Monument to be first in Bedford

Resting atop a pile of rubble, an Army sergeant stares into the distance, dog tags in hand, as a comrade reads a letter from home.

“He’s thinking about the men that fell that day,” Manns Choice sculptor Wayne Hyde said of his newest work, a World War II monument set to be dedicated Saturday in Bedford. “In his hand are the dog tags of the men who fell.”

The larger-than-life statue, the product of years of work and planning, depicts two soldiers after battle. The first monument of its type in Bedford County, it’s intended to honor the thousands of county residents who fought in the war and the 140 who died, County Visitors Bureau Director Dennis Tice said.

“Our goal was to make it one of the finest anywhere. It will be something our veterans can be proud of,” Tice said.

Planning for the statue began after 2009, when a documentary on Bedford County’s World War II veterans yielded an unexpected windfall, he said.

Realizing there was no monument to honor the era’s veterans there, officials set to work raising more money – even as the total cost rose from $50,000 to $150,000, and finally $200,000.

Individual donors and local businesses offered the funding, Tice said, and a site was eventually cleared along Penn Street near the courthouse in downtown Bedford.

Officials chose Hyde to design and shape the statue, which sits atop a pedestal featuring the dates of the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 and Japan’s surrender in 1945. Hyde – a 23-year veteran sculptor who has shaped several Pennsylvania monuments, including one of Rep. John P. Murtha in Johnstown – said he had never designed a piece for his home county before.

Batting ideas back and forth with Tice, he settled on a common image in World War II photographs: the letter from home, which drew excited soldiers together and offered solace after combat.

“The letter represents what they’re fighting for,” Hyde said. “That’s their mom, dad, wife. … It’s a reminder of why they’re fighting.”

The statue’s sergeant is modeled on Ellis R. Weicht, a Bedford County native posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor after a brutal 1944 battle in eastern France. Weicht disregarded his own safety as he led an assault down a German-occupied street, personally emptying buildings of enemy troops and chasing off artillery crews until a direct hit ended his life, according to his Medal of Honor citation.

The statue’s second figure, reading a letter aloud to cheer up the sergeant, is modeled partly on other people but isn’t officially based on a single soldier, Tice and Hyde said.

The statue bears personal marks from scores of World War II veterans, as well: After Hyde completed a clay version that would form a mold for the bronze, 104 county veterans pressed their thumbs into the heated clay, leaving prints that remain in the final statue.

For Hyde, who had six uncles in World War II, helping the veterans add their marks was a powerful final touch.

“It was pretty special to be up there with those guys. That’s something I’ll never forget,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.