When veteran George Tepich saw the statue close up, he said he found himself staring straight into the eyes of his past and at the same time the eyes of today’s soldiers.
He was overcome with emotion.
“It made me think of my time in Vietnam, it made me think of all the kids over there in Iraq fighting,” Tepich said, eyes still wet from tears.
Newport Beach city officials honored veterans as far back as World War II Monday at Castaways Park with the unveiling of their 1/1 Marines Memorial, a 9,000-pound work of art dedicated to the First Battalion, First Marine Division stationed out of Camp Pendleton.
The memorial depicts a present-day U.S. soldier on the move, slightly looking over his left shoulder behind a reflective piece of black granite.
The soldier’s expression is open to interpretation, artist Benjamin Victor said.
“When you think of a soldier going off to war, you think of duty and courage,” Victor said. “But behind that there’s possibly apprehension, maybe even an unwillingness to leave behind loved ones.”
Victor said he tried to show as many emotions as possible with one look.
“I think [the soldier is] saying goodbye to his family, he’s determined,” said Lt. Col. Tye Wallace, commanding officer of the 1/1. “This is about remembering those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
The 1/1 Marines fought in several World War II campaigns including Guadalcanal and Okinawa. They fought in the Korean War, participated in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and were in Vietnam campaigns in Da Nang and Khe Sanh. They also took part in the first Gulf War and the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Their memorial was years in the making. Newport Beach “adopted” the 1/1 as the city’s battalion in 2003 and have so far contributed almost $600,000 to support the wounded and their families. The memorial was suggested by Councilman Keith Curry.
“We want today’s Marines to be able to come back years from now and show this to their kids and tell their stories,” Curry said. Last year a special committee fielded proposals from around the world for the memorial. Victor’s representation won unanimously.
“The key point behind this is the sacrifice,” said Mike Talbot, son of a Marine veteran. “Going off to war, the fear, the bravery is all there. But nothing else is worse then leaving behind your loved ones, your family. I couldn’t think of a better memorial.”
DECEMBER 2003: Newport Beach adopts the First Battalion, First Marine Division stationed at Camp Pendleton as its own.
JULY 2007: Six artists submit proposals for the Newport Beach 1/1 Marines Memorial.
SEPTEMBER 2007: Sculpture Benjamin Victor’s design for the Newport Beach 1/1 Marines Memorial is approved by the Newport Beach City Council.
APRIL 8, 2008: A $5,000 donation from the Newport Beach Foundation of the Arts caps a $100,000 fundraising effort by the city to finance the memorial.
MAY 22, 2008: “Mess Night,” a black-tie fundraising event for the First Battalion, First Division Marines raises more than $55,000 for the Marines and their families.
MEMORIAL DAY, MAY 26, 2008: The Newport Beach 1/1 Marines Memorial is unveiled at Castaways Park, overlooking the ocean and much of Newport Beach.
JOSEPH SERNA may be reached at (714) 966-4619 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.