One soldier is standing, the other kneeling. They are positioned in opposite directions.
Everyone has a touching foot. Both are holding M4 rifles. Their eyes are wide open.
The sculpture, titled “America’s Defenders”, is considered one of the few nationally to depict a female soldier in combat in the War on Terror and perhaps the only life-size bronze example produced in the United States. United, according to its creator. , Michael Kraus, curator of the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum.
It was installed outside the Oakland Museum and will be part of the museum’s Memorial Day program.
It will also serve as the centerpiece of a project called Remembrance Park to renovate the museum’s Great Lawn and brick plaza that could open next year.
“They fight back,” Kraus said. “They support each other.”
Courtesy of Becky Chearney
Becky Chearney (second from left) poses with her husband Joe Chearney and their daughters Makenzie, 13, and Kaelyn, 10, at a private unveiling of the ‘America’s Defenders’ statue at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland May 19. 2022. Becky Chearney is the model for the female soldier in the sculpture.
The piece was inspired by real soldiers – Becky Chearney, 39, from Scranton, who lived in Greensburg for 10 years until 2018, and Justin Bakow, 34, from Franklin Park. Both served in the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 28th Infantry Division. Both signed the piece, as did Kraus.
“It’s amazing how Michael brought this to life,” Chearney said.
Chearney, wife and mother of daughters Makenzie, 13, and Kaelyn, 10, is still E-7 Sergeant First Class. The Erie native served in Iraq in 2005-06. She cried looking at the sculpture.
“It’s me,” she said. “The women were there with the guys. I can’t say how grateful I am to be a piece of history.
Previous wars have seen women in supporting roles. More recent conflicts have seen women fighting. This is why it was important for Kraus to include a woman in the sculpture – to give equal weight to women’s contributions, to show that soldiers’ sacrifices are equal regardless of gender.
“I want it to be soldiers and not a male and female soldier,” Kraus said. “Just soldiers.”
Courtesy of Justin Bakow
Justin Bakow (left) with his wife Cami and their sons, Austin, 3, and Daniel Bakow, 1.
Bakow, a sergeant first class, was moved when talking about the sculpture. He is married and has two sons, Austin, 3, and Daniel, 1. He was 19 when he started serving in Iraq and said when he looked at the sculpture he saw other soldiers.
“It seems like an eternity ago,” said Bakow, who served for 15 years. “I’m honored to be a part of it. Michael’s dedication to this sculpture is incredible. It’s so authentic. Every little detail is there.
Bakow said the 28th Infantry Division crest – a keystone – on soldiers’ uniforms is one of many details people will recognize.
The sculpture is one of four statues on the museum grounds. There is a bronze statue above the entrance doors called “America” - sometimes referred to as “Lady America”, the “Statue of Victory” or “Lady Victory” – which has stood at the main entrance since the opening of the museum in 1910.
Two 15-foot bronze statues guard the main entrances to the building. They were dedicated on May 5, 1923. The soldier statue is called “Parade Rest” and the sailor is called “Lookout”.
Starting at 11 a.m. Monday, there will be a presentation in memory of the 300 Pennsylvanians who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2003. Afterwards, guests will be led to the new room, which took years to prepare for Kraus.
He discussed the idea for the sculpture in 2006 with the museum’s CEO at the time, Ron Gancas, and made some early sketches for the project.
When the discussion arose about where to place and how to properly mount the statue on the lawn, the museum consulted with a veteran-owned architectural firm who suggested the creation of the Memorial Park.
The project will result in a place to remember and honor service members and veterans in an outdoor environment. The park’s vision is to create a tranquil landscape, but it will include usable green space and ramps, said museum CEO John McCabe of Plum.
He said he hopes public and private fundraising will lead to a revolution in 2023.
“This sculpture will be the heart of Remembrance Park,” said McCabe, who was a major in the Army Reserve. “It will be the anchor and the cornerstone and will honor the next generation of veterans.”
For now, the new sculpture will be located on the right side of the building on Bigelow Boulevard.
Kraus, from Oakland, consulted with Chearney and Bakow to make sure the figures were authentic – from the gear they have to the clothes and boots they wear.
Soldiers customize their gear, from CamelBak to body armor. An identity tag is visible in the male’s boot. The woman’s bun is visible under her helmet.
The Pittsburgh-based Colcom Foundation fully funded the project, Kraus said. He declined to say how much the project cost.
According to Kraus, the new sculpture represents the global war on terrorism. He said he wanted those who served to walk past and say, “This is what we looked like and this is how we carried our gear.
He said the article will “open a door” for people to talk about their time in the service and for others to discuss a way to honor and remember all veterans.
Bakow said he plans to bring his sons to the museum and tell them about the statue.
“I will explain what happened and what I did by showing all the equipment and telling stories,” he said. “This sculpture is an incredible contribution to my generation…and to all the generations that follow. I am proud to have been part of it. It means so much.