Marco Memorial: American Legion seeks to place ‘Three Servicemen’ replica at Veterans’ Park

Lance Shearer

Marco Island has a history with the Vietnam War, or more specifically, with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Marco’s Veterans’ Community Park has hosted “the wall that heals,” as the traveling half-scale replica of the monument on the Mall in Washington, D.C., is also known, more often than any other community in the country, said Lee Rubenstein.

The Travelling Wall, another moniker for the exhibit, has come to Marco Island three times, first in 2011, again in 2015, and a third time in 2020, coordinated by the American Legion and its Traveling Wall Committee. Rubenstein was chairman of the committee in 2011 and is commander of American Legion Post #404 on Marco Island.

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Now he and his fellow Legionnaires want to add a permanent piece of the monument in our nation’s capital to Veterans’ Park. While the Wall itself is a long trough in the ground, with the names of all of the 58,320 American servicemen and women killed in the Vietnam conflict inscribed in stone panels along its sides, there is another component.

Along with the Wall, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial incorporates the Three Soldiers, or Three Servicemen statue. These bronze figures, representing the soldiers who fought in Vietnam. Rubenstein and the American Legion post are proposing to commission and erect a life-size replica of the Three Soldiers statue at Veterans’ Community Park.

“The hardest part has been done,” said Rubenstein. “We have consensus on what we want, and we have a good start on raising the funds.” Rubenstein, who originally came up with the idea of placing the Three Soldiers at the park, said the statue would cost in the neighborhood of $100,000, and additional costs including a granite base, lighting, and a fence around the installation would add something like another $25,000. The group already has $50,000 in hand, he said, mostly held by city government.

“It’s a beautiful work, by Frederick Hart, who died very young,” said Rubenstein. “It represents the three major ethnic groups of American soldiers, Caucasian, African-American, and Hispanic, who fought in the war.”

On the Mall in DC, they are facing toward the Wall, as if looking at their fallen comrades. On Marco, he said, the bronze soldiers would most likely face the sculpture of the eagle with a fountain along the walkway.

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“All of this is subject to the approval of the city council. It has to work with the new additions at the park.” His group, said Rubenstein, has been instrumental in placing the existing memorial, flagpoles, fountain and walkway at Veterans Park.

“We’ve raised almost $800,000 for projects there. If it wasn’t for our committee, it would still be a cow pasture.” The intent, he said, is to fund the entire cost of the Three Soldiers through private donations, and he was confident. “People here are generous, and our volunteers work hard.”

Marco Island City Councilor Erik Brechnitz also emphasized that the proposed memorial will need city approval.

“It’s still early on in the game. This is subject to city council approval, but it’s an interesting, worthwhile idea,” he said. Rubenstein noted that Brechnitz had been instrumental in lining up significant donors for previous commemorative projects at the park.

“This statue will help people have more knowledge of about the Vietnam War,” said Post 404 second vice commander Benny Skeldon. “Young people today don’t know about our history.”

“All statuary like that is part of history. History has to be remembered, and now they’re taking it down,” said Post 404 first vice commander John Apolzan.

The current controversy over historical statues was mirrored in the history of the Three Soldiers. The piece was originally commissioned to address the dissatisfaction of a significant portion of citizens, including congressmen and then Interior Secretary James Watt, over the original, statue-less Wall that was completed in 1982. The Three Soldiers was added, and unveiled on Veterans Day, November 11, 1984. There is also a Vietnam Women’s Memorial.

Marco’s version of the Three Servicemen would be created by the same California-based sculptor who made the eagle in the Veterans Park fountain and is expected to take about a year to complete, said Rubenstein.

Anyone wanting to donate to the statue for Veterans Park can write a check to the City of Marco Island, and specify it is for the Three Servicemen project.