Wayne Baughman: The wrestler who became a statue

You've undoubtedly heard of Wayne Baughman. The former University of Oklahoma wrestler owns the distinction of having won 16 national titles during his career in four different styles of wrestling (collegiate, freestyle, Greco-Roman, and sambo). He was also a member of the 1964, 1968, and 1972 U.S. Greco-Roman Olympic teams. Beyond his career as a wrestler, Baughman coached the 1976 freestyle Olympic team to six medals ... and served as head wrestling coach at the U.S. Air Force Academy for 27 years, retiring in 2007.

All that said, Baughman also has a lasting legacy that can't be matched, having served as the model for the U.S. Air Force Monument which has been on display in downtown Oklahoma City for nearly 55 years.

Standing tall in OKC

Located in downtown Oklahoma City, the U.S. Air Force Monument is in Kerr Park on Broadway -- a major north-south street -- about halfway between two well-known landmarks in Oklahoma's capital city: Chesapeake Energy Arena (site of past NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships) ... and the Oklahoma City National Memorial which honors the victims of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building which killed 168 people and injured hundreds more.

At the heart of the monument is a bronze statue features a 12-foot-tall nearly-naked male figure ... which is modeled after Wayne Baughman. In his right arm, he's cradling a Department of the Air Force seal; his left arm is reaching skyward, holding a sword. That sculpture sits on a granite base, with a 65-foot tall granite obelisk behind the bronze statue topped with a bronze bald eagle. In the monument's base is a time capsule, scheduled to be opened in 2089, 200 years after Oklahoma City was founded.

The monument was dedicated in October 1964. After enduring four decades of weather (and, according to Baughman, damage from the Murrah Building bombing), the monument underwent a $110,000 restoration in 2002 and was rededicated in early July 2003.

How did Baughman the wrestler become immortalized in bronze?

"It was kind of interesting how the modeling job came about," Baughman told InterMat. "I made a world championship team straight out of college and was gone for seven weeks. When I returned I got a call from the OU (University of Oklahoma) Sports Information Director, Harold Keith. Harold said he had a gotten a call from a sculptor, Leonard McMurry, saying that he had been commissioned to do an Air Force monument for downtown Oklahoma City. He was looking for a model and wondered if OU might have a football player that would be willing to model; but he was looking for a very specific physique. Since the USAF (United States Air Force) was moving into the 'space age,' he was looking for a longer, leaner, muscular build rather than a stockier, bulky build."

"Harold told him, 'I don't have a football player who comes to mind but I have a wrestler who I believe is exactly what you're looking for,'" Baughman continued. "Harold gave me Leonard's number. I called and Leonard reiterated that he was looking for a specific build and that I shouldn't get my feelings hurt if I was not what he was looking for. We made an appointment to meet the following Saturday. He took one look at me and said, 'Yup, you're what I'm looking for.'"

McMurry's offer appealed to Baughman, who had graduated from Oklahoma in 1963.

"He said he would pay $4.95 an hour and I would make around $500," said the Sooner mat alum, who won the 191-pound title at the 1962 NCAAs. "The minimum wage back then was a $1.25 and $4.95 was more than I was making as a Second Lieutenant. He said most of the work would be accomplished over the summer, on weekends and evenings and he could work around my schedule."

The sculptor and the wrestler

Leonard McMurry was born in 1913 in Memphis, Texas. According to Baughman, McMurry had fought in France in World War II ... then, after the war, stayed in Europe to study art before returning home to become a farmer.

"He struggled to make it as a farmer and was doing sculpture on the side to make ends meet," Baughman continued. "He finally gave up farming and went to doing sculpture full time."

Prior to being selected to create the Air Force Monument, McMurry had already created large, three-dimensional artworks in Oklahoma, including Buffalo Bill sculpture at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, and the praying hands sculpture at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa.

Wayne Baughman remembers his introduction to his modeling career as if it were yesterday.

"When I arrived for the first day's work, Leonard already had a 12-foot frame of 2x4s and pipe for the full- size statue," the former wrestler told InterMat. "I thought this would be easy money, just standing there while he did his thing. Wrong! He had me helping him mix water and powder into clay in big garbage cans. Then we just globbed the clay onto and the wood-and-pipe-frame until it started to form the shape of a man. Now the true shaping began. All I had to do was pose and he started the details. Posing was just standing there. No big deal, huh? Wrong. The twisted position I was in with one foot on a globe, the USAF disk seal in one hand and holding a winged sword aloft in the other was difficult to get and stay in for more the 3- 5 minutes at a time before cramping and becoming exhausted. A 1-3 hour session was like a wrestling workout."

