Most soldier-at-war statues present a heroic -- sometimes cartoonishly heroic -- pose to a public that, for the most part, knows little of war and its human, very personal, contradictions. Sculptor Joan Bugbee Jackson does something different with the World War II soldier she shaped for the veterans memorial unveiled Memorial Day at the Delaney Park Strip. She adds a complexity and valor to the face of this statue -- and makes the monument ever more moving in the process.
It's hard to visit this memorial without staring, and wondering, at the face. The statue's detail is impressive -- the authentic uniform, the ammo belt, the boots, the marble-muscled arms, the veins in the neck. But it is the face that captures your attention. It shows different visages depending on the distance and angle at which you stand.
From a long distance there is readiness, vigilance, focus, courage. At medium range there enters a certain grimness, a downward turn to the mouth and eyes. Closer up, you can see the full play of emotions in a soldier on patrol -- fear, sorrow, despair, and a fervent tenderness infusing eyes that are both hollow and strong. The combination of desperation and determination, hope and pain, absurdity and magnitude, anguish and purpose, captures far deeper meaning and sacrifice than the conventional heroic pose. This soldier is a challenge to every angle of complacency about war, its causes and consequences, and the human beings who fight and suffer it.
And there is a plaque whose words capture a bit of the paradox in that compelling face: ''To those Alaska veterans whose eyes have seen what the protected will never know.''
At the unveiling ceremony last Monday, Ms. Jackson spoke about her own journey in researching the statue -- 200 hours spent studying films and photographs, a borrowed uniform and rifle. Those who have not been in combat may struggle to appreciate the sorrows and pride of those who have. Thankfully, Ms. Jackson has opened a window on this and many other human struggles. This, surely, is among the best uses of the sculptor's art.
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