Local Afghanistan veteran Anthony Marquez is a true hero and skilled craftsman – he creates commemorative wooden carvings for families of fallen and wounded soldiers (see PHOTO gallery).
The 29-year-old served in the U.S. Marine Corps from June 2007 to March 2012, with his last deployment to Sangin Afghanistan in 2011. There, his unit – 1st Battalion 5th Marines – saw 17 killed in action and 160 wounded on the battlefield.
To honor their service, Marquez made a promise to himself last summer to carve a memorial for each family that lost their son in Sangin.
“These carvings are very important to me,” Marquez said, “and my main goal is honoring those who sacrificed everything and ensuring the families that their loved ones are not forgotten.”
The dedicated veteran creates the carvings from his backyard and garage, where he hauls in large pieces of tree trunk that he forms into a battlefield cross – a memorial consisting of a military helmet resting atop a machine gun anchored by combat boots.
“I just have (a) cardboard stencil,” he said. “Other than that, I have a dummy rifle and a pair of boots and a helmet that I look off of. There’s no sketches, there’s no planning of it, you just start carving on it.”
Etched into the base of the wood is an “XVII,” signifying the 17 comrades Marquez lost in his battalion. He said he carves each sculpture – what he calls “XVII Carvings” – by hand with a chainsaw and takes around 16 hours over two to four days to complete the process.
“It has a lot of meaning to me,” he said. “I can put my full effort into it, because to me, it’s more than just a carving, it’s emotional … When I finish the boots and the rifle, you just step back and you just start crying because you remember everything.”
The dedicated veteran completed his first carving last July with the help of a mentor and presented it to the Gold Star Mother of Robert Grenigers at his grave at Fort Snelling in Minneapolis, Minn., on the fifth anniversary of his death.
Marquez also just completed his second carving for Sgt. Joshua Bouchard, a wounded veteran in Boston, Mass., whose house recently burned down. The sculpture will be auctioned off through the Boston Wounded Vet Run in February, with the proceeds going to help Bouchard.
Marquez said for each carving he does, he has a close conversation with those family members receiving it to learn more about the kind of person their son was. He said this helps him have a one-on-one connection with them while creating it.
“Each carving is for a different person lost,” he said. “I have them send me a picture of their loved one that memorial piece is for, that way when I sit down to do that carving, then it’s more personal to me, it’s not just another customer and gone.”
Since his first carving in July, Marquez has decided to start his own business after receiving several requests from friends and families to create a memorial for them or their loved ones. Interested parties can visit xviicarvings.com to learn more and place an order for a sculpture.
In April, Marquez will be traveling to Moxee, Wash., to donate his third carving to the family of Joe Jackson, who was the first in the 1st Battalion 5th Marines to be killed in action while in Sangin. There, he will pay tribute to Jackson’s service through a dedication ceremony.
“It’s taxing physically and it’s taxing emotionally … but I feel like I should do them because I want the families to have something more, to have something genuine, unique, that lets them know their loved one (is remembered).”