BLACKFOOT — In a ceremony befitting the start of the Memorial Day weekend, Ben Hammond’s bronze statue of a soldier handing a folded American flag to a pair of children was unveiled here Friday at Patriot Field.
Hammond, who was raised in Pingree and has gone on to make quite a name for himself as a sculptor, said it took him two years to finish the statue which helps to put a finishing touch on the veterans’ memorial at Patriot Field across from the Bingham County Courthouse.
He choked back his emotions as he said the soldier in the statue is an image of his grandfather, who served in the Pacific Theater in World War II.
The boy in the statue is an image of Hammond’s son, Milton.
“The thing that stands out to me in the image of the soldier is the look of concern on his face,” Hammond said. “My grandfather was normally a very happy person. It’s sad that tyranny, hate, and anger can cause such unfortunate things as war.”
Hammond called the statue a joint effort between himself and those who devoted time and effort to the memorial.
“I thank you for being passionate and patient,” he told the large audience in attendance, mostly huddled under temporary shelter with threatening skies around.
He said the nation needs to continue to defend liberty and freedom.
“My grandfather did not appreciate the horrors of war,” Hammond said. “This symbolizes the passing on of a legacy of freedom to the next generation.”
Hammond said he was grateful to have been raised in the community, and that the community helped to raise him.
“I hope you know how important and special you are as a community,” he added. “I hope what I have created inspires you.”
Idaho Gov. Brad Little was the final speaker during the ceremony. He noted that there are many memorials to service people around the state.
“This one is really moving to me,” Little said. “It was done by a local artist, which makes it particularly impressive.
“This is a place for people to remember what our service people have done for us, the sacrifice for this country. For those of us who didn’t serve, we need to think about the people who served and sacrificed.”
Little praised the people of Bingham County for dedicating themselves to the efforts and donations put into the memorial.
“It’s the movement of a community, all the way down from the smallest donor to the largest contributor.”
County Commission Chairman Whitney Manwaring said honoring the nation’’s war dead is important. Around $130,000 was raised through donations for the statue, and he thanked the veterans who have served and are serving.
Former commission chairman Ladd Carter said the statue is a fitting honor for those who’ve served, and that we need to protect and defend the liberties veterans have fought for, remembering the names of 121 soldiers that appear on the wall at Patriot Field.
“We are indebted to our veterans,” Carter said. “I hope people come here often and that it will kindle a spark of freedom.”
Stewart Portela — a teacher, coach, and author from Firth who served in Vietnam — also spoke. He recognized veterans in the crowd as a “band of brothers.”
Portela said many of his students have placed wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, and he encourages young people to “live the life worth the sacrifice.”
He pulled out a crucible, and described the “hot crucible” that was Vietnam.
“It was difficult to find the enemy there, and it was difficult to friends back home,” Portela said.
Maj. Gen. Michael J. Garshak, commanding general of the Idaho National Guard, said service people need the support of the people back home.
“We need to live up to the standards of the people who’ve given their lives for this country,” he said.
Garshak called Patriot Field an “inspirational, pleasant, peaceful place.”
The ceremony started with a flyover by pilot David Taylor in a P64 Warbird. Shelley American Legion Post 93 posted and retired the colors. Sydney Saline sang the National Anthem and “America The Beautiful.” Leland Sorensen, chaplain of Aberdeen American Legion Post 59, gave the invocation and benediction. The Blackfoot Firefighters’ Pipes and Drums Unit played “Amazing Grace,” followed by a 21-gun salute by Stewart Hoover American Legion Post 23 and “Taps” played by Judge Ryan Boyer.