FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — David Pintos' passion is putting war on display, featuring scenes of bravery and triumph alongside graphic depictions of horrors and casualties.
It is why his dining room table-sized model of the Battle of Khe Sanh from the Vietnam War includes 1-inch tall soldiers with their heads missing.
"I try to make this as authentic as possible so people can visualize what the guys went through," said Pintos, who served in the U.S. Marines for four years in the early 1980s. "War is ugly, but sometimes it's a necessity."
For Memorial Day on Monday, Pintos, 53, will pay tribute to those men and women who died serving their country. But it's also what he does year-round with a hobby that serves to inform young people and others about American military history.
"It's my way to thank the veterans that were there before me that gave me and my family the freedoms we have to live in this great country," said Pintos, a Palm Beach County Sheriff's deputy assigned to the main courthouse in West Palm Beach.
Pintos is working on completing a 7-1/2-foot by 4-foot model of the Battle of Iwo Jima from World War II; his finished three-dimensional replica of the Invasion of Normandy, from the same war, was recently on view at an Elks Lodge. The Normandy piece took four months to construct.
The father of two adult sons recently started a model of the War in Afghanistan, beginning with the meticulous painting of dozens of miniature U.S. soldiers and Taliban fighters.
Pintos hopes one day to work on American Civil War and Korean War-era models. For now, there's room to store the displays in his home garage when they are not exhibited at area schools and other places.
Palm Beach County Judge Paul Damico, who studies World War II history, praised the realism in Pintos' Normandy model.
"I'm very proud of him," Damico said. "It's a tribute to the veterans and it's awesome. What's so great is he wants to share his art with the public."
It's unclear whether Pintos will get his wish to place one of his models in the busy first-floor courthouse lobby. "The verdict is still out on that," the judge said.
Another potential landing spot is the Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum, in downtown West Palm Beach.
Pintos' model-building pursuits began in earnest about a decade ago when one of his sons had a middle school lesson about the Holocaust.
Pintos said the textbook chapter didn't include enough details about Nazi Germany's concentration camps, so he decided to work on a large diorama of Auschwitz with the teacher's permission.
"What I noticed is that kids and most people learn more visually," he said, showing a visitor the display that includes tiny SS guards, prisoners, gas chambers and a crematorium, all painted by hand.
"This is a horrible thing that happened to the Jewish people that should never ever happen again," he said. "This is our way of honoring the millions of Jews that died in World War II through no fault of their own."
Pintos, who also spent three years as a New York City cop before moving to South Florida, decided next to tackle the intricate battlefield scenes, drawing upon what he's learned from history books and films and speaking with veterans.
"I always liked to build since I was a kid, especially military things, because my father was in the military and I grew up in a military household," he said. "This is not only for me, this is to honor these men."