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Restoration of Iwo Jima monument complete, awaiting new base

By Staff | Sep 24, 2011

Although the “full restrike” restoration for the Iwo Jima replica monument is finally complete, six months after the project began March 15. The granite slab for the base will be added the first week of October.

George Colom, commandant of the Marine Corps League, said the granite has been selected, they just need to cut it to size and shape it to where it needs to go.

Sculptor Don D.J. Wilkins said the restoration of the main piece of the monument is done.

“In the beginning we figured the job would take four months,” he said. “The interior damage was more severe than we expected and it required more attention and time.”

The restoration of the outside of the monument included a lot of detail that either was missing or faded out over time, Colom said.

The monument is 8 feet by 16 feet by 20 feet with a close to a 6-foot pedestal base. From the ground up the monument is 26 feet tall. The figures are 9 feet tall, with the highest figure reaching 11 feet tall.

The Iwo Jima monument weighs 67,000 pounds. Colom said they added at least 1,000 pounds when they corrected all the internal problems.

The “full restrike” restoration began by sandblasting the entire statue, which is made out of “cast stone,” or concrete.

The concrete that was poured for the monument, never made it to the bottom of the statue, which created problems. The thickness of the plaster used also created problems.

At the beginning of the restoration process, they had to shoot high pressure water through the structure to clear out the plaster, which unveiled 200 feet of cracks that needed repair.

Two-hundred and fifty holes were drilled, so epoxy could be poured into the monument, which welded two pieces of concrete together to make it one solid piece. Fifteen gallons of epoxy was injected into the small port holes in the monument, which took two and half weeks to complete.

Wilkins said he did not expect to put a new surface on the monument with new detail over the existing one when the project first began. He said it is only legal to resurface a sculpture piece in the event of salvation.

“The most satisfying part about it was putting the surface back on it,” he said about the restoration process.

Once the monument was structurally sound, Wilkins began working on the details.

Wilkins said he began working on the hands, which he created with veins and tendons, on July 13 and finished on Sept. 9. He worked on the hands in his studio and installed them on the monument once he was completed.

“They are dramatic,” Wilkins said.

During the 1980 restoration, all the equipment was not added to the monument, so he included ammo pouches, canteens lengthening of the cuffs on all the arms, seams and straps during this restoration process.

“The work that Don Wilkins did was certainly amazing,” said Don Meek, who is in an expert in repairing concrete structures. “The detail in which he completed the project is outstanding.”

The entire restoration project was documented so they can keep up with yearly maintenance. A maintenance fund was created to make sure it will be done.

“The idea that I was able to actually rescue this thing and turn it into an absolute perfect replica was beyond what we thought we were able to do,” Wilkins said about the team that helped him in the restoration process.

He said the Cape Coral Iwo Jima monument is the only one that is in civilian hands and is on permanent public display. He said it was commissioned in 1960 and was the only one out of the three created that was made to be a permanent outdoor piece.

Colom said the replica has been in the city since 1965 due to the Rosen brothers approaching sculptor Felix de Weldon to create the monument for the Rose Garden back in the 60s as a promotional tool to sell land to retirees and veterans moving to the area.

He said the Rose Garden was eventually abandoned and the monument was vandalized to the point where the heads, arms and legs were taken off.

Restoration was done by de Weldon and it was rededicated in 1980 and moved to the corner of Del Prado Boulevard and Viscaya Parkway to a bank. Colom said in 1997, the bank changed and they decided they did not want to take care of the maintenance so it was given to the city.

In 1998, it was moved to Four Mile cove Ecological Preserve where it stands now.

“It has been a symbol of Cape Coral since 1965,” Colom said. “It is the most important piece of art in this city.”

Colom, who is a Korean War Veteran and former Marine said he was 13 when the battle on Iwo Jima was fought, which was what grabbed his interest to become a part of the project.

“You just get sucked right into this thing … you just get involved and become a part of the whole thing,” he said. “It is really emotional of what happened on the island.”

The rededication of the Iwo Jima monument will be held on Feb. 25, 2012 because the flag was raised over Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945.

“We are celebrating their anniversary date,” Colom said.

The last rededication in 1997 was held before approximately 1,000 people.