Memorial Day unveiling: ‘Tribute to a Soldier’
The Tribute to a Soldier statue, which has remained covered with a white sheet for weeks, was finally unveiled Monday morning in a Memorial Day dedication to honor veterans and troops serving overseas.
The new bronze statue sits next to Felix de Weldon’s replica of the famous Iwo Jima memorial at the Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve in Cape Coral. It depicts a U.S. soldier and an Iraqi boy holding a soccer ball as they salute together.
A dedication ceremony began at 10 a.m. where officials said a few words and concluded with a champagne toast under the nearby pavilion. Members of Mariner High’s Silver Magic Band performed patriotic tunes throughout the morning.
Beth Sanger, director of the Cape Coral Community Foundation, said she didn’t expect so many people to attend the dedication. The foundation has spent the last two years raising donations to fund the statue’s construction.
“We did invitations thinking we’d have 50 people,” she said, pointing to the crowd of hundreds. “This shows our community does believe in this still.”
Besides securing the donations needed to help create the new memorial, the foundation is continuing its fund-raising efforts for the future maintenance of both the Tribute to a Soldier and Iwo Jima statues.
“The outpouring in the community is phenomenal,” she added.
Local artists Rudy Diaz, Danny Pardo, Nick Lioce and Jim Gargiuoa each contributed their time, ideas and artistic styles to the creation of the statue. During Monday’s dedication, Diaz said he came up with the concept of the statue in 2007 and in the end it cost $50,000 to create.
“A soldier, to me, is a soldier of yesterday and today,” said Diaz. “I wanted to say thanks for what they do for us to protect our freedom.”
Diaz was a young boy living in France during the Second World War and he loved soccer. He remembers soldiers securing and protecting parts of the country, and especially making it safe for him to play. It was this memory that served as his inspiration for the statue, except he chose the setting of Iraq because it’s the war of today.
It’s meant to commemorate all wars, he said, and all of the times when troops have helped to make it safe for boys to play soccer.
Chaplain Major Vince Cummings of the U.S. Air Force attended the dedication and said he was moved by the statue and what it represents.
“It’s always wonderful to see citizens remember the enormous sacrifices made,” he said.
While serving in Iraq in 2009, Cummings said troops held their own Memorial Day commemorations for those who served. They also recognized those in active duty and those whose lives were lost.
Cape Coral residents Paul and Sally Fox stood next to the statue during the dedication ceremony, wearing custom Tribute to a Soldier T-shirts. They live next door to Diaz and over the last two years heard regular updates about the progress of the new statue.
“It was a great turnout and tribute,” said Paul Fox. “And we are really proud of Rudy.”
The couple made sure to bring their grandchildren to the dedication, so they can tell the next generation about the day, many years earlier, when the Tribute to a Soldier statue was presented to the city.
“Hopefully, when they bring their grandkids here, they can say ‘What is war? I’ve never heard of war,'” said Paul Fox.