Curve to unveil statue for troops

Around Memorial Day, Mason Hook’s preschool teacher took his class down the block to visit a newly placed plaque on 11th Avenue with the names of Blair County residents killed in recent wars – including Mason’s father, Army Spc. Michael A. Hook, who died in a helicopter crash in Iraq in 2007.

The kids put a red heart next to Hook’s name, and Mason was thrilled to see his classmates recognize his father as a hero.

That will happen on a bigger scale Saturday at Peoples Natural Gas Field, when the Altoona Curve unveil a bronze statue in front of the main gate honoring the “Children of Pennsylvania’s Fallen Warriors.”

It’s a project Curve Chief Operating Officer Dave Lozinak is getting to complete here after not getting the chance to realize a similar project years ago in Tennessee.

At that time the Lozinak family owned the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx in Jackson, Tenn.

Robert Jones, a Tennessee National Guard official, approached Lozinak with the idea of a statue at the Diamond Jaxx ballpark to honor the children of service members killed in action.

They worked on it, but the family sold the team before it came to fruition.

In December, when Lozinak visited the park to catch up with old friends, he saw the project had been realized after all and spoke with Jones about a duplicate statue here in Altoona.

Jones asked for contact information for the Pennsylvania National Guard in this area, and before Lozinak managed to get in touch with anyone who could help, an accidental visit by local National Guard recruiter Joe Hughes solved his problem.

Hughes had stopped at the Curve office on an unrelated matter, and Lozinak figured he might as well broach his idea.

Hughes took it from there, raising $15,000 from local businesses and from customers coming into stores where he would stand and solicit.

“I liked what I saw,” said Hughes, who was at the ballpark Wednesday helping supervise the setting of the statue of two children climbing a hill with an American flag on a brick and concrete pedestal constructed by the Curve.

“It was just meant to be,” I guess, said Lozinak, who wanted the statue to honor “the ones who pay the price” when service members die in action, because they grow up without a father or mother.

“It’s a monument to – unfortunately – a group that gets forgotten,” said Curve General Manager Rob Egan.

The unveiling ceremony will take place at 1 p.m., with the Blair County families of fallen service members participating, followed by a 6 p.m. game featuring a family member throwing out the first pitch, the families in a special seating area and a recognition on the scoreboard and during the seventh-inning stretch, said Dennis Butts, who will give the keynote speech at the afternoon ceremony.

The statue will be a place that children like them can always come back to, like the replica Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall at the Van Zandt VA Medical Center, Butts said.

The project has triggered the creation of an educational foundation to benefit the children of fallen service members, Butts said.

Butts got involved after he gave a speech on the needs of combat veterans at a local school, among whose administrators was Hughes’ cousin, who introduced him and Butts.

Saturday’s ceremony will become an annual event, according to Butts, who will speak on why service members go into combat.

“Not for pay or medals,” he said.

Nor honor and glory.

“They do it for you,” he said.

Mason has his mother, Suzie Fetterman’s, eyes, but everything else is from his father, including his laugh and personality, Fetterman said.

“Looks just like him, acts just like him,” she said.

People she doesn’t even know have asked her, “Is that Hook’s kid?”

He’s outgoing, likes to be around people, loves sports, does Tae Kwon-Do and is “a boy, though and through,” she said. “Definitely a Hook.”

And his ears.

“They’re a little large,” she said.

Her niece once asked, “He’s going to grow into those, right?”

Mason knows what happened in Iraq, even if he doesn’t grasp it yet, Fetterman said.

They talk about him all the time and go to the cemetery about once a week.

Mason was born Sept. 19, 2007, three weeks after his father’s death, which happened when a piece of metal left by the manufacturer in a shaft of the helicopter in which Hook and others were being taken from a mission site was sucked into the engine, cutting off power.

“It was just awful all around,” Fetterman said.

But Saturday will be great, she said.