Restored Iwo Jima statue unveiled at special cermony
The Iwo Jima statue at Eco Park was officially declared restored and the project deemed complete during a ceremony Wednesday morning.
Commandant George Colom, with the Marine Corps League, said the event consisted of the raising of the flag on the statue, the dedication of an urn by some Iwo Jima survivors and recognition of those involved with the project.
“We wanted to tell the city the statue is complete,” he said, adding that people were inquiring about its completion. “It has been restored.”
During the flag-raising, Colom recounted for the audience what was taking place on Feb. 23, 1945 – the day the flag was raised over Mount Suribachi. He noted that there were actually two raised, one flag bigger than the last.
“It became the symbol of World War II and now, basically, it’s the symbol of the courage and the sacrifice of those who fight,” he said.
Attending the ceremony were three Iwo Jima survivors – two from the Marine Corps and one from the Navy – who witnessed the flags go up.
The three helped to dedicate a special urn that was sealed inside of the volcanic rock at the base of the statue during the ceremony. Placed into the east side of the base, the urn contains sand from the beaches of Iwo Jima.
The mayor, joined by numerous dignitaries, also spoke before the crowd.
“It’s probably the most well known icon of World War II,” Cape Coral Mayor John Sullivan said of the statue. “It certainly does keep us reminded of the tremendous sacrifices that out troops made during World War II.”
He called the statue a rare combination.
“It’s not only an icon, it’s also a work of art,” Sullivan said, adding that the piece of important to the Cape. “It’s not just a statue, it’s a monument.”
Colom explained that the project involved not only restoring the outside of the statue like the details of the soldiers’ hands, but the inside foundation of the piece, as well. The outside work was the easy part, the inside was not.
“It was the inside that had to be fixed,” he said.
With project engineer Don Meeks and sculptor DJ Wilkins, the team did it.
“We were able to do a really incredible job on the inside, and we think we have something that will last a long time,” Colom said. “The statue looks great.”
The initial push to restore the crumbling, degrading piece, which had large chunks of it being held together by bungee cords, came from the family and friends of Craig T. Fuller, who served in the Marine Corps for eight years.
On April 25, 2010, Fuller, 33, was ambushed and killed in Afghanistan in a roadside attack. He had served there overseas before going back to work as a private contractor. Fuller had about five years of work in before he died.
According to his friends and family, Fuller fell in love with the Iwo Jima monument when he was training at boot camp at Parris Island. When he saw the condition of the Cape statue, he wanted to make sure it was restored.
After Fuller’s death, they decided to do something about it. His father, Gerald Fuller, explained that the family decided at the memorial service to start taking donations to return the Cape piece back to its former glory.
“That’s how it got started, then the kids just took it and ran with it,” he said. “It was a pretty tough road to now, but we got it done.”
A fund in Fuller’s name was established with the help of the Cape Coral Community Foundation to help raise the funds needed for the restoration project. Another fund created will help cover the costs of maintaining it.
Roberta Fuller said her stepson would be proud of everyone involved.
“He would have been very proud of the young kids that started the fund and worked so hard,” she said. “And very proud of the city of Cape Coral for standing up and doing the rest of it.”
The city contributed to the restoration costs.
Roberta added that Fuller took pride in his military service.
“It was a very special place to him, the monument,” she said. “For Craig, it was a symbol of what he had done. For all of our young fellows, it’s a place of pride and honor – it’s a beautiful thing.”
A former Marine himself, Colom agreed.
“It had a special connotation,” he said. “It is a big symbol for us.”
According to Colom, about 28,000 lives were lost within the 36 days on Iwo Jima.
“It’s really the courage and the sacrifice and the emotions,” he said. “You just get caught up in it.”
For Colom, the restoration project was for all who have served.
“The whole thing was to honor the people that died on Iwo Jima, the people that died in World War II and the people who have died in all the wars since,” he said.
A rededication ceremony for the monument will be held on Feb. 25 at Eco Park as part of the annual event to honor what occurred at Iwo Jima nearly 67 years ago. The Marine Corps League has hosted the event since 1997.