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Obit: Jim Brothers, sculptor of military heroism, dies at 72

D-Day sculptor

Kansas sculptor Jim Brothers is shown in 2003 with his original clay sculpture for a bronze of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. (The Associated Press)

Jim Brothers, a sculptor whose statues of wartime sacrifice became centerpieces of the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va., and who crafted a likeness of Dwight D. Eisenhower that stands in the U.S. Capitol, died recently in his art studio in Lawrence, Kan. He was 72.

The cause was cancer, said his wife, Kathleen Correll.

Brothers, a noted creator of public art in the United States, was perhaps an unexpected memorializer of military heroism. He protested U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and once told an interviewer that he thought it was “immoral to send your kids to a war we can’t win.”

“But I have always believed in the soldier and always will,” said Brothers, a nephew of World War II veterans.

He was best known in the Washington region for his works at the D-Day Memorial, which was dedicated by President George W. Bush in 2001 and draws tens of thousands of visitors each year. The monument honors the military personnel who stormed the beaches and scaled the fortified cliffs of Normandy on June 6, 1944, the largest such amphibious assault in history.

Creators of the memorial chose to build it in Bedford, a town in the Blue Ridge foothills that is often said to have suffered greater D-Day casualties per capita than any other community in the United States. Twenty-three “Bedford Boys” died in the Normandy campaign, including 19 who reportedly lost their lives during the first 15 minutes of the battle.

Brothers – who described the artist “as almost a channeler” of history and human experience – immersed himself in a study of the invasion, interviewing veterans and visiting the beaches. “Death on Shore,” one of 12 sculptures he created for the memorial, was inspired by the story of Raymond Hoback, a Bedford Boy who died along with his brother and whose Bible was returned to his family after his death.

The sculpture shows a dying soldier, his rucksack open to reveal the holy book.

Other sculptures at the memorial, described as showing “photo quality” craftsmanship, include “Through the Surf,” “Across the Beach” and “Scaling the Wall.”

“It’s for the veterans to look at and see in it people they knew,” Brothers said. “These are the people we want to say thanks to.”

His statue of Eisenhower – who grew up in Kansas and became supreme Allied commander during World War II and later president – was unveiled for the Capitol’s Statuary Hall collection in 2003. Brothers later built a statue of Eisenhower for the D-Day Memorial, basing the work on a photograph of the general conversing with troops the day before the invasion.

Brothers said historical research indicated that, at one point, Eisenhower and his men may have been discussing fly-fishing.