by Michael Williams

From Eleanor: Michael is a talented 3D modeler, and the Shapeways forum moderator and shop owner. In honor of Memorial Day, which we celebrated in the United States earlier this week, we wanted to highlight his story of creating a 3D printed tribute to one soldier’s bravery.

Before being deployed in Afghanistan, Liam Nevins, an American soldier, wanted to build a business making custom equipment from his own designs. In the search for a method to prototype his designs, the soldier and his mom found Shapeways. Everything was lined up to start his business, but unfortunately Liam never made it home.

A fellow soldier deployed with Liam’s company in Afghanistan, delivered these words in tribute to Liam, “…He was tireless and seemingly everywhere, every day, doing not only his job as a communications specialist, but trying to do every job on the team… He would program radios, build explosive charges, practice with the mortar, shoot at the range, and put his nose in the air to sniff out the slightest hint of work or challenge. Usually this was all before 10 a.m. … His energy level was simply not human and there was nothing we could do to stop him. His stubbornness and commitment would always win. There are people who have a never quit attitude and then there was Liam.”
Looking for a way to create a special memorial piece in his honor, Liam’s mother, Victoria, found her way back to Shapeways and I connected with her in our forums. As the forum moderator I don’t search through the forums for modeling work, but I often find posts from people looking for work in the wrong sections. That’s how I found Victoria’s post in the General Discussion section. I let her know I’d be honored to help her with her project.
Victoria had a vision: She wanted to replicate the sleeve of Liams’ uniform, full size. During an operation in Wagez, Afghanistan, Liam was seriously injured by PKM fire during a close range, night time fire fight. Another element was pinned down and Liam was quick to run to the sound of the guns and help his brothers.

One commando was already down and another injured before Liam pressed forward towards the enemy. After he was hit, Liam calmly came over the radio and said, “This is Liam. I’m hit.” Then he extracted himself from the immediate area. There was disappointment in his voice. Not fear, not pain, not panic, just disappointment. As they treated his wounds he kept apologizing repeatedly for being shot. Anything that would take him out of the fight and away from the chance to help his brothers just crushed his heart. Because of his injury, his sleeve had to be removed. He held onto the sleeve as a badge of honor. The sleeve has become known as a Sleeve of Destiny.
Victoria sent me a few dozen pictures of the sleeve, and I used 123D catch to make the initial model. Then, using Blender I scaled it to the right size, hollowed it, and cut it down the middle so it could sit flat on a wall to be displayed. If you know me, you know that I didn’t enjoy the idea of learning Blender, but it ended up being a lot easier than I thought. However, at full size, the piece was just too big to fit in a printing tray. And being so big, 3mm walls wouldn’t be sufficient. So to prepare for printing, I sliced the model into 3 pieces to be assembled post production and thickened the walls.
I printed the pieces in Full Color Sandstone and when I received them, I was so pleased! They looked so amazing! But you can’t hang a piece of Full Color Sandstone on your wall. The many layers of the design and dark, camo color can be a little dull, so I coated them in Glaze Coat to assemble them into one piece, and give them a finish worthy of a presentation.
As Liam’s comrade said in his memorial to Liam, “Liam was a fearless warrior and I along with all of the other members of the team were comforted many times in battle knowing he was at our side or leading further to the front. He had dedication and resilience beyond that of any normal man. He was so tough that no enemy could stop him face on; a machine gun only slowed him down. He was strong; so strong that only a coward could kill him.”
Read a further tribute to Liam Jules Henry Nevins here.

Inspired by Liam’s story? Learn more about how to bring your own ideas to life.