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Patrick Hibbard's dioramas emerge from experiences in Korea, love of military history

OUTLOOK PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - One of two dioramas Patrick Hibbard has kept in his home, this scene is based on the moments after his jeep was struck by Chinese mortar fire while serving in Korea.While longtime Gresham resident Patrick Hibbard usually only made dioramas depicting fictional military scenarios from World War II, one of the few he has kept portrayed a scenario much closer to home. In fact, one of the models is of Hibbard himself.

Drafted into the Army after graduating from Lewis & Clark College in 1952, Hibbard was serving with the 3rd Signal Company of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Division during the Korean War. While on the way to check in with the Belgium Battalion on the North side of the 38th parallel, Hibbard's military jeep was struck by Chinese mortar fire.

In the diorama Hibbard later lovingly crafted, one can see the artist alongside Major Pitts and P.F.C. Jones exiting the destroyed vehicle in an effort to engage in a firefight with the enemy. The models are painstakingly detailed, with mud in the tire treads and the marks from the windshield wipers on the dusty windscreen. All three of the Americans are posed heroically after surviving the blast.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: PATRICK HIBBARD - Patrick Hibbard, right, alongside Major Pitts when the pair received the Bronze Star after an explosive event in Korea. Hibbard later made a diorama of the scene."In reality, there was a loud explosion, the jeep was blown to heck, and I found myself flying through the air," Hibbard said with a laugh. "I was lying in a ditch without my gun as they kept shooting at us."

Unable to explain to the major he was no longer armed because of the chaos, Hibbard was ordered to crawl up and subdue the enemy entrenched on a hill. Coming up behind the soldiers, he hid behind a boulder and came up with a plan.

"I started picking up dirt and rocks and threw it at them to get their attention," Hibbard said.

Finally, the ruse worked, and Hibbard's fellow soldiers were able to neutralize the enemy. The incident led Hibbard to receive the Bronze Star, the United States Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea's Presidential Unit Citation. The moment also inspired one of his favorite dioramas.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: PATRICK HIBBARD - Longtime Gresham resident Patrick Hibbard spent 10 years making dioramas based on his own military service and love of WW II vehicles."I loved putting together the dioramas," said Hibbard, 87. "It allowed me to be creative."

Hibbard first discovered his hobby long after returning from the war as a staff sergeant two years after being drafted. He explored work in the insurance field before settling into a career in advertising and graphics.

He married his wife Gayle in 1965, and had three children. He now has four grandchildren.

"I married a Gresham girl and the rest is history," Hibbard said.

The couple were longtime Gresham residents, where they lived for 45 years, before settling in East Portland. Hibbard retired in 1997 as president and CEO of two Portland printing companies that he ran alongside his wife.

It was in the 90s that Hibbard found his passion. After visiting a friend who had a balsawood British Spitfire airplane on his desk, Hibbard decided it seemed like a fun way to pass the time. So he began putting together his own models.

"As a kid I always loved the old World War II planes and vehicles, especially the British ones," Hibbard said. "It was a perfect fit for me to explore that love."

Eventually Hibbard decided to transition into putting together military dioramas.

Focus on details

OUTLOOK PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Many of Hibbards dioramas are on display at Gresham City Hall by the Gresham VFW Post 180. Hibbard began each of his dioramas by purchasing kits from Hasegawa Hobby Kits, a Japanese company that had the most realistic parts. Using those base models, he would then begin constructing the scene. Usually the moments weren't a direct recreation of famous incidents from war, but rather fictionalized scenes Hibbard would create.

"I liked to let my mind wander and create my own scenarios," he said.

Hibbard learned mainly through modeling books he bought, which detailed ways to bring scenes alive. He made dioramas for about 10 years, ending with about 20 in total. Each would take about two weeks to complete.

To depict water, Hibbard used painted plastic. Dirt and gravel were gathered from surrounding soil. In one instance, in order to replicate the damage done during World War II, Hibbard took the model trees out back to shoot them with his gun, imitating blasts from German artillery.

"One thing I learned about doing dioramas on the military is you don't get to use a lot of bright colors," he noted.

Hibbard's favorite part of making the dioramas was capturing the small details that breathed life into his work. In the explosive scene from Korea, he put a vertical metal bar onto the front of the jeep. During the war, those bars were used to snap piano wire the Chinese forces would string across roadways in an effort to decapitate men inside the open-air jeeps.

Another part of that Korean diorama was a bent sign nestled behind the jeep. It read "Steel Pots On," which meant that American soldiers should put on their helmets because they were entering territory watched by the enemy. Hibbard's jeep passed a similar sign before the mortar hit them during the war.

"I tried to be as realistic as I could with my dioramas," Hibbard said.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Hibbards favorite part of making dioramas was putting as many details as possible into the scenes. For a long time, Hibbard didn't like to speak of his time in the military.

"I never talked much about what happened over there," Hibbard said. "I didn't have the same problems as others, just a few nightmares, but I wanted to keep it to myself."

For a while, making dioramas was one of his only outlets to reflect his experiences. But that changed after 9/11 when it seemed like more people were receptive toward military service, and Hibbard's grandchildren started asking him about it.

"Even though I was drafted and didn't want to go, my experiences in Korea were good," he said. "I have so many great memories and things I got to do in just two years, and it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. I never stood straighter than when I was in my army uniform."

OUTLOOK PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Patrick Hibbard loved to recreate moments from World War II in his dioramas.Many of the dioramas he created now have new homes. Some were gifted to friends, family, and people beginning their own stints with the military. A large portion were donated to the Gresham Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 180, where they are currently on display in Gresham City Hall while the VFW searches for a new home.

"Making those dioramas was a time in my life I look back fondly on," Hibbard said. "I'm glad they are still being enjoyed by people."

Pink Panthers

OUTLOOK PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - During WWII, a British division became famous for fighting in pink vehicles. While researching the Pink Panthers, Patrick Hibbard had to convince his friends they were real.One of Patrick Hibbard's favorite dioramas he made depicts a World War II British long range desert outfit that became famous for operating in pink jeeps.

The division, known as the "Pink Panthers" — long before the famous film comedy series — captured Hibbard's imagination.

"I had to look up a picture of the Pink Panthers because none of my friends believed me when I told them about it," Hibbard said.

During the Western Desert Campaign of 1940-43 on the African front, Capt. David Stirling formulated an idea of using men in jeeps to carry out raids deep behind enemy lines. The vehicles, which were specially designed for the mission, arrived in the standard bronze green. That color scheme was a failure, as it was too easy for the Germans to spot the vehicles at a distance.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - The diorama Patrick Hibbard made of the Pink Panthers was one of his favorites."They were getting wiped out in the tan-brown vehicles, so they had to come up with a creative solution," Hibbard said.

So, the British division repainted the jeeps in a pink color scheme that was extremely difficult to see in the desert, especially at dawn and dusk. Because of the unique color, and success of their raids, the men became known as the "Pink Panthers" or "Pinkies."

Hibbard's diorama honors those men. It shows one of the Pinkies operating the famous vehicle down a steep desert incline. That model is one of only two that Hibbard has kept.

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