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Eastern Carolina Plastic Modelers
Modeling Article
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Last Update: 12 June 2009

Creating Moments in Time
Taking Cover: Hue City, January 31, 1968

Brian Vinciguerra

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This particular vignette is only my second attempt at diorama construction. I really love to look at dioramas in general because of all of the different skills that are necessary to craft that "moment in time." Having returned to the hobby only a couple of years ago, I am always eager to try new things and add them to my tool box.

I think that one of the most important aspects of building vignette's and dioramas for me is the thought, "What am I trying to portray?" What event, what moment in time, what sense of action will be critical to portraying this very second? Based on these questions I begin to develop my plan. What follows is the story of this "Moment in time."

I was anticipating attending the IPMS Winston/Salem NC chapter's 2009 contest, "Modelpocalypse Now, 2009" and the theme for this year's contest was Vietnam, 1965-1975. I had previously constructed a Tamiya PBR31-MKII that I knew I was going to enter, but I wanted to build something new for this show. I have recently developed a serious interest in figure construction and painting, and I am fascinated by dioramas, so I knew that a small diorama was in the cards.

The Inspiration

[article image] Being a retired Marine, I am in love with the history of the Marine Corps. One of the iconic battles in our history is the gritty street brawl in Hue City, Vietnam during the Tet Offensive of 1968. My idea began to develop. I did some research on the internet about that particular battle, but pictures are few and far between, so my next resource was the library on Camp Lejeune, that has a fantastic military history section where I found the book Marines in Hue City, A Portrait of Urban Combat, Tet, 1968 by Eric Hammel that served as my primary resource. My inspiration for this vignette is this photograph of a squad pinned behind a wall, engaging the enemy.

I also read this passage from the book that instantly seared an image in my own mind's eye.

The Golf/2/5 Marines had never fought in a city, but most of them had achieved a postdoctoral level of combat savvy. They knew how to move. Nevertheless, the lead squad was nailed by heavy fire as soon as it turned the corner into the gate road. As many as ten Marines were bowled off their feet, and everyone else scrambled for cover. The fire was coming from up the street and outside the intersection, toward the river farther along highway 1. It had the lead squad pinned in the street and along the sidewalk, and there was no safe way to push troops forward... It took everything Golf/2/5 had to extricate the main body of the lead platoon from the crossfire. Nevertheless, the company commander remained trapped behind his tree, and several others were also pinned. In the open were two wounded Marines and a wounded corpsman...

The Plan

[article image] Looking through my stash my selection of figures of the Vietnam era was pretty meager, up until now I had only done one Vietnam kit and that was the PBR31 MKII. This kit comes with four figures, two of which did not fit my needs, one might do with some heavy modification (a skill that I have not developed yet) and one lonely figure would be the base of my squad. My original plan showed only one figure. The figure I had in mind was the M79 gunner from the PBR kit. His body position matched perfectly with what I saw in my mind's eye.

I also knew that I wanted to keep this vignette pretty small, so a base no bigger than a compact disc was my size restriction.

The major elements that I wanted to include were:
  1) Figure taking cover
  2) A low concrete wall
  3) Sidewalks
  4) A palm tree
  5) Groundwork

[article image] The Mockup

To further develop my idea and to see of all of my elements were going to work I put together a full scale mockup, using cardboard and foam board that would approximate the thickness of the wall that I was going to use. The tree trunk of my palm tree was also included to get the general placement. Keeping this mockup handy allowed me to clearly visualize my finished product.

The Forums

For several years I have been mostly a lurker on many of the forums such as those at,, and the Historicus forma website at I have posted a few times but have never been what you would call an active participant. This time I wanted to post a work in progress post on all three websites because I value the input of other modelers, and I wish to thank them here for all of their outstanding feedback, their hints and suggestions ultimately made this a better vignette than I could have done on their own. Based on recommendations I modified my plan to include a couple of more figures. The kit that I used was the Marines at Khe Sanh figure set from Dragon Models. While I was waiting for these to arrive I began to work in earnest on the base.

