimitz) there looking across at the Arizona memorial," said Rip. "The symbolism of it - this is where the war started and this is where it ended. And Nimitz was responsible for it. It was powerful imagery, I think, for everybody that was there."
Rip said he and his son knew this was an important project all along, but it really sunk in once they got to Pearl Harbor. And he said to see their names on the granite base was quite an honor.
"A lot of times the artist is just kind of a hidden thing that nobody pays any attention to," Rip said. "But they put our names right on the front. They built this beautiful black granite base from the same absolute black granite quarry that the Vietnam Memorial came from."
Rip told us this project has been the most rewarding of his career for a number of reasons. Working with his son, of course, was first on the list.
"I don't think there's a more rewarding thing than to share your passion and love with your son and watch him come to life in it, really love it and see his passion ignite," Rip said.
"Since he was a little boy, clay was his toy," he recalled. "That's just what he did. He played with clay and would make up all kinds of creatures and things. So he's always had a desire for it."
Chad has come into his own as an artist and was recently featured by The Reflector out of Battle Ground, Wash.
Rip said he also learned more about his late grandfather, who had served in WWII in the Navy, but had never really talked much about the experience.
"It wasn't until after he passed away that I got his diaries and all this information," Rip said. "This project really took me back into his life."
Finally, Rip said the project gave him the opportunity to not only learn more about our country's history, but also to meet new people.
"It drew out a lot of WWII veterans," he said. "They came to the gallery to see Nimitz after hearing about it from somebody."
The Nimitz statue will be seen by 500,000 people a year who visit Pearl Harbor. That's millions of people over Rip's lifetime and the magnitude of that is just sinking in for him.
"It really was an amazing experience all the way through from the beginning to the end," he said. "And it continues to be something I'm very proud of."