While acknowledging that the vital role of the Honor Guard’s precision and formality is integral to the ceremonies in which they engage, Zenos felt strongly that the sculpture needed to convey the breathing presences of the real men and women who comprise this special unit. The challenge was to infuse life into figures that were, by necessity, stationary.
Initial plans for the Honor Guard sculpture called for generic uniformed figures without race or gender. As the originally proposed “sketchy” figures became more and more specific under the guidance of the Honor Guard specialists, it was natural that the portraits on the sculptures needed to acquire more personality. The U.S. Fine Arts Commission ordered Zenos to make specific portraits on the figures, and the Board of Directors for the AFMF supported that order by authorizing him to do so.
Recalling the women and the Hispanic and African-American men who participated in the Honor Guard ceremonies at Bolling, Zenos requested the Board’s permission to make the Honor Guard sculpture reflect the diversity inherent in the U.S. military and the Honor Guard units he observed. The Board approved this recommendation immediately.
The Honor Guard sculpture for the Air Force Memorial is composed, from left to right, of one Caucasian man, one African-American man, one Hispanic man and one Caucasian woman. The sculptures of both the Caucasian man and the African-American man were created with the help of several models posing for each figure. The sculpture of the Hispanic Airman was drawn from Sgt. William Diaz, of the U.S Air Force Reserves 913th Services in Willow Grove, PA, several miles from Zenos’ Glenside studio. Sgt Diaz said of his studio experience, “It was truly an honor to pose for something I believe in. I am proud of what and whom it represents. To play a part in this history is beyond words, and working with Zenos was an experience I will never forget. He taught me the value of looking at life through the eyes of an artist.”
The female Honor Guard was largely posed for in uniform by Alexis Henry, whose portrait graces the sculpture.
Airman First Class Nicol J. Sabol—at that time, with the 913 Air Force Communications Flight in Willow Grove—said, “I was interested in modeling for the sculpture and being part of the Memorial. It isn’t often that you get a chance to be part of history,” She posed in uniform for the female Honor Guard.
Zenos’ niece, Jennifer Frudakis, a sculptor in her own right, with several decades of professional sculpting experience, assisted throughout the development of the large figures. In 2004 and 2005, Aaron J. Sykes, who assisted on World War II Memorial sculptures, worked on the clay models with Zenos and Jennifer. In 2005 and 2006, sculptor and painter Christopher Collins assisted with the flags and battle streamers.