Baughman continued to share details of the posing/sculpting process.

"The man at the base of the monument is 12 feet tall. That worked out well because I was a little over 6 feet tall and his working model was 3 feet.

"Leonard had a caliper instrument so all he had to do was set it at 50%. If he put the small end on my arm, then the large end was what the full-size statue arm should be. If he put the large end on my arm the other end was what the working model should be."

Once Leonard McMurry had finished sculpting the 12-foot man -- along with the eagle that would be mounted further up on the granite spire -- both were sent to Mexico City for bronze casting.

Ready for the world

Wayne Baughman next to the U.S. Air Force Monument
"The unveiling of the monument took place on Oct. 19, 1964 while I was at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics so I missed the big event. My pregnant wife, two-year-old son and parents were able to attend. I have to admit that I was impressed with the size and magnitude of the work the first time I viewed it."

After nearly four decades being out in the weather -- and suffering the ravages of being in the heart of a major city -- it was time to bring the monument back to its original condition. The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce headed up fundraising efforts to generate the $110,000 to complete the restoration process in 2002 ... with a rededication ceremony held in early July 2003.

"This monument is symbolic of humanity's conquest of sky and space and symbolic of the cooperation between the people of Oklahoma City and the United States Air Force," said Burns Hargis, chairman of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and master of ceremonies for the rededication.

"Today we're rededicating this Air Force Monument which was created as a memorial to those Oklahomans and Air Force people who died while serving their country ensuring that this great Constitution of ours and our freedom shall not perish," said Maj. Gen. Charles Johnson of Tinker Air Force Base and one of the rededication speakers.

Baughman's lasting memento of the monument-making process

Beyond the lasting memories of the posing process -- and being able to see the actual monument in the heart of Oklahoma City -- Wayne Baughman sought to have an actual memento of the sculpture.

"I asked Leonard if I could buy his 3-foot working model," the three-time Olympic wrestler said. "It was made of 'marble dust' but looked like real bronze. He said that he never sold his working models but would have one cast for me for the casting fee only. It was $250 but that was more than I could afford at the time, even with what he'd paid me, which had already been spent of family expenses."

"I stayed in touch with Leonard. Every time I got back to Oklahoma City I would visit him. Each time the casting price of the 3-foot model had gone up. Then one visit he said there was a new bronze foundry in Oklahoma City and they were 'courting' him as a client. He said he could get me an actual bronze casting for $800 with $400 down and the balance on delivery. I gave them the deposit and then the waiting started. About every three months I'd call and check and it wasn't ready. I finally told Leonard to just get my deposit back. He informed me that that was what they were hoping I would do because they got much busier, and 'under-priced' the job. Leonard told the foundry that they'd get no more business from him until I got my bronze and within about six weeks I had it."

"For many years I had the statue in my office in an out of the way corner," said Baughman. "A visitor said it should be in the main 'Great Room' area of our home and my wife agreed, so that's where it is now. The 'Winged Sword' sticking up is a little dangerous so it's in a corner out of any traffic area. My wife tells me that the only thing I resemble about the statue now is the ingrown toenails. That's how much detail Leonard put into his work."

Sadly, Leonard McMurry passed away in 2008, at age 94. But one of his greatest creations -- the U.S. Air Force Monument -- lives on in downtown Oklahoma City ... and in the memory of the wrestler who posed for bronze statue at the heart of it, Wayne Baughman.

Thanks to Wayne Baughman for his willingness to share his memories of being part of the monument-making process ... and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame for providing photos.


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jkwjr52 (4) about 1 and a half years ago
Very interesting story!!
Ouspy (3) about 1 year ago
Boomer Sooner Wayne Baughman!!! You are an American Hero! God Bless!
Lori Baughman Niell (2) about 4 months ago
That's my Dad! I missed seeing this article last year. We're very proud of him, the whole family.... Thanks for writing such a great news story. I've heard these stories a few times over the past 55 years. 😊