John Hoyt

When SkillsUSA tried out a competition in Welding Art Sculpture last year, most entries had whimsical themes: cowboy boots, a dragonfly, a fisherman or an array of stars. A sturdy black box stood out among them, starkly displaying a symbol associated with prisoners of war.

“I just wanted to honor the fallen brothers in arms that we’ve had in the past campaigns and any future campaigns,” says former Marine John Hoyt, who created this project as a student at St. Philip’s College in San Antonio and where he’s now an adjunct faculty member.

Hoyt was inspired by the iconic logo of the National League of POW/MIA Families (www.pow-miafamilies.org), which seeks the release of Vietnam War prisoners and a full accounting of those missing in action. When contacted for permission to use the art, the nonprofit organization replied it was “delighted” and “honored,” leading to talk of displaying Hoyt’s work at its headquarters or at a military base.

Welding was not Hoyt’s original career goal. After an honorable discharge in 2002, he continued to use his Marine training in logistics, then entered college to become an X-ray technician. Taking a welding class “was more of a fun thing,” Hoyt says, but he liked it so much, “it was the profession that actually chose the welder” and not the other way around.

It took Hoyt four days to weld the illuminated sculpture, which is 3 feet high and weighs almost 50 pounds. SkillsUSA advisor Cornelio Ontiveros provided work space and guidance, and Hoyt’s employer, Southwest Signs, donated scrap material.

“When we spoke about the project, we all took it to heart. Any military person would,” says Ontiveros, a fellow veteran.

Hoyt explains, “People don’t remember the ones that are missing. They don’t see the families who are in distress from not knowing where their loved ones are.”

There were a few literal bumps in taking the sculpture to SkillsUSA’s new contest demonstration in Kansas City, Mo. On arrival, Hoyt learned it was larger than the rules allowed. And, “in a van with a bunch of luggage and a special-needs scooter, it bounced around,” scratching the sculpture, Ontiveros says. The two discussed making last-minute repairs but ultimately decided the scratches would enhance the message Hoyt was trying to get across.

“Those MIAs, those POWs, they’re not in perfect condition. They’re scratched up, they’re hurt and they’re beaten,” Ontiveros recalls telling Hoyt. “Your sculpture shows in itself that even though all these things have happened, it’s still there to be illuminated. And the illumination for us is to wake up and say, ‘Hey, we need to remember.’ ”