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"Brothers In Arms" statue installed at Military Park

Alicia Fraire / Red Dirt Report
The "Brothers in Arms" sculpture honors those who fought during the Vietnam War.
Fertile Ground Compost Service

OKLAHOMA CITY- In 1975, thousands of South Vietnamese refugees fleeing the Vietnam War made their new home in Oklahoma City, creating not only the thriving Asