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Soldotna unveils 'Iron Mike' statue

Elizabeth Earl

He looks like a lot of other soldiers. Shouldering his pack and carrying his gun, he looks out across Soldotna Creek Park from a pedestal beneath the flags, eyes on the horizon. A crowd greets him with applause and cheers.

Iron Mike, a statue representing soldiers and veterans of the U.S. military, was unveiled in the park on the Fourth of July, the culmination of nearly five years of anticipation. The Soldotna VFW post asked the city for permission to put the statue in the park and began raising money for it in 2015, and on Saturday, veterans pulled the tarp off for the final time.

Iron Mike is a nickname given to many similar statues all over the country. The one in Soldotna Creek Park is similar to one at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, dressed and equipped like a World War II soldier of the Airborne Corps. Around the base of the statue are the symbols of each military branch.

One of the men leading the charge to install the statue, though, didn’t live to see it. Kasilof resident Herb Stettler, a longtime VFW member and one of the proponents of the Iron Mike statue project, died last December. Every year, Stettler read the poem “In Flanders Field” on Memorial Day, and this year’s was the first without him. Sen. Peter Micciche (R-O) read a legislative proclamation honoring Stettler during the statue dedication ceremony.

"It’s not that we’re doing this without Herb Stettler, because I know where Herb Stettler is, and I know he’s here today," he said. "And it was his vision, one of the primary people we talked about what this was going to look like."

Soldotna city council member Dave Carey says the statue will serve as a reminder for visitors of military service.

"Herb Stettler and our Iron Mike here, that’s all about what we’re free to do, being independent," he said. "Three days ago, I went to the shop, Soldotna Choppers, where Iron Mike was. I first got to see him a couple of days after he came in, and they had lifted the crate so we could see it. … In looking at Iron Mike, because at that time, he was laying down, it occurred to me that members of the military never lie down."

On a Fourth of July when most parades and events were cancelled, about 100 people gathered in the park, some with masks, standing or sitting in small groups spaced six feet apart throughout the park. Near the end of the ceremony, Carey read the first two sentences of the Declaration of Independence, reminding the crowd of the holiday and connecting it to military service.

"These in respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which have impelled them to the separation," he said. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

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