Monumental delivery salutes veterans on Iron Range
Duluth News Tribune
VIRGINIA, Minn. — Tom Berrigan leaned on a guard rail watching the 9 tons of bronze suspended in the air in front of him. His wife, Lori, stood next to him, the couple temporarily apart from a crowd of about 200 people Thursday morning in Virginia’s Veterans Memorial Park.
Fourteen years after a group of Iron Range veterans first conceived the idea, a monument honoring U.S. veterans of all services, in all 20th century wars, was almost in place.
“Right now, I’m full of butterflies,” Berrigan had said a few minutes earlier, as workers from Lakehead Constructors painstakingly rigged a harness around the 15-foot-by-27-foot monument, titled “Shoulder to Shoulder: Even the Fallen Stand Tall.”
Berrigan, of Mountain Iron, was chairman of the committee that raised $920,000 for the monument, which was designed by Gareth Andrews of Zim. It was forged at the Crucible Foundry in Norman, Okla., and brought to Virginia by Badger Transport of Iron. Dennis Jindra, the company’s manager, said two-time Iraqi War veteran Jeff Clausen drove the final leg of the trip.
Badger Transport, Lakehead Constructors and Tritec Inc. donated their services, Berrigan and Andrews said.
The monument depicts members of the U.S. armed forces, male and female, of various ethnic groups, gathered around a fallen comrade under the protection of an eagle whose feathers merge into the fabric of a U.S. flag. It has a black patina, which Andrews said will lighten somewhat over time.
The figures represent a century of U.S. conflicts, said Andrews, who wore his characteristic leather cap as he watched his creation guided into its destination.
“We made a time capsule,” said Andrews, an artist for more than 35 years. “Those human figures across the front there would actually be great-grandfathers on down to great-grandchildren over an 80- to 100-year period. And what’s happening there locks them in one moment in time.”
An informal group of veterans first approached Andrews about the project in 1998. It was on schedule to be completed by late 2009 or early 2010, when the group ran out of money. By the time the rest of the money was raised in 2011, the foundry was struggling, operating on three-day work weeks.
“At one point, this was the only business the foundry had going,” said Berrigan, who wore a T-shirt with the words “Honoring those who served.” “They didn’t have the money to go full-bore. It was dribs and drabs here and there.”
The group finally negotiated a performance contract with the foundry, offering $85,000 if the monument was in place by July 28.
The Badger Transport truck, which carried the head of the eagle separately from the rest of the monument, backed into place just after 10 a.m. Using a city of Virginia bucket truck, workers reunited the head of the eagle with the rest of the monument, and then carefully positioned a harness.
A crowd of veterans, retirees, downtown workers and children from Apple Tree Learning Center watched in a large semicircle. They were blessed with a friendly west breeze and sunny skies, despite a 70 percent chance of rain in the forecast.
“One less bump,” Lori Berrigan said of dodging bad weather. “We’ve had enough bumps.”
Len Belobaba of Eveleth was watching with several other Vietnam veterans. Paving stones leading up to the monument are being placed in honor of veterans, and Belobaba has purchased 30 of them. He said 25 of those honor Vietnam veterans from northern St. Louis County whom he had known.
“It was a long time coming, Belobaba said of the monument. “I had a lot of friends die waiting for this.”
Belobaba’s father, a World War II veteran, was among those who had been waiting. The senior Belobaba died a year and a half ago.
At 11:15 a.m., an employee on the ground gave a thumbs-up gesture. The crane lifted the monument gently into the air, and the truck was driven away. Ever so delicately, the crane swung the monument over its platform, and workers guided it into place as the crowd applauded.
“The eagle has landed,” Lori Berrigan said quietly.
Work remained to be done. One soldier’s arm still had to be welded into place. Holes had to be drilled into the base of the monument so it could be permanently fixed in place. Two foundry employees were on hand to supervise the project’s completion, Tom Berrigan said. The last details were expected to be finished today. A dedication is planned for Aug. 25.
The monument faces downtown Virginia, to Andrews’ mild disappointment. He said he had wanted to have the military figures facing Bailey Lake, protected from the bustle of the business district.
It would have “created a little peaceful corner to sit and contemplate … remember … heal,” Andrews said, but added stoically, “It will be good this way.”