The Base

Using my mockup as a guide I started with the actual base. I cut from 1/2-inch plywood with a jigsaw a circle the size of a compact disc. My next thought was the wall.

The Wall

[article image] For the wall sections I poured a small slab of skim coat concrete in a plastic foam hamburger tray about a 1/4-inch thick and let it dry. The product I used was Henry 547 Unipro Universal Patch & Skimcoat. After allowing the skimcoat to fully cure I took it out of the tray and cut my pieces to size using a jigsaw. Next I scribed cinder blocks into the wall sections using a nail.

I attached these to the base using my homemade silicone glue (DAP clear silicone RTV mixed 50/50 with water) I like to use this because it is stronger than white glue, dries crystal clear, and is a very strong bond when fully cured. I also like it because it is easy to clean up with water, take paint very well and leaves me enough time to still make adjustments before setting up fully.

My original intent was to have a concrete cinder block wall, but based on input and my reference book I found out the walls were actually coated with plaster over concrete. To reflect this yet show the cinder blocks underneath the plaster I masked off a section of the wall that would not be plastered. I plastered the walls using DAP wall spackle, this is a water soluble product that can be easily smoothed and sanded.

[article image] I was also informed that the walls were usually painted in corals, light blues, and greens and were heavily coated with a black slimy mold that would discolor the walls. To replicate this effect I airbrushed the wall using a color I mixed using my favorite paints (Delta Ceramcoat craft paints) this color is a mixture of white, green and a touch of blue.

To achieve the moldy look I used Windsor and Newton artist oils (Burnt Umber, Raw Sienna, and Lamp Black) I stippled this mixture at the top of the wall and pulled the color to the bottom of the wall using a brush dampened with mineral spirits. This leaves the majority of the paint at the top of the wall and thins out as it nears the bottom so that the color of the wall shows through. I over-coated this with Delta Ceramcoat Matte varnish to protect the oils from my fat fingers.

I scratch built the sidewalk sections using styrene sheet. I scribed in a brick pattern with curbing. I painted this a light grey and picked out individual bricks with other shades of grey to break up the pattern. The street sections are 600 grit sandpaper glued down to the base. I gave the streets and sidewalks a light wash with W&N burnt umber to make the bricks stand out a bit.

Groundwork on the backside of the wall was first formed with chunks of styrofoam hot glued to the base. To smooth the countour out I thinned some spackle with water and painted it on to fill the major gaps. I painted this with a base coat of burnt umber acrylic paints. I stippled on some white glue and sprinkled woodland scenics static grass over this to break up the chunky look of the ground work.

Ultimately I was not satisfied with the look of the ground work and ended up covering it with potting soil that I dried out and sifted. I felt that this added a more realistic look because there was a variety in the size and look of the material. I dry brushed this with varying shades of brown acrylics.

[article image] Palm Tree

There are many types of palm trees and I settled on one that I had scratch built as an experiment when I first returned to the hobby. I found an outstanding tutorial on the website and it makes a realistic looking tree. I won't go into the whole procedure here but if you are interested here is the link to the process. This article details a way to make a fairly realistic looking palm tree. I do caution you that the leaves are the most labor intensive part of the whole process. I attached the palm tree to the base using hot glue.


I had decided that I was going to use the M79 grenadier from the Tamiya PBR31 MKII kit. My original plan was to modify the machine gunner figure from the same kit, but my skills at modifying figures turned out to not be up to snuff. Instead I bought the DML Marines at Khe Sanh figures set and would instead use the M60 gunner and the radio operator from this set that would give me three Marines trapped behind the wall.

Looking at the figures the DML figures are molded much better, their flak jackets are more detailed as well as the general sculpting.

[article image] I had decided that these Marines were going to be wearing full battle rattle however the mix of equipment that they came with proved to be fairly slim. My reference photo showed the Marines wearing gas mask carriers, and additional gear not included in the sculpts.

