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‘Iron Mike’ hails war service

New plaque affixed to JBLM monument honors combat vets

Northwest Guardian

Published: 01:43PM November 21st, 2013
‘Iron Mike’ hails war service

Jake Dorsey/Northwest Guardian

Medal of Honor and Combat Infantryman’s Badge recipient Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry speaks to guests during the dedication ceremony.

Members of the Combat Infantryman’s Association Tacoma and a small group of former and current service members witnessed the mounting of a plaque to the “Iron Mike” statue on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

The iconic statue stands just beyond Liberty Gate at the southeast corner of Tacoma Avenue and 41st Division Road.

The 11 men, representing wars from World War II to Vietnam, solemnly stood with active duty Soldiers and Airmen while Jacob W. Robinson, commander of the association’s 1st Battalion, 1st Regiment, delivered remarks and a short prayer.

Its 1st Division Headquarters donated the plaque, which was approved by Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh before being affixed to the statue.

JBLM commander Col. H. Charles Hodges Jr. said the plaque was a way to further recognize the service of the “thousands upon thousands” of infantrymen who have come through JBLM.

“You always forget that it’s the infantryman who bears the brunt of combat operations, from World War I to now,” Hodges said.

The badge is awarded only to infantrymen or Special Forces members who serve in combat, Robinson said.

“When I was in the 101st (Airborne Division) in Vietnam, our cooks went out with us sometimes on patrol, but they didn’t get it,” said Robinson, who is a retired Special Forces Soldier.

The plaque adds an extra designator to the “Iron Mike” statue.

The official name of JBLM’s statue nicknamed “Iron Mike” is “The Infantryman,” dedicated in 1964.

The artists were Soldiers assigned to Fort Lewis, Spc. Juan J. Guerrero and Pfc. Pekka Kauppi. They were part of the 1st Battalion, 12th Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, said JBLM historian Duane Denfeld.

Denfeld said Col. Robert W. Green, 4th Brigade commander, pointed out to 4th Inf. Div. and Fort Lewis commander Maj. Gen. Claire Hutchin Jr. that no monument on post honored the infantrymen serving there, despite its status as an important infantry training center since its creation during World War I in 1917.

Claire suggested a statue similar to the “Iron Mike” statue at Fort Bragg, N.C., and Green supported the idea, Denfeld said.

Guerrero and Kauppi, who had sculpting experience from their civilian lives, crafted the fiberglass-on-iron statue within a year.

The statue represents an early Vietnam-era U.S. infantryman, equipped with the M14 rifle, instead of the M16, which came later in that conflict.

The Army erected it in front of the Nelson Recreation Center, but its first location meant that only Soldiers ever saw the statue, Denfeld said, so in 1992 it was moved to its current location.

In fact, the CIB plaque might outlast JBLM’s Iron Mike. Denfeld said that Fort Bragg’s version, which used the same materials as JBLM’s, eventually fell apart. The Army replaced it with a brass version.