Veterans Day: Sculptors from NJ creating the next great monument in DC

CeFaan Kim Image
Monday, November 9, 2020
Veterans Day: Sculptors creating the next great monument
CeFaan Kim reports on scupltors from New Jersey.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WABC) -- Sculptors from New Jersey are creating the newest war monument bound for Washington, and when it's finished, it will become one of the iconic masterpieces of our nation alongside the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.

The First World War ushered in technology still with us today -- from war planes to tanks to machine guns to poison gas. But the people behind this project say the story they want to tell of WWI is about the Americans -- all Americans -- who were part of this chapter in our history.

Captured is the ferocity of battle and the despair of leaving home. But underneath the atrocities of war, there is also the story of humanity.

"The first figure is the daughter, and the last figure is the daughter as well," sculptor Sabin Howard said. "So the father moves between those two points and in that voyage is transformed. And that's an allegory for what happened to this country."

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The World War One Memorial is a soldier's journey.

"The sculpture honestly is a film in bronze that the visitor can walk along and have an experiential story told to them as they proceed from left to right," Howard said.

When it's finished, it'll be an epic 58.4 foot bronze sculpture with 38 figures. The goal is to have it completed by the end of 2023, when it will become the centerpiece of the National WWI Memorial being built in Pershing Park in Washington, just one block from the White House.

"We haven't seen anything of this dimension for at least 200 to 300 years," Howard said.

Historian Libby O'Connell is the commissioner of the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission.

"This is the first war where you see numbers of women who are enlisted as nurses professionally," O'Connell said. "That's a big difference. They're paid to do this job...Soon after, women got the right to vote."

And women weren't the only ones at the forefront of the fight.

"Here is an African American soldier...he's wearing a French uniform," O'Connell said. "You can see the different way the trousers are cut. Most importantly is the French helmet...because American officers refused to command men of color."

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And then there is New Yorker Lau Sing Kee, born to Chinese immigrants in California.

"He was recognized and received the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism in battle," O'Connell said. "This is a really unusual moment in American history. The Chinese Exclusion Act, other forms of discrimination, were rampant."

Kee was later jailed for violating the race-based acts for helping Chinese immigrants move to the U.S.

And like every story, this too has a beginning and an end. But it also looks ahead.

"She is his daughter, she's the next generation," project manager Traci Slatton said. "She's looking into the helmet, and she's seeing what's to come. Which is WWII."

Slatton is a documentarian and Howard's wife, and they have a great team of two other sculptors, four live models and countless folks at the commission who are all helping make the monument happen.

It is a process that can take up to 20 years, but they are aiming to complete it in four.

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