I kit bashed several other sets to obtain all of the individual equipment that I wanted to include. Each of the figures received a set of canteens, first aid kit, and pistol. Based on what weapons load each was carrying that would help determine what other gear they should be carrying. The grenadier received a butt pack, as well as the M60 gunner. Since the RTO would be carrying his radio on his back I had to scratch build his radio pack. He also received a flashlight that would be strapped under his radio pack straps.

[article image] I had to modify each figure so that the gas mask carrier would sit flat instead of bulged out where the leg cargo pockets were molded on. This was a simple matter of filing off that part of the pocket where the gas mask would ride. I added gas mask carry straps to each figure to more closely resemble the actual carrier. Each figure also had an H-Harnes added that was made from medical tape. Additional details included a bandoleer of ammunition for the M79 gunner.

Painting the figures was pretty straight forward. Using a series of techniques I have learned I filled in low-lights and highlights with the same color that was darkened with burnt umber, and lightened with sand stone to establish a difference in color tones. I dry brushed the uniforms and equipment with a 4th color that I mixed up that was bout two tones lighter than my mid tone color to hit the high points of the equipment.

Next I painted all of my flesh tones with an acrylic paint that is close to Tamiya Desert yellow and began the painting process using artist oils. Painting the flesh and faces is the hardest part for me, suffice it to say that this article is not where I will go over all of the pain of figure painting. I will save that for another article.
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Lastly I painted the helmet covers, the helmet covers worn by Marines in Vietnam were essentially leftovers from WWII. They have a greenish tint and a mottled camouflage pattern. I first painted the helmets with sandstone, and then layered burnt umber, forest green, earth brown that I applied with a 20/0 brush. After the paint had a chance to dry I lightly misted a 10% paint to thinner solution over the helmet covers to tone down the colors.

As you can see in this picture the figures have come together nicely. The washes and dry brushing helped the equipment to really standout in a sea of green.

It's All in the Details ...

To bring the whole vignette together I really had to think about the little things that I would add to emphasize the drama and the fact that these guys are fighting a life and death battle. Details that I would add:

  1) Expended M72 LAAW rocket
  2) Lots of expended brass
  3) Rubble

I searched and searched but I could not find any kits that had the M27 Light Anti-Armor Weapon (LAAW) so my only alternative was to scratch build one. Using some styrene rod of varying sized I cobbled together a suitable LAAW.

[article image] Here it is unpainted:

[article image] For brass I cut small sections of .26 gauge wire and sprinkled them liberally where they would most likely fall if they were actually being expended from the ejection port of the M60.

[article image] I also created belts of ammo by laying straight pins side by side and superglueing them. I ran a strip of tape across the top and bottom to simulate links and then cut them apart using a pair of metal cutting shears. My original idea was to loop them around the M60 gunners body like they would have been in the actual battle, I ran into difficulty attempting that so I simply laid them across the wall as if they were in easy reach of the gunner and they had been in this position for a while.

The M79 gunner's weapon was originally part of my PBR kit and was glued together as if it was loaded and ready to be employed. I wanted my M79 gunner to look as if he was loading it himself, so I was faced with a dilemma. I needed to take it back apart so that I can drill out the barrel and reassemble in its loading position. My solution was to first strip off my lousy paint job using Westley's Bleche White and then separate the two pieces at the glue seam using a dental floss pick like a miniature coping saw to saw through the glue bond.

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After I reassembled the M79 in the desired position I repainted it and drybrushed the barrel with gun metal and highlighted it with a No. 2 pencil to give it that shiny metal look.

[article image] The RTO's radio pack was scratchbuilt using medical tape and some styrene bits. His handset cord was made with .26 gauge wire and his radio antenna was made using Aluminum foil.

The last steps I took was to pull together some rubble bits, and plaster and spread it liberally around the base to add to the fog of war. After glueing down all of the brass and rubble with a thinned down coat of PVA glue and letting it dry overnight I applied several washes to make the rubble stand out. Some selective dry brushing and a coat of black paint around the base helped to wrap the whole project up just in time to get it packed up to go to the show.

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