Andy Bagrowski has loved military history since he was a kid growing up in Baltimore.
The comic book-style offerings about battles based on fact were a favorite.
Using his knowledge of different armed conflicts and his artistic ability, which he honed over the years as a sign maker and neon light artist, Bagrowski has been providing dioramas based on historical facts for years, with a few fantasy themes thrown in occasionally.
This year, the display off Old Waco Road illustrates the different activities of soldiers that participated in Vietnam, including rescue helicopters and firefights. Bagrowski pointed out the figures participating in the firefight were pointing their weapons in all different directions.
Past projects have been based on the Korean War and World War II. Other offerings include King Kong, gladiators and aliens versus GIs.
He tackled Vietnam this year because many of the participants were Bagrowski’s age.
“I just missed being called up,” he said. “The war was winding down.”
Bagrowski, who is not a veteran, ponders the United States’ motive for being involved.
“I was anti-communist then and still am,” he said.
The North Vietnamese in the cities might have cared who their country was fighting, but the guys who were out in the country were mostly concerned with farming their land and raising families in the small villages that dotted the landscape, Bagrowski said.
Bagrowski began planning this latest effort last November. He sketched the scenes and looked up the weapons used in that era. He wanted to do a display representing the Vietnam War for years, but said he didn’t know how.
“I knew it was time,” he said.
The individual soldiers are made with PVC pipe wrapped in foam or chicken wire to shape the chests. The uniforms were given to Bagrowski by a neighbor.
From the back, the uniforms show modern camouflage. Bagrowski spray-painted the fronts with the proper colors.
“You quickly learn you only have to do 50 percent, the side facing the road,” he said.
The heads are mostly made of plastic bottles that once held bleach. The faces are paper mache and each looks different.
He used swimming pool noodles for hands. From the road it’s impossible to tell.
“You flatten it out and cut the fingers,” Bagrowski said. “The shape of the hand can be pinned in place or heated and molded with a glue gun.”
The gun barrels are made of PVC pipe and the stocks are Styrofoam. The helmets are aluminum foil and the ammunition cases were made from dog food containers.
“Almost everything you see out there I made from something,” Bagrowski said.
The first figures, representing American advisors to the South Vietnamese, went up in August. When those came down other figures went up.
The first scene or last, depending on the direction it is approached, is a smoking helicopter landing. A doctor is caring for the wounded and there is a door gunner.
The guys in the middle are from search and destroy. One figure has a flashlight and is searching for something. There are figures fighting in an ambush. A Marine patrol is to the left. Next are members of a long-range reconnaissance patrol and a SEAL team.
A fence designates the borders of Laos and Cambodia, where some of the war was fought.
People regularly stop and thank Bagrowski for the display and his reaction is always the same.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the people who served in the armed forces during wartime,” he said.
In all of the years Bagrowski has been creating his displays only one figure, a zombie, has been taken.
Bagrowski would like to give the figures away if anyone is interested. The display will come down at the end of the month.
If you want one or more of the figures, drop by Bagrowski’s home at 4315 Old Waco Road. If he’s not there, leave a note and he’ll get in touch.