James Nance (above) , a former USAF pilot and Vietnam veteran, today is a retired airline pilot and an accomplished sculptor. Nance, who lives in Loveland, Colorado, specializes in Abraham Lincoln, portraits, and monumental figure sculpture. His latest work certainly fits the “monumental” category: a huge bronze map of Southeast Asia that was dedicated October 1 in the new Southeast Asia Memorial Pavilion at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Nance’s alma mater.
Nance’s monumental bronze map (below ), a high-relief sculpture, is eight feet tall and weighs in at about 800 pounds. It represents an area of some 900, 000 square miles, depicting Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and parts of China and Burma. That includes the Ho Chi Minh Trail and virtually every U.S. and enemy base.
It also represents a labor of love for the sculptor who graduated from the Academy in 1971. He went on to serve as a pilot on a C-141 transport crew that worked primarily on redeploying U.S. troops from Vietnam, including the American POW’s released in 1973. He served in the Air Force until 1977, then became a commercial airline pilot until his retirement three years ago.
Getting the map commission and executing it “was just more than I could dream for, ” Nance told Air Force Times . “As I was working on the map, it was almost like a reverent experience. It was very inspirational. I didn’t really think about me that much, but the guys who were there.”
In the weeks since its dedication the map has been a big draw on the USAFA campus. “Since the map has been installed there has been a steady stream of visitors composed of Vietnam veterans and families of those service members killed in action from all services, ” Nance told us. “The visits are emotional; all touch the map at meaningful locations, shed tears, and remember. At times of the day there is a line waiting to enter the building. Although I was hoping the map would create a connection to the past, this level of emotional response to the monument has been overwhelming.”
For more info about the map and Nance’s other work, take a look at his website .