NEW BETHLEHEM – On Saturday, it arrived.
For Larry Smith, president of the New Bethlehem VFW Post, seeing the 14 1/2 foot long, 7 foot high, and 5 feet wide wooden sculpture delivered and placed at the club’s outdoor memorial grounds will be the end of a longtime goal.
The wooden scene was modeled after one of the most iconic images of World War II, “The Raising of the Flag on Iwo Jima” by Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press.
For years, Smith has wanted the wood carving placed at the post.
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One day last fall, as he was driving past Dawna Ceriani’s chainsaw carving shop, T & D Carvings on Route 219 in Brockport, he asked if she would be interested in a unique commission.
“She was excited,” Smith said. “But it’s a big undertaking.”
Ceriani, traditionally known as a speed carver, said the intricacies of the piece became a proving ground for herself. Carving for the last 16 years, Ceriani said of the hundreds of commissions she has done throughout her career, this is the first of this magnitude.
Starting the carving in January and finishing it around the beginning of May, Ceriani said the biggest lesson learned in those months was patience.
“With this piece, I had to slow down, be constantly walking around it seeing different angles, things to change and thinking of how to reinforce the strength of the entire piece so it could be moved without issues,” Ceriani said. “I spent days drilling holes and gluing dowls into this piece to secure it together.”
In those moments of stillness and contemplation, thoughts of veterans would creep in.
“It’s been an honor to do it, but it’s been a struggle. I didn’t realize when I got contracted to take this on was how challenging emotionally it would be,” Ceriani said as her ocean blue eyes teared up. “It’s emotional what our veterans and their families have been through.”
The artist looked to books and movies for inspiration, but also had plenty of veterans share their stories with her.
In thinking of their service, Ceriani found a new appreciation for life.
“After I learned more about the battle of Iwo Jima and about each soldier’s life, things changed for me,” Ceriani said. “I focused more on our military each day, rather than the original fear of not being able to carve this piece.”
With a price tag of approximately $10,000, Smith said he has never seen the famous photo replicated in wood and can’t wait for the other members of the post to see it.
“I’m excited and I’m anxious,” said Smith.
There are only “a handful” of surviving WWII vets left in the New Bethlehem club. At 81, Smith, an Army veteran who served in the Korean War, half-joked that he is one of the club’s “younger” members.
Located on 526 Broad Street in New Bethlehem, there will be no special fanfare or organized event to commemorate the statue and what it stands for.
Despite this, its presence is cloaked in reverence for those who served in what many call the most destructive war in all of history as casualties worldwide are said to have been between 50 million to 80 million people.
“World War II vets are the ones that saved our way of life,” Smith said.