A tribute to veterans

November 9, 2004
By: Marty Rice

Editor's Note: The U.S. remembers its armed forces' veterans twice each year— Memorial Day in May and Veterans Day in November. In this article, Marty Rice, a reader-favorite author on thefabricator.com, pays tribute to veterans and describes how one metal sculptor chose to represent an important part of a serviceman's or — woman's life.

"Dear Mom & Dad" by Doug Scott

Last Memorial Day was a very special one for me. I was able to salute my father. It happened at Dad's church, after he had given a moving account of his infantry service in both World War II, and Korea.

Dad spoke about a day on a WWII battlefield almost 60 years ago. He'd never told this story to anyone, but had relived it many times in bad dreams he still has to this day. He spoke of a young man named Barry, a likable guy, who was always doing things for the guys in his outfit. Barry was one of those special individuals who make the world a better place. As my dad's voice cracked, he paused to gain his composure. After he spoke, there was not a dry eye in the church.

Dad said that one day in a firefight, he looked over and saw Barry on his hands and knees with blood pouring out of his helmet. He had been shot in the head. Two of his buddies had rushed to his side and were attempting to help him, but then laid him down. Dad knew he would never see Barry again. Several other friends died that same day.

He then told about coming home, getting married to the SMU homecoming queen, and hiring on with a furniture company. Life was good until a letter arrived from Uncle Sam with the dreaded word, "Greetings." He had been drafted into the Army again. After some stateside training, he waved goodbye to his new wife as he boarded a train, and then climbed back onto a ship to sail overseas to fight in Korea. I can't even imagine what thoughts were going through his head.

I was privileged to read one of his Bronze Star citations at the end of his talk. I thanked him and all the WWII "Greatest Generation" for what they did, both during the war and afterward. I thanked all veterans of all wars, all veterans who have served whether in wartime or peacetime, and the fine young men and women who are serving in the armed forces now.

Then I turned and saluted my dad—maybe not as sharply as when I was in the Army, but I'll guarantee it was the best, most heartfelt salute I've ever given.

Dad worries about the Barrys in Iraq and Afghanistan, as do I. No matter what your feelings are about our current situation, I hope you realize how awesome our troops are. Eighteen-year-olds fresh out of high school, middle-aged reservists, and National Guard troops pulled away from their careers have again answered the call of their country. I can't even express my awe, gratitude, and thankfulness for their courage.

Angel Fire Memorial

My editor asked if I might want to write an article about a metal work dedicated to our troops. I immediately thought of a statue I saw at the originalVietnam Veterans National Memorial in Angel Fire, N. M.. It is a place of beauty and splendor, a place of honor for our troops.

Say Vietnam memorialand most people think of the wall in Washington, D.C. But on a lonely mountainside in Angel Fire, there stands the first true memorial, began in 1968, long before the wall came along.

The late Dr. Victor Westphall constructed the Angel Fire Memorial to honor his son, a Marine who was killed in an ambush in Vietnam. With only the little bit of insurance money from his son, and little to no support, he began. Later the Disabled American Veterans stepped in to help make the dream possible.

The first time I visited the memorial, I saw Doc Westphall sitting in his wheelchair by the door. What a sight that was. He spent many hours greeting people as they came in.

I could go on and on about the feelings of inspiration one feels there, but I want to focus on a statue built by sculptor Doug Scott.

Commenting on Angel Fire, Scott wrote, "No matter who you are or where in the world you live, visit the Memorial in Angel Fire, New Mexico. It's a place of healing, not only for the Vietnam veteran, but all veterans ... and not only for veterans. It is for anyone and everyone who is interested in peace and brotherhood."

"Our greatest challenges and battles are not with the enemy, but with keeping soldier morale high ... nothing beats a letter from home. There is no greater joy, when deployed, than seeing a soldier's eyes light up when he gets mail. As you must already realize, mail is our lifeline and worth more than gold to us." Sgt. Dale Land, Screaming Eagles 101st Airborne Div.

Scott's sculpture will touch anyone who has served in the military. When I first saw it, I looked at it for a long, long time. It depicts one of the most important times in a serviceperson's day.

Ask any soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine about the highlight of his or her day, and I'll bet most will say "mail call!" Mail call is that precious time of the day when a letter from home arrives. Or in some cases, it is the emptiest time of day, when no letter arrives. I've seen the toughest, hardened soldier turn into a happy little kid when he got a letter from his wife. And I've seen the sad, lonely look of the guys who didn't get anything.

Writing home can be one of the hardest, most thought-provoking things a soldier can do. What do I say? What do I tell them? Scott has captured this moment in time in a remarkable work of art. He has taken bronze, shaped it, worked it, and transformed metal from the earth into one of the most meaningful statues I've ever seen.

I'm sure Scott could've made a fortune selling reproductions of this statue. Instead, he's directed the money to go to Dr. Westphall's beloved tribute to his son and all veterans. What an awesome act of kindness that is.

Normally, I would go into how Scott constructed the statue—what bronze is, where Scott obtained it, and how he fabricated it. Not this time. I just ask you to look at it. Then I ask you to think about a lonely young man or woman half a world away. And if you're inclined, send him or her a letter.

How to contact troops in harm's way: http://www.anysoldier.us/index.cfm.

To learn more about the Angel Fire Museum, visit http://www.angelfirememorial.com/History/history.html.

To learn more about sculptor Doug Scott, visit http://www.themarblesculptor.com/.

Marty Rice

Marty Rice

Contributing Writer
High School Career Center in Texas
Marty Rice is a welding instructor at a high school career center in Texas. He is an honorary member of the Ironworkers Local 263.


Questions for the author can be e-mailed to vickib@thefabricator.com