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Minnesota veterans project turns into monumental task

VIRGINIA, MINN. - The monument will be spectacular. Cast in bronze, weighing between 8 and 9 tons, it will be bigger than life, measuring 15 feet by 27 feet at its farthest points.

Sculpture model
A model of the planned bronze sculpture "Shoulder to Shoulder: Even the Fallen Stand Tall" is on display in the Virginia Servicemen's Club. The actual monument will stand 15 feet tall, stretch 27 feet wide and be 12 feet front to back. It will include larger-than-life-size representations of servicemen and women from the five major wars fought by the U.S. during the 20th century. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

VIRGINIA, MINN. - The monument will be spectacular. Cast in bronze, weighing between 8 and 9 tons, it will be bigger than life, measuring 15 feet by 27 feet at its farthest points.

Its message will be stirring. Military personnel from every branch of the service and every 20th century war the United States fought in will be depicted honoring a fallen comrade under the protection of an eagle whose feathers merge into the fabric of a U.S. flag.

Zim artist Gareth Andrews' creation, "Shoulder to Shoulder: Even the Fallen Stand Tall," will be the centerpiece of Iron Range Veterans Memorial park, set next to Virginia Lake in downtown Virginia.

But it's in pieces now, at a struggling art foundry in Norman, Okla., which is working three-day weeks because of a lack of orders.

For Andrews and the members of a committee that formed a dozen years ago to develop the park, the foundry's problem is their problem.

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"We really can't afford to lose this foundry," Andrews said during an interview last week at the Servicemen's Club in Virginia.

So they've hatched a plan to give Crucible Foundry the work it needs to ramp back up to five-day weeks.

That plan links back to the monument, which exists in model, or "maquette" form, 2 feet high by 3 3/4 feet wide, at the Servicemen's Club and at the foundry.

Andrews, 63, said the monument's story goes back to 1998 when he and a friend were working on another sculpture in Virginia. An ad hoc group of local veterans approached him. "They started thinking that why do we have to go halfway across the country to see a monument of monumental scale," Andrews explained. "So they decided they were going to do something to bring it home -- still representing the nation, but home. They came with a shopping list long as a horse's leg."

The veterans wanted all five branches of the armed services represented, plus their women's corps, all five wars of the 1900s that the U.S. played a major role in. They wanted ethnic diversity. They wanted an eagle and a flag. "It started sounding like they were going to need a football field to put these parts in," Andrews said.

He didn't need a football field, but the monument Andrews designed will be the biggest and most complex of his 35-year career. It depicts an Army World War I soldier hanging a World War II helmet on an M1 rifle bayoneted to the ground, symbolizing a fallen soldier. Also shown: a nurse and a Marine from the Vietnam War, a Coast Guardsman, a Merchant Marine and a Women's Air Service Pilot from World War II, a sailor from the Korean War and a pilot from the Persian Gulf War.

They stand under the wings of an eagle, and those wings blend into the stars and stripes, with the fabric of the flag lying on the ground like a shroud, Andrews said.

The whole project, including development of Iron Range Veterans Memorial park on land donated by the city of Virginia, will end up costing close to a million dollars, said Tom Berrigan of Mountain Iron, chairman of the committee. That includes Andrews' commission of $160,000 and $674,250 for Crucible Foundry.

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Most of the money has been raised, Berrigan said. The foundry has been paid in full, and Andrews will receive his final payment soon. The problem is that when the foundry was running at full strength, not all of the money was raised. Now the three-day workweek is delaying the project.

If the money had been raised sooner, the monument could have been installed in time for Memorial Day last year, Andrews said. On the current schedule, it's anywhere from six to nine months away -- if the foundry is able to keep operating. "So we're very concerned about keeping this foundry going," he said.

Hence the plan. Andrews, Berrigan and the committee hope to see a maquette-sized "Shoulder to Shoulder" bronze in each of the nation's five military academies, at no charge to the academies. Instead, corporate donors would be found to shell out $50,000 for each maquette. If two, or preferably three, orders came in through the plan, the foundry would have enough work to go back to a full schedule, Andrews said, and finish the monument in two months.

"This academy thing with the bronzes could really turn the corner for this," Andrews said. "Otherwise, it's probably going to have to come from somebody else. And there's just not a lot happening."

Berrigan, 63, said he's proud of how far the committee and Iron Range residents have come.

"Boy, oh boy, what a huge chunk of money," Berrigan said. "That's one of the things I'm most proud of our committee for is keeping their nose to the grindstone and getting these funds together. It was a monumental task."

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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