Gov. Matt Mead and University of Wyoming President Laurie Nichols are slated to unveil a new statue Saturday to commemorate the sacrifices of Wyoming’s veterans at the War Memorial Stadium’s Veterans Memorial Plaza.
“The original veterans’ memorial was in the north end zone, but it was dedicated to all the soldiers who served in the 20th century,” said John Hursh, a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer and master of ceremonies for the Veterans Memorial Plaza re-dedication ceremony. “Now, we’re in the 21st century, and we need to rededicate the plaza for all Wyoming’s veterans, regardless of the century.”
During the ceremony, a bronze fallen soldier’s cross will be unveiled by Mead and Nichols with the help of World War II veteran Bob Willis, Hursh said.
Composed of a soldier’s helmet propped on a rifle planted barrel down between a pair combat boots, the fallen soldier cross, or battlefield cross, was a common sight during World War I and II, but pinning down its origin has proven difficult, according to the National Museum of American History.
“(After the Korean War) the battlefield cross still acted as a marker so that the Graves Registration Service personnel could remove the body for burial, it also began to serve as a memorial,” an article published by the museum reports. “Although it is called a cross, the memorial has no overt religious context.”
A common sight at veterans’ memorials across the nation, the symbol has become a national tribute to the lives lost throughout America’s numerous conflicts.
“There are different types of soldier’s crosses — this one is a World War II style cross,” Hursh said. “We chose a World War II motif, because that’s why the stadium was originally dedicated.”
UW Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations Tim Harkins said War Memorial Stadium was dedicated Sept. 23, 1950, to more than 30,000 World War II veterans from Wyoming.
“(War Memorial Stadium) was opened in 1950,” Harkins said. “It was kind of the brainchild of the UW president at the time, George ‘Duke’ Humphrey. The athletics director, Glenn ‘Red’ Jacoby, was also involved at the time.”
In 2003, the Veterans Memorial Plaza was built in the north end zone, Harkins said.
But in 2016, he said the plaza was moved outside the stadium, where visitors could pay their respects 24/7.
With the statue in place, the final step is slated to be re-dedicating the plaza in memory of all Wyoming veterans, Hursh said.
“It is an honor to remember those who sacrificed all to protect our freedom,” Mead says in an email. “The ‘soldier’s cross’ is a vivid depiction of the cost of freedom. It is a tribute to the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who gave their lives to protect it.”