Dedication of soldier statue touches Evergreen residents at Memorial Day service

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By Sandy Barnes

After a hushed silence, more than 200 people at the Memorial Day service at Buchanan Park stood and applauded as a bronze statue of a kneeling soldier was unveiled on Monday afternoon.

Titled "The Sentry," the life-size sculpture was placed within the wall of the Veterans Commemorative Walk in remembrance of those who died in war. The infantryman depicted in the work is holding a rifle, and appears to be gazing at pavers dedicated to soldiers killed in action.

“The Sentry is looking down at the KIA,” said David Rommelmann, commander of American Legion Post 2001. 

During the dedication of “The Sentry,” Legionnaire Don Trickel read a descriptive passage about its significance, which American Legion members wrote collaboratively:

“I just returned to base. I've been out a day, week, possibly a month. I don't remember. I am dead tired. 

“I've been asked to stand watch over those who didn't make it back alive, or are missing. They are my comrades. I didn't know them, but they need me. I'll take the watch; I am The Sentry.”

The sculpture shows the Vietnam-era infantryman holding a set of dog tags in his right hand, perhaps those of a fallen buddy.

Sculptor Stephen LeBlanc of Parker created the work for the Rotary Club of Evergreen, which raised funds for the project with other area Rotary Clubs. Members of the American Legion and the Rotary Club worked with the Evergreen Park and Recreation District to gain approval for the statue in the park. 

Among the newly placed KIA pavers placed at the commemorative walk are three with the name Mancuso, all of whom were cousins of Evergreen resident Rich Mancuso. His cousins were killed in Vietnam in the 1960s, said Mancuso. Two other pavers in the KIA section are dedicated to Mancuso's friends, one of whom he said feared dying in combat. Shortly after being deployed to Vietnam, Mancuso said his friend Kenneth Mashlykin was killed. 

Other pavers dedicated at the ceremony were donated by family members of those who fought in the Revolutionary and Civil wars and for soldiers who served and died in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Under sunny skies framed with storm clouds, Legionnaire Vern Stelzer conducted the traditional empty-chair ceremony in honor of soldiers who are still missing in action.

“The table is small, symbolizing the fragility of one person,” Stelzer said. “A single rose signifies the blood that many have shed. … Let us remember and never forget their sacrifice.”

“This has been a great turnout, and I know you're all proud of what this American Legion has done,” Chaplain Chuck Purcell said while giving the benediction at the close of the ceremony.

“I think Evergreen is starting to realize how important this memorial is to the community, to vets and to children to let them understand what their relatives went through,” said Evergreen resident Jim Gorman. 

Contact Sandy Barnes at sandy@evergreenco.com.