TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Thad Forester found it surreal to watch the profile of his younger brother, Mark, take shape in clay, a prelude to his immortalization in bronze.
“It is really emotional for me. It was really emotional to work on,” Thad Forester said.
The family has photos of Mark, but the bronze is a portrait they can circle and see features like the slight crookedness of his nose.
Mark Forester, the youngest son of a family of six from Haleyville, felt called to serve after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The 29-year-old University of Alabama alumnus was assigned to the Air Force’s 21st Special Tactics Squadron as a combat controller.
He was killed in action on Sept. 29, 2010, while trying to aid Army special-forces medic 1st Sgt. Calvin Harrison, a teammate who also died during the mission in Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan.
A bronze bust of Mark Forester in a beret and an Air Force dress uniform is scheduled to be unveiled at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the university’s Office of Veteran and Military Affairs at Houser Hall, where it will be displayed. It was sculpted by Tuscaloosa resident and retired Marine Col. Lee Busby, who worked with Thad Forester to capture the likeness of his younger brother.
Forester visited Busby’s Tuscaloosa studio three times. Busby used photos and Thad Forester for reference as he sculpted the features, striving to get the nose, the ears, the wry smile just right.
Busby, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, chose Mark Forester from a state-by-state database of service personnel killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“What first caught my eye in the scan of all those dozens and dozens of faces was Forester, he was one of those guys who had the movie-star good looks about him in that photo,” Busby said.
He was also captivated by the story of the young man and his sacrifice.
In the photos provided by Forester’s family, Busby watched the young man transform into the elite airman.
“You could see that metamorphosis during the period of four, five, six years as he was making that transformation in his life,” Busby said. “You could see that hardness that you see in almost all of them. It’s been tough training.”
Busby, working with sculptor Caleb O’Connor, created a similar bust for Johnny Micheal Spann, an Alabama native and the first U.S. combat death in the war in Afghanistan. The Alabama Marine Foundation funded the Spann bust and helped fund the Forester bust along with the University of Alabama.
Busby sees his sculptures as memorials to the service personnel and their families.
“We are very appreciative. This is something we didn’t ask anybody to do. We did not know about it until Lee contacted me several months ago,” Thad Forester said.
Forester’s family created the Mark Forester Foundation to honor his memory. The foundation provides an annual college scholarship to at least one Haleyville High School student each year as well as providing support to other veteran organizations. Thad Forester also wrote a book, “My Brother in Arms,” chronicling his brother’s story.
The bust is one more way to remember Mark.
“He is talented and we are forever thankful for him to do this,” Thad Forester said.