Roane County War Memorial.
World War I bugler trumpets a call to arms....

Varicolored Veterans of Valor

Field review by the editors.

Harriman, Tennessee

The symbolism of veterans memorials is familiar; the materials -- bronze and granite -- are as solemn as the subject. Inevitably, veterans memorials look a lot alike -- so respectful, so predictable.

Roane County War Memorial.
...and a World War II GI salutes.

That's not the case in Harriman, site of the Roane County War Memorial.

Its first statues, of a World War I bugler and saluting World War II GI, were unveiled in October 2006. They were sculpted by local artist Greg Horak, using a special process of his own invention to create outdoor figures less expensive than bronze, but hard as stone. Their durability was proven on the dark night of May 15, 2010, when the bugler was savagely attacked by mysterious assailants. "They later confessed," said Greg. "They said it took them 40 minutes to decapitate that statue with a sledgehammer. They had to work really hard. I was kind of proud, in a way."

The veterans of Harriman were furious. May 15, 2010, happened to be Armed Forces Day, at a time when militant jihadists were beheading live Americans in the Middle East. "We just kind of decided, 'They are not going to win,'" said Cliff Cole, adjutant of Harriman's American Legion Post 53. Cliff came up with the idea of "a circle of memorials," each with statues dedicated to the veterans of a different war. Greg -- who was repairing the bugler -- was told that more work would be coming his way. The veterans' tribute would not only be restored, but expanded.

Roane County War Memorial.
Face of the Vietnam nurse was adapted from a Harriman high school yearbook photo.

(It was later learned that the men who beheaded the bugler were drunk local morons who had no idea it was Armed Forces Day and had no bad feelings toward America, but the veterans were still angry.)

The immediate problem facing the vets was one of money. Harriman has a population of only around 6,000, and an active veteran population a fraction of that. How could they afford such a grand vision?

"It took a long time, and about everything we could get our hands on," said Cliff. Greg added, "They put nickels and dimes in jars for years to make this happen."

The first of the new memorials was for Vietnam veterans. The vets in Harriman planned to copy the "Three Servicemen" Vietnam statue in Washington, DC, but learned to their dismay that if they did, they'd be sued. "So we changed it; we made it personal," said Cliff, with Greg sculpting in his own style and customizing the monument with details not found in the original. Boots were modeled from one of the Harriman vets' real Vietnam boots; the helmet carried by one soldier was a real helmet. The sculpted weapons -- more accurate than in the Washington version -- were modeled from weapons provided by the vets, including an M-79 grenade launcher, and Cliff Cole's trench knife.

Roane County War Memorial.
Korean soldier's face belongs to a Harriman Korean war veteran.

Like the earlier sculptures, the Vietnam figures were originally planned to look like veined marble. Greg tried tinting the material rather than painting it, but sunlight quickly flaked and peeled the statues. Frustrated, the vets had Greg paint the statues a distinct, solid color, then recognized that this Plan B was a conceptual improvement, and followed it in all of the subsequent artworks. "The different colors help each memorial stand out as separate," Greg said.

The Vietnam memorial was unveiled in 2014. No lawsuits followed, and the Harriman vets, encouraged, followed a similar approach with the Korean Memorial (2016) and Women's Memorial (2017), again vaguely evoking monuments in Washington, but this time incorporating the faces of local veterans who served during those wars. "It was very important that they be personalized," said Cliff. Greg had to sit down with senior vets and imagine what they looked like decades earlier. The woman, modeled on an Army nurse who'd gone to high school with Cliff, was sculpted from an old yearbook photo. "They are totally unique," said Cliff of the sculptures. "We fear Washington no more."

Many towns would have been stymied by the obstacles confronting Harriman, settling for a simple block-of-granite veterans' memorial. Cliff said that compromise was never an option. "We had to prove that we could actually do it," he said, "We're very proud."

Greg added, "I've done a lot of other stuff that doesn't mean as much. When I was installing one of the statues I heard someone thanking me, and I turned around and there's a guy without any legs. That kind of put a lot of perspective into it."

Varicolored Veterans of Valor

Roane County War Memorial

Address:
301 Emory Drive, Harriman, TN
Directions:
Riverfront Park. I-40 exit 347. Drive north on US Hwy 27 for about three miles. Cross the Emory River bridge, then immediately turn right onto Emory Drive. Drive a quarter-mile, continue straight through the stop sign, then immediately turn right and drive down under the bridge to Riverfront Park.
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