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"The Memorial Statue"

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  • The Big Guy
  • The Installation
  • The Dedication
  • The Story
The Memorial Statue in Front of the Golden Knights Museum & Team Area - Fort Bragg, NC
The Big Guy
728 725
727 729
724 726
Friday, August 21, 2009 - Final Planning Session
672 674
2492 - Donna Dixon, Mac Maciborski & Skip Cassel 2494 -  Spider Wrenn, Joyce Smith, ______,
RJ Smith & Nancy Wrenn
675 673
2495 - George Torrealba & Spider Wrenn 2493 - Lucie Torrealba & Gina Duffy
Skip Cassel  
2496 - Skip Cassel  
Saturday, August 22, 2009 - Installing the Base and Memorial Statue
Waiting for the Crane
678 679
2498 - The base was trucked in from Georgia. 2499 - Getting ready for the show.
684 681
2504 - Nancy Wrenn 2501 - Skip Cassel & Sean Capogreco
683 680
2503 - Nancy Wrenn, Karen Hampton & Skip Cassel 2500 - George Torrealba & RJ Smith
677 686
2477 - Donna Dixon & Skip Cassel 2506 - Alsee Richardson & Mike Eitniear
685 688
2505 - Jim Bean & George Torrealba 2508 - Donna Dixon
Time to Get the Show on the Road
690 689
2510 - Heavy Equipment 2509 - Skip Cassel
691 692
2511 2512 - This Attempt Didn't Work
The Straps Wouldn't Remain in Place
Stone Crafter, Byron Walters on Truck Bed
693 694
2513 - Lift Off 2514 - Traveling Close to the Ground
695 696
2515 2516
697 698
2517 - Sean Capogreco Lays Into His Work 2518 - Note the Ice Bags That Help to Elevate & Position the Base,
Then Melt and Disappear
699 700
2519 2520
701 732
2521 - Pure Joy 2550 - Sonny Hill & Gina Duffy
702 703
2522 - Gina Duffy & Nancy Wrenn Celebrating 2523 - Each Side Lists Names Either by Decade or Category
The Names are Etched in Gold
Moving the Big Guy
704 705
2524 - Stuffed and Trussed 2525
706 707
2526 2527 - Temporary Rest Stop
708 710
2528 - The people who helped make it happen: George Torrealba,
RJ Smith, Sonny Hill, Karen Hampton, Skip Cassel, Bobby Wrenn
& Johnny Mulford
2530 - Skip Cassel, RJ Smith, Alsee Richardson, ______
& George Torrealba
225 709
225 - Nancy & Bobby "Spider" Wrenn 2529 - Nancy & Bobby "Spider" Wrenn
What did you find, Nancy?
711 712
2531 - Coming Home 2532 - Jason Arkles, The Sculptor
Settling the Big Guy
713 714
2533 - Granite Fabricator Helps with the Finishing Touches 2534 - Mac Maciborski & George Torrealba
715 716
2535 - Nancy Wrenn, Skip Cassel, Donna Dixon & Sean Capogreco 2536 - A Big Sigh of Relief
717 718
2537 - Base Fabricator, Byron Walters, Skip Cassel &
Sculptor, Jason Arkles
2538 - Skip Cassel & George Torrealba
719 720
2539 - Skip Cassel & George Torrealba 2540 - Skip Cassel, Lucie & George Torrealba
721 730
2541 - Gina Duffy, Mike Eitniear, Bobby & Nancy Wrenn 2551 - The First Visitors
722 723
2542 - Finishing Touches
Replacing the Landscaping that was Removed to
Accommodate the Crane
2543 - Donna Dixon & Skip Cassel
Saturday, December 19, 2009 - Team Area - Dedicating the Memorial Statue
482 485
482 - The Unveiling was swift, then the real story was the crowd that
converged on the statue to capture photos.
485 - Marilyn M Smith (center)
484 490
484 - Lee Smith 490
488 489
488 - Skip Cassel & Bob McDermott 489 - Skip Cassel & Bob McDermott
492 491
492 491 - Cal Callahan & Skip Cassel
493 495
493 - Harold Lewis & Lee RK Smith 495
496 497
496 497
499 500
499 - Bobby "Spider" Wrenn Pointing & Bob McDermott 500 - Spider Wrenn & Bob McDermott
498 - Pete Peterson & Ambie Velasco 487 - LTCs Anthony Dill & Jim Bean
Performing Above & Beyond the Call of Duty
486 379
486 - Karen Hampton & Laurie "Truck" Sams 379 - Roy D Martin
353 380
353 - Harold Lewis 380 - Spider Wrenn & Bob McDermott
378 381
378 - Skip Cassel 381 - Roy D Martin, Renata Pearson & Harold Lewis
644 645
644 - Bob McDonnell 645 - Harold Lewis
653 643
653 - Renata Pearson 643 - Reflecting on the Originals Inscription
646 647
646 - Bob McDonnell, Lew Sanborn, Tee Tayler [Brydon] & Jim Arender 647 - Bob McDonnell, Lew Sanborn, Tee Tayler [Brydon]
& Jim Arender
648 642
648 - Jim Arender & Wil Charette 642 - Anne Byard & Jerry Bourquin
649 650
649 - Harold Lewis & Jim Arender 650 - Jerry Bourquin, Jean Solis & Al Solis
651 652
651 - Roy D Martin, Renata Pearson (Jim Pearson's daughter)
& Harold Lewis
652 - Roy D Martin, Harold Lewis, Dick Fortenberry & Lee RK Smith
477 481
477 - Lee Smith Recognizes Team Commander
LTC Anthony Dill
481 - Commemorative Statue Presented to LTC Anthony Dill
The Story of the "Big Guy"

