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Montana community creates monument honoring veterans

Featured in Legiontown U.S.A.
Montana community creates monument honoring veterans

What do a shoe cobbler, a car dealer, and an ex-police officer have in common? Being normal occupations, most will assume the answer to be nothing.

However, the small community of Libby, Montana, knows better than to make that assumption. These three men are all military veterans who found themselves united in the pursuit of a single dream. This shared dream led each man on an extraordinary mission to establish a local memorial for military veterans.

In talking with them it becomes apparent that the meaning of “Service to Country” is near and dear to their hearts. Terry Andreessen, the automobile dealer, served our country in Vietnam. His dedication to the preservation of this country’s hard earned freedoms is evident the moment you walk into his office.

Sitting behind his desk on a gray cloud covered winter day Terry spoke to me about the memorial. I asked him to sum up the collective mission or goal of all involved in the project. Without hesitation he said, “We wanted to make sure that we honored all veterans that served in the various branches of the military. By placing names of military veterans on bricks we wanted to make sure that those names were never forgotten.”

As his voice trailed off I looked into his eyes and knew he meant every word. The compassionate expression on his face let me know that he spoke words of experience; the kind born from walking in the trenches of battle. Our brief conversation left me convinced that the highest honor any of us can bestow on our military is to remember them. In doing so we acknowledge that freedom comes at a cost. A fact far too easily forgotten in today’s world.

The idea for the memorial started as casual chit chat among friends that eventually led to an informal sit down lunch at a local café. Hashing out ideas and details over coffee brought further realization that they had a dream worth pursuing. An-eight member committee quickly formed.

VA service officer Wes Huffman told me that it was a privilege to be on the committee. “We needed this in Lincoln County,” he said. “We are the county seat and we had nothing for our veterans." While none could have predicted what twists and turns lay ahead all would soon realize they had the support of many in their community.

Kenny Mancuso, shoe cobbler by trade, retired Marine by heart, says, “We all had the idea for the monument but Dennis Osborne lit the fire and got the ball rolling.” Dennis, a retired Marine Corps major, told me that while he may have done some of the initial leg work everyone on the committee did their respective jobs.

The group adopted Lincoln County Veterans Memorial Foundation as their organizational name. They worked in tandem to set, define, and implement the organization’s goals. The committee knew they wanted a bronze sculpture featuring two soldiers but they weren't sure what the soldiers should be doing. In an effort to visualize the possibilities Terry Andreessen organized a photo shoot using two high school students as the soldiers. Local artist, Todd Berget, filled the shoes of the photographer.

The teenagers were posed in various battle positions while Todd snapped the camera shutter. At the end of the shoot they reviewed approximately 25 photos. “Only one stood out,” Andreessen said. The pose capturing his attention showed one teenager standing behind the other pulling him along the ground as if to safety. “There was something about the expressions on their faces.”

When he presented a copy of that photograph to the committee everyone felt the same strong connection. The pose was immediately accepted for the project. At the committee’s request Todd Berget created a conceptual drawing of the photograph. The only additional stipulation was to portray each of the two soldiers from a different era in our country’s military history.

With the finished drawing in hand the committee approached my husband, Scott Lennard, a local western wildlife sculptor. Scott says, "I didn't feel like I was qualified to do the sculpture since most of my work deals in wildlife.” At one point Scott even went back to the committee with a list of artists he believed were more qualified. The committee rejected the list and at their insistence he agreed to create the sculpture.

Scott may consider his forte to be wildlife but the finished bronze speaks volumes about his heart felt dedication to our men and women in uniform. He recently told me that while working on the sculpture he felt as if the hand of God was assisting him.

Soon after signing on to the project Scott began collecting military clothing, equipment and weapons for reference. He also organized a photo shoot of his own using local service men as the models. Armed with the conceptual drawing, various military equipment, reference photos and the sculpture’s title, “Continue the Fight: Leave No One Behind,” he began the process of creating this work of art.

As the wife of a sculptor I have the privilege of watching all of his work come to life but there was something different about this project. Every day brought new challenges and insight as each figure slowly and methodically began taking shape. I can only describe it as mesmerizing. Watching hunks of clay transform into facial features so alive and familiar is surreal. There came a point where I began to forget these soldiers weren't real and actually looked forward to seeing them each day as if they were real people.

Scott worked throughout the summer of 2013 with a self-imposed August deadline. I will never forget the day he declared it complete. All I could think as I stood back admiring the work of his hands was how, despite his doubts of being qualified, he truly was the right man for the job. Scott had accomplished more than creating a sculpture featuring a life-size World War II veteran pulling a wounded modern day soldier to safety; he had succeeded in capturing the emotional bond of dedication felt between two men on a field of combat. The theme “Continue the Fight: Leave No One Behind” was finally more than words, it had life and breath.

I am convinced that the significance of the piece transcends the boundaries of time by uniting the past with the present in an unforgettable moment of bravery and heroism.

Set on a five-sided granite foundation bearing the insignias of each branch of the military the bronze monument was unofficially installed in its permanent setting on Nov. 11, 2013. It was a day to remember. Even now while standing at the base of the sculpture as the sun slowly descends behind the Cabinet Mountain wilderness I can’t help but feel a personal connection to those I’ve never met yet am indebted. The road to completion has been a long one. It won’t be fully realized until the official dedication this coming Memorial Day.

To help fund the project the committee continues to sell brick space. For $100 the name and military detail of a veteran is permanently stamped into a brick. Committee members Larry and Terry Pitcher oversee this important process. The completed bricks are then laid in circular rings at the base of the memorial. The project site is large enough to ensure the addition of names for many years to come. My heart fills with pride every time I read the names of my father, daughter and nephew. I love knowing that any United States veteran, past or present, is eligible to have their name “immortalized” on a brick. It is an indispensable element to the overall theme because it bridges the gap between knowing that freedom comes at a price and acknowledging that price by name.

Sculptor, Scott Lennard, plans to offer “Continue the Fight: Leave No One Behind” in a limited edition run. Creating the bronze and working closely with committee members spurred a personal goal and dream to install one and only one in each of the 50 states. He says that by limiting the installation to one per state it will increase the significance and meaning of each sculpture. He is excited to work with other committee groups across the nation inspired by the same vision for preserving our country’s heritage. Information on this bronze sculpture and fundraising ideas can be obtained by calling Scott at (406) 293-7158 or through his website www.scottlennard.com.

If this tiny logging community can succeed in raising funds to install this monument then any city that catches the dream can do it as well. All who stand in the presence of this sculpture surrounded by the names of military men and women will find a more profound meaning in the words “Continue the Fight: Leave No One Behind”. Kenny said it best with these words, “When we unveiled it on Veterans Day it was the greatest day of my life since I joined the Marine Corps.”

For Kenny the day had finally arrived where veterans weren't being left behind and all were being remembered. It is a life changing experience; an opportunity to discover that the preservation of our individual and collective freedoms comes at a price far too precious to ignore. I hope we all catch the vision and give the honor and tribute, to our country’s veterans, that is so justly deserved.

 

 

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