The 6-foot, 4-inch tall bronze statue — meant to represent all branches of the U.S. Military — was placed on a granite pedestal in the plaza area of the memorial on Monday. It will be dedicated at a Veterans Day event on Nov. 12 beginning at 11 a.m.
This statue marks the second sentinel to be placed in the memorial. The first one, placed two years ago, was quickly removed soon after Veterans Day when many local veterans said it resembled a Chinese soldier.
This new one? There's no mistake of how it looks. A local active-duty member of the U.S. military served as the model for this sentinel, from his chiseled jaw down to his size 13EE boots.
“It's something the veterans here will be very proud of,” said Ernie Rumsby, president of the Tri-Cities Military Affairs Council. “The detail on this, how it was put together ... it's so realistic. I think we have the best memorial in the Tri-Cities right now, with phase one and two, the Gold Star memorial and now with this sentinel.”
Val Lyle, an artist from Bristol, Tennessee, sculpted the sentinel using a “lost wax” process that took about 18 months from conception to completion. One of her previous works for the city was the Santa Train sculpture at Centennial Park in downtown Kingsport.
This life-sized, hollow sculpture weighs in at about 700 pounds and includes weapon and equipment details consistent with those currently used by U.S. military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. That was one of the more challenging parts of the commission, Lyle said, since civilians typically can't get their hands on state-of-the-art military equipment.
“I worked with the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Gray and they were extremely gracious in working with me,” Lyle said.
U.S. Marine Major Kyle May of Johnson City served as an adviser on the project, working with the committee that helped shape what the sentinel would ultimately look like. May said he and his staff worked hard to support Lyle and make sure all of the details of the sentinel represented the equipment currently in use.
In the end, May said he was pleased with the result.
“It represents all those who have gone before and who will continue to follow in our footsteps, to take the initiative, to step up and support everything our Constitution and our country stands for. That’s really what it’s about,” May said.
Miles Burdine, president and CEO of the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce and a retired U.S. Marine colonel, offered his thanks to retired U.S. Navy Capt. Herbert V. Ladley and his family for the initial donation to get the sentinel project rolling.
“I think our veteran community and the community as a whole is going to be absolutely overwhelmed with the level of detail of this sentinel,” Burdine said.