Conceived December 2007
Installed August 22, 2009
Dedicated December 19, 2009
Statue Created by Jason Arkles and Forged at Liberty Arts Foundry, Durham, NC
Measures 6'11" Tall and is Made of Bronze - With Base: Total Height is 13'3"
Base Created by New Future Granite Co, Elberton, GA
Measures 4' x 4' x 6' High and is Made of "Premium Jet" Black Granite
Kick Plate Measures 4'6" x 4'6" x 6" High and Protects the Names Engraved on the Lower Base
Memorial Statue

Prior to the 50th anniversary of the Golden Knights in 2009, many ideas for commemorating this unique event were being discussed and planned by active and alumni Team members. At the Alumni reunion of 2007, the concept of creating a Memorial statue and base was conceived. The new Museum and Team area had been completed in 2003, and the empty area in the front lawn seemed a perfect place to erect a monument to those who had been the heart of the Team's 50-year history.

By the summer of 2008, a full-fledged effort was underway to design, fund and prepare for the monument.  The base was designed to display the names of all those who had been a Golden Knight or who been an integral part of the history of the Golden Knights.  One huge problem existed.  No one had ever compiled a roster of the Golden Knights.

Many statue designs and artists were considered.  Although only one design was chosen, they all offered a meaningful tribute to the legacy of the Golden Knights and honored the traditions of the Knights. Ultimately, the design chosen was based on the statuette that the early Golden Knights were awarded as a memento when they left the Team.  This statuette was awarded in the 1960s and 1970s.

The artist chosen to create the statue was Jason Arkles, a sculptor of monuments in marble and bronze.  Jason won the commission after an international search of creative talent.

Photo of Jason Arkles and the Big Guy at left by John Gessener. Copyright 2010.
Jason Arkles









Funds were solicited from alumni members and sponsors; however, a significant portion of the cost was contributed by alumnus, Jim "Skippy" Cassel and his wife, Rona. Skip's dedication to this project cannot be overestimated. Skip also financed the stone base and pillar, oversaw its design and construction, and managed the addition of the inscriptions. The total project cost in excess of $125,000.


Skip Cassel




A special patio was constructed in front of Team headquarters. It was designed to showcase the monument and to carry its immense weight.  The base alone weighs 28,000 lbs. The poured concrete had to cure for 30 days.
While the creative plans for the monument were progressing, a furious effort was being mounted to complete a roster. The memories of original Team members were searched. Old log books were studied. Alumni members were sent list after list to verify. Innumerable phone calls and other attempts were made to track potential Teammates. Team records and mementos were scoured.  Old orders were requested.  Old commanders were contacted.  Endless debates were conducted.

Skip and George
The roster was especially important because the names all Team members and those of a few significant others would be inscribed on the base.

The project roster included the Team members as of the inception of the USAPT in 1961, selected STRAC Sport Parachute Team members who participated in the program between 1959-1961, early Team aviators, selected Department of the Army personnel and selected civilians.

The person most instrumental in compiling the roster was George Torrealba. His tireless efforts resulted in the recovery of information about the Golden Knights that is priceless. Expecting to have months yet to complete the search, George was informed in February 2009, that the complete list was needed in 30 days.

By March 2009, the list was almost complete, enough so that a template was cut by the stone crafters on March 6th. The names are arranged by decade and/or category.  In the event that other names needed to be added in the future, Skip purposefully left space after each section.
Skip modeled the design of the inscriptions on that used on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC. The font style and size are the same. Each name is inlaid with gold.

On May 9th, Jason Arkles began pouring the statue.  The "pour" was completed in late July, and the statue was ready to be delivered 31 days later.

August 22, 2009
On an overcast, sweltering day in August, the base and statue arrived at Team headquarters in Fort Bragg, NC. Spirits were soaring.  A crowd of active and alumni Team members, family and friends gathered to witness the culmination of years of planning, fundraising and anticipation.  Without mishap, the base and statue came home.

FYI: When laying large stone pillars like the base of the statue, ice packs are laid as a foundation.  The pillar can then be more easily repositioned. As the ice melts, the pillar settles into place.

December 19, 2009
A crowd of alumni, family members and friends gathered for the official dedication of the monument. The tribute obviously meant a great deal to all who attended. So many memories.  So much history. Many family members made rubbings of the names of their loved ones.  The monument will stand as an enduring tribute to the efforts and dedication of so many who have served their country with honor and skill.

Many people contributed to the success of this project: alumni Treasurer Spider Wrenn, alumni President Sonny Hill, Team Commander LTC Tony Dill, Media Relations Director Donna Dixon, and so many more. Apologies to those who were not named. Also, Thank You to all the family members who supported the men and women who worked so hard on this project. Their understanding and encouragement did not go unnoticed. 

Photos by Regina Hudson, except as noted.

Footnote: Before it was fully settled, alumnus, RJ Smith, placed a team coin underneath the massive stone base.
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