A six-foot-tall bronze battle cross that will be the centerpiece of an Iraq war memorial will have details not many civilians would have missed.
Local veterans are giving Houston artist Lori Benz real-life details they would like included in the statue. A dog tag tucked into boot laces. A blood type written on a boot's heel. A clip on the helmet where night-vision goggles would perch.
Benz flew to Hillsborough County on Sept. 26 to get the veterans' suggestions before she completes the full-size version of the statue that will perch atop a six-foot-tall pedestal containing names of all Iraq war veterans from Florida who died in active duty.
She spoke to the Veterans Memorial Park Museum Committee, showing a miniature version of the battle cross, which is an upright gun, flanked by boots at the base and a helmet on top with dog tags dangling from the rifle's pistol grip.
For now, the statue is the only part of the $250,000 memorial with full funding. That's partly because Benz agreed to create the sculpture at cost, for about $7,500. Other bids came in at $25,000 and $40,000, said Iraq war veteran Mark Goujon, who is leading the effort to build the memorial. "At that price it's like a gift," he said.
The Iraq memorial will be the second of 12 theaters of war planned for the park off U.S. 301 near the Tampa Bypass Canal. The Vietnam memorial was unveiled last year.
From start to completion, the statue will take about six months, Benz said.
When Benz heard about the effort here, she went to her artist partner, Miguel Macias, their foundry master, and they agreed to take on the project.
"We both thought it was wonderful what Mark and his committee are doing and we're thrilled to be a part of this," she said, standing at the park near where the memorial will be erected. "I think it has wider appeal than just to people in Hillsborough County. I think people will come to this park to see these memorials."
Veteran Tim Lawn, who created the artist's rendering for Iraq memorial and one for the Vietnam memorial, also is working on a mural that will be part of the display. He came to meet Betz. Lawn said he is excited to see the project coming together. His mural will feature all branches of the military and the equipment used during the war in Iraq.
Goujon is taking plans for the war memorial to area groups to solicit donations.
"We need more groups to pick us up as a charity," he said. So far, Champion Foundation Repair, Amvets Post 44, the VFW Post 8108 Ladies Auxiliary and Silverback 7 have contributed to the project, Goujon said.
Major donors will receive granite plaques or benches at the memorial, noting their contributions. Goujon said the group also is encouraging smaller donations, and bricks can be purchased that will be placed at the memorial.