Würzburg getting monument for 65 Iraq dead
WüRZBURG, Germany — After a spring of frightful combat losses in Iraq, the 1st Infantry Division and 12th Aviation Brigade both are planning monuments to remember soldiers who have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Lt. Col. Eldon “Pete” Franks, commander of the 12th Brigade’s 5th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, said his unit has commissioned a sculpture to memorialize two pilots and two crew chiefs who died in a training crash in Kuwait on Feb. 25, 2003, just two weeks after the unit deployed.
The four soldiers — Chief Warrant Officer 2 Tim Moehling, Chief Warrant Officer 2 J.D. Smith, Sgt. Will Tracy, and Sgt. Rodrigo Gonzalez-Garza — were killed when a sudden sandstorm engulfed their UH-60 Black Hawk and they slammed into the ground during a midnight training run.
The unit escaped the rest of its yearlong deployment without any death or serious injuries.
Franks said last year he contacted Paul Moore, a sculptor who is the artist-in-residence at Oklahoma University and the creator of several well-known monuments in that state. Moore is the son of a personal friend of Franks.
Moore designed and cast a bronze eagle with its wings partly spread, carrying the regimental crest in its talons and flying above a globe. Two Black Hawks also are flying around the globe. The 42-inch statue will stand atop a 70-inch marble pedestal, set in a ring of sand symbolizing desert.
Franks said Moore is donating the cast and the mould, but the materials and shipping will cost about $15,000. He said 5-158 Aviation raised much of the money using the proceeds from a unit store set up while the unit was in Iraq. The unit raised another $3,800 at a car wash in Würzburg last weekend, but remains about $2,000 short of its goal.
The monument will be placed near the flagpole at Giebelstadt Army Airfield, Franks said, next to a memorial for 26 soldiers killed in the accidental shootdown of two 12th Brigade helicopters over northern Iraq in April 1994.
It will be dedicated June 25.
The 1st Infantry Division has not yet set a date for the dedication of its monument. The statue will be placed near other 1st ID memorials in Victory Park at Leighton Barracks, the Würzburg base that is the Big Red One’s headquarters.
Staff Sgt. Christopher Barberi, operations commandant for the division’s rear detachment, said the monument will depict a grieving soldier, kneeling with head bowed in grief, reaching out to touch a stone memorial wall like the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington.
He said the monument is being cast by an Iraqi artist who sculpted many major works for the regime of Saddam Hussein. The sculptor also created a monument for the 4th Infantry Division, which 1st ID replaced in Iraq earlier this year.
Besides the monument, the division will place memorial stones in the Victory Park sidewalk, near others that commemorate Big Red One soldiers killed in the Balkans and the division’s Medal of Honor earners.
So far, Barberi said, the division has lost 65 soldiers in Iraq: 31 from its Germany-based units, which deployed in February and March, and 34 from the 1st Brigade in Fort Riley, Kansas, which deployed last summer.
Because of Pentagon’s pending realignment of overseas bases, it is not clear how long Leighton Barracks will remain in the Army’s hands. Barberi said if the division does move back to the United States, all the stones and monuments in Victory Park will be dug up and moved as well.
The memorials have been in the planning stages since January, even before the Germany-based elements moved to Iraq. Barberi said the division places great importance on remembering its war dead.
“We’re taking care of our own,” he said. “They’ve already made the major sacrifice. It’s the least we can do.”