'Sacrifice' Brings Memorial Closer To Reality
October 19, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--A local symbol for "Sacrifice" was on display briefly last week at Veterans Memorial Park in downtown Huntsville.
A 1,500-pound statue of three Soldiers -- each embodying the physical attributes of three combat veterans from North Alabama -- was moved by crane into place at the site of the new Huntsville/Madison County Veterans Memorial on Oct. 3, signifying another milestone toward the memorial's official dedication and opening on Veterans Day, Nov. 11 at 11 a.m.
"It was awesome," Bob Drolet, a member of the Veterans Memorial Foundation, said of seeing the bronze-cast statue for the first time.
As soon as the statue was put in place on the eastern side of the Veterans Memorial, it was covered from public view with plastic. It will remain under cover while workers with Fite Construction complete the memorial in time for the official opening.
But the short time it was uncovered confirmed for Drolet his belief in what the statue symbolizes -- the sacrifice that local servicemembers have made to protect and defend the nation.
"We made a decision six or seven years ago to use real local heroes for the models of the statues, and it is proving out to be a great idea," he said.
"Two of those heroes -- Everett Carter and Hubble Hainline -- were there when we moved the statue and to see the expressions on their faces when we all saw the statue was wonderful. It is so emotional for them and for all of us to have these heroes immortalized in stone. It connects with the community because these heroes are from here."
The chosen heroes who modeled for the statue were Carter, a Vietnam Army veteran who lives in Hazel Green; Hainline, an Operation Iraqi Freedom wounded warrior who lives in Athens and recently had to retire from the Alabama Army National Guard; and Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan wounded warrior Jessica Newey of Huntsville, who is also from Alabama's Army National Guard.
During the statue's installation process, local artisan Dan Burch hovered over the construction site like a concerned parent. It was his skill, energy and dedication that turned photos and settings of the models into the 80-inch-tall statue of steel rod, clay and bronze.
"It's truly an honor to be part of this," he said as the statue was set with concrete in a display area of the memorial. "I'm really proud to be able to do this."
Burch, who has also sculpted a statue that now graces Bicentennial Park in downtown Huntsville and the fallen officer's memorial that will soon be placed in front of the Huntsville Police Department, enjoyed more than 20 years as a portrait painter in his studio in Gurley before sculpting became his passion.
"I took a bronze casting class at the University of Alabama-Huntsville in 2001, and that set the hook," he said. "The casting process was very intriguing to me."
A few years later, he was suggested as the sculpture for the statues that were to be part of the Veterans Memorial. At the time, the plan was to include a sculpture for each of the five military branches.
"I started mulling over the ideas about what they wanted to convey," he said. "That evolved into three themes -- Courage, Sacrifice and Duty -- and trying to encapsulate those within 20th century conflicts."
"Sacrifice" shows two Soldiers dragging a wounded Soldier from battle. It is one of two sculptures Burch is creating for the memorial. The second one -- "Courage" -- will show two Soldiers standing with rifles in their hands as another climbs from a foxhole, and will be unveiled on Memorial Day 2012.
"The statues take quite a lot of time to design and create," Burch said. "The first one took a particularly long time -- 1 1/2 years -- because I was working on the symmetry between the three pieces and within the limited amount of space that I had. I also had to make many different tools and pieces of equipment that helped me with the process and that will make the second sculpture easier."
Working with real heroes may make the sculptures sentimental, but for Burch the realism of those models made it easier for him to sculpt realistic statues.
"I had them pose for conceptual drawings. I used the models to get realistic measurements," he said.
"There were more things to work out with this one because all three statues of the Soldiers are connected into one statue. And I had to make sure I had the angles of the bodies realistic. Their bodies, uniforms and equipment had to move in the right places to convey the physical burden of the wounded Soldier the two Soldiers are dragging. There is a lot of animation to the piece that had to be figured out."
Steel rods were used to create the frame -- or the bones -- for each statue. Then Burch used three 1,000-pound blocks of clay from which he built and carved the statues on the steel frames. Once the statues were sculpted, they were permanently joined together and then shipped to Art Castings in Colorado to be cast in bronze. That process took five months.
On the way to Huntsville, the trucker who carried the statute in full view in his truck bed got several inquiries from people along the route.
"He said he felt like a rock star," Burch said. "People were honking at him on the interstate. They wanted to take pictures of the statute."
The "Sacrifice" and "Courage" statues are part of a $3 million Veterans Memorial that will include granite markers listing the names of local veterans who died for their country, a memorial fountain and waterways, and circular paths that travel through the memorial and the park located in downtown Huntsville between Jefferson and Washington streets. Memorial foundation volunteers are also working on the addition of an eternal flame, a military time capsule and an educational element that they hope to unveil on Memorial Day with the "Courage" statue.
All but $50,000 of the funds needed for the memorial have been raised.
"I am confident we will raise this through spontaneous contributions from the community," Drolet said.
Funds have been donated by several local corporations and a memorial brick paver campaign has sold 4,000 bricks to local donors at a cost of $100 per brick. The brick pavers, which can be inscribed with the names of veterans or others that a donor wants to honor, can still be purchased by visiting www.huntsvilleveteransmemorial.org or calling 799-2520.
"This is truly a memorial to honor our veterans and those who are serving today," Drolet said. "We want to use this memorial as an educational experience, and we want it to be something the whole community can look at and know we support our military."
Once it's complete, Drolet hopes visitors of all ages will feel an emotional connection to the memorial.
"I hope they are inspired by knowing we have built something that truly fits Huntsville, Ala., and shows our support for our military," he said.
"I hope it will inspire those that will serve, and that it sends a message that this community remembers and does not forget service and sacrifice. I hope it shows our devotion and appreciation to those who have served and are serving. And I hope people enjoy the beauty of it and what it brings to our community."