A statue depicting a loving guardian angel holding and protecting a serviceman in his last moments of life was dedicated Monday at Dover Air Force Base.
The "Angel and the Dying Unknown," a half-ton memorial to those soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who give their lives for their country, was donated by the Newington-Cropsey Foundation of Hastings on Hudson, N.Y. The $40,000 cast bronze statue was donated to the base Center for the Families of the Fallen, and was sculpted by Greg Wyatt, director of the foundation's Academy of Art.
Wyatt is a world-renowned artist whose work is on display at museums and galleries across the country, including the Harry Truman Library, Vanderbilt University and the Department of State.
The Center for the Families of the Fallen is a reception area for the next of kin of military personnel killed in combat. It provides them with access to counselors and other persons who can help them deal with their grief and the many issues confronting families suddenly faced with decisions none of them are prepared to make.
The new statue is at the center of the Center's meditation garden, surrounded by landscaping meant to provide a quiet place for introspection and reflection.
It was first unveiled in 2012, and has been on temporary display at locations including Fort Monroe, Va., and at the headquarters for the American Legion in Washington, D.C.
Wyatt came up with the central idea for the statue after interviewing military personnel who have been in battle and who have had the chance to reflect on their experiences.
"I do believe art has a capacity that's very special, especially with the language of sculpture, in which there is the capacity for viewers and guest to encounter the work, to view it in its formal properties and designs," Wyatt said.
In keeping with that, and going against many museums' edicts that people not touch artistic works, Wyatt wants people to experience this sculpture in a very real way.
"When works are in the open air and they are permanently placed in specific and meaningful locations, such as here in the Meditation Garden, I encourage people to touch the sculpture," he said. "It's a connection that's quite natural."
Col. Richard Moore, commander of the 436th Airlift Wing at Dover AFB, called the statue an opportunity for people to have a focal point in the Meditation Garden.
"The circumstances under which families are here are unfortunate," he said. "It's one of the most difficult days of their lives. For us to have a place for them to gather and a place for them to share their thoughts and feelings, the kind of sculpture that draws those out is hugely important to us," he said.
Page 2 of 2 - "I would not call it a religious statue, but I would call it spiritual," he said.
"The statue, I think, is very, very appropriate and we've put it in a setting that is very appropriate," Moore added.
"What this statue will allow the people who come here on that unfortunate day is to get a sense of how important they are to our nation," added Col. John M. Devillier, commander of Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations.
Construction on the Center for the Families of the Fallen began in November 2009, and the building was completed and dedicated in January 2010. The center works in concert with the Fisher House, an on-base lodging facility for families who travel to Dover to be here when the remains of their loved ones are returned to the United States.
More than 6,500 family members and friends of fallen service members have come to Dover since the opening of the Center.