Thursday, February 02, 2006


Ever since my first visit to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. in 1975, I’ve been enamored with life-sized, walk-through dioramas depicting different eras of history. In the National Air and Space Museum, one such exhibit depicts life aboard an aircraft carrier. As you proceed across a makeshift quarterdeck, you enter an area resembling the landing deck of a ship. Various aircraft of different makes and models crowd the deck, wings folded up as if they were at sea. As you wind your way between the aircraft, you enter the bridge where you watch jets take off and land along the steam covered decks of the ship. Reels of Vietnam era film footage, complete with the sounds or roaring jet engines, provide a semi-believable recreation of life aboard an aircraft carrier.

The American History Museum recreates WWII through several life-sized dioramas. One can walk past jeeps parked haphazardly around a bombed out building, European household knick-knacks littering the ground adjacent to a realistic wall that appears to be crumbling from the effects of war. These scenes are reproduced to allow the visitors to step back in time, to see for themselves the same scenes viewed by Marines, sailors and soldiers in 1944. Someday, these same museums will recreate similar scenes depicting life during OIF, or Operation Iraqi Freedom. One day, we’ll see scenes depicting the urban battlefield of Ramadi or Fallujah and displays depicting daily life among the various camps and FOBs around Iraq.

Yesterday, with the assistance of two Seabees from the 133rd Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB-133), I was able to collect a particular artifact I have had my eye on since arriving in Iraq. I previously mentioned it in an October, 2005 blog post titled “Generals and Barberchairs” - please forgive the redundant information.

One of the most innovative pieces of unintentional folk art I’ve run across since arriving in theater, the Camp Fallujah barberchair consists of an automobile seat that was taken from the rear of a van or SUV. Welded to a military vehicle wheel rim, the entire unit swivels atop a metal mount, the mount hidden beneath the raised wooden floor inside the Camp Fallujah barbershop.

Granted, there is nothing remarkable about most barberchairs. You’ll find them in every city and town across the United States. This chair, however, is unique, and the ingenuity of the young sailors and Marines who produced this eclectic chair is typical of sailors and Marines deployed far from home. They universally subscribe to the adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Using only their innovation and imagination, they create items needed to combat the enemy or to make life more comfortable while idling away time in the rear.

Rather than sit on a plastic chair or box when getting a haircut, an ingenious young sea-bee from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 1 (NMCB-1) manufactured the chair out of scrap items lying about Camp Fallujah. Wanting to make the chair swivel, our unidentified sea-bee brought new life to a scrap M-79 rifle mount for a 106 mm recoilless rifle. Originally entering US military service in the 50’s and 60’s, the mount and its missing weapon probably made its way to Iraq decades ago, most likely used during the Iran/Iraq war and quite possibly against coalition forces in Desert Storm and OIF. Life is circular, however, and the mount once again serves our forces in war, only this time in a much different and friendlier capacity.

“Frankenchair” has seen her last haircut. Replaced with a simple plastic chair, "Frankenchair" is destined for the Marine Corps Museum. Symbolizing camp life and the ingenuity of our servicemen, it has hosted Marines from Private to General, as well as Marines who are no longer with us, Marines who made the ultimate sacrifice. If it could talk, it would repeat the tales told by Marines since 2003, tales recounting heroics during the battle of Fallujah and explanations of the sights and sounds seen and heard by our Corps of warriors. It would also tell the tall tales spun by our young Marines, the same stories heard for years among small town barbershops, tales similar to those heard by Andy and Barnie at “Floyds Barbershop” in Mayberry.


MissBirdlegs in AL said...

I love this post! Smiled all the way through the description of that chair. Making do & gettin' it done just seems so American to me. Maybe we're not ALL spoiled, decadent, infidels! My thanks to you for your work & to all our troops who are doing great and historic things!

Samantha West said...

Beautiful post. I cried a little reading the last paragraph. ("Marines who made the ultimate sacrifice.) I know I'll tear up when I see it in person, but I still can't wait to see it.



Gypsy said...

What a great post Sir, and how exciting you've managed to secure Frankenchair for the museum. I know in my heart future generations will appreciate yet again the ingenuity of those who are "out there" now, creating what they need from bits and pieces. Not to mention their bravery and service to our Country.

gringoman said...

War destroys and war creates. We know about the former and pretend not to know about the latter. (Driving cars and trucks also destroys many lives, and most horrifically, but in pc venues we pretend not to know about that) Excellent post. It shows how ingenuity here is not just with the IED-ers.

brian said...

I would get a kick out of seeing that chair in a museum. That is usually the kind of display that I spend a fair amount of time on. Good work.

MarineMom said...

Wow ... reading Frankenchair gave me goosebumps. It shows such a great regard that you feel for our Marines, albeit being one of them you would know! I think I forgot to thank you for all the service you have shown our country for so many years! I am thanking you now!

I hope you make it home to your family safely and soon. Saying a prayer for your safe travel.

freedom4all said...