VIRGINIA — The Iron Range Veterans Memorial with its massive bronze eagle and life-sized statues was dedicated in 2012 amid military fanfare and massive crowds. More markers and flags and pavers engraved with the names of military veterans have since been added.
Still, project chairman Tom Berrigan, Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War, says of the memorial, "We are the Iron Range's best-kept secret," and he wants to inform people what has been added in the past seven years. The memorial is at Fourth Avenue and Second Street North in Virginia.
Berrigan, an Ely native who lives in Mountain Iron with wife Lori, listed the additions in an email.
• Six new flags representing the branches of the Armed Services and Merchant Marines.
• Black granite marker explaining what each figure on the statue represents, along with the eagle and the meaning of it all in the words of Gareth Andrews, the artist. This marker was financed by Steelworkers Local 1938.
• Black granite marker representing the Iraq War and the war in Afghanistan, along with a marble bench for each.
• Bronze plaque on the base of the memorial showing the name of the artist, date of dedication and a listing of the committee members.
"Future additions could be more markers for future wars (hopefully not) and the ongoing installation of engraved pavers each fall," Berrigan said.
"Engraved pavers are still available and will be for years to come. Any veteran living or dead with a connection to the Iron Range is eligible. We will not turn down any veteran no matter where they're from," he said.
Pavers are 4-by-8 inches with 2 lines of engraving for $75, 8-by-8 with 4 lines of engraving for $125 and 12-by-12 with 5 lines of engraving for $500. Paver forms are available in the foyer of the Serviceman's Club on Chestnut Street in Virginia. For further information contact paver coordinators Jim Pernu 218-290-2268 or Denny Pernu 218-744-3952.
Berrigan said, "After I returned from the Marine Corps and Vietnam, I was drawn to this project because I had seen so many 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds killed, never to discover what life had to offer including marriage, children, grandchildren and life itself. Fifty-plus years later, other than immediate family, they were in danger of being forgotten. This goes for all the wars prior and since. I felt it was my duty to make sure our veterans are never forgotten. I hope the memorial in our corner of the world accomplishes this."
As for people's reaction to seeing the memorial, Berrigan said, "People that see it are amazed • 10 feet high by 15 feet long with 8 life-sized service members and a 9-ton bronze statue. People tell me all the time it is a world-class work and there is nothing like from here to Washington, D.C.
"Still it surprises me how many Iron Range people tell me they haven't seen it yet. Also many visitors miss it," Berrigan said. "A recent Orchids in the paper (Mesabi Daily News Orchids & Onions) goes to great lengths to praise all the wonderful attractions in the area by name but says nothing about the memorial. These were out-of-town visitors. A Chamber of Commerce flyer out this spring lists area attractions but not the memorial."
Berrigan became involved in 2004 when he was asked to attend a memorial committee meeting, and by 2006 he was chairman. Berrigan said, "The committee started in 1998 from the morning coffee klatch at the Serviceman's Club. It was mostly World War II and Korean War vets who were very enthusiastic and hard workers, but they didn't know computers and fund-raising. They did get a $250,000 commitment from the IRRRB. I found out the IRRRB wouldn't release the funds until we had raised 75 percent of the money. So we had a lot of work to do for a project of more than $1 million (statue and grounds). Thanks to the hard work of our committee members and the wonderful support of Iron Range businesses, service organizations, and most of all Iron Range people, we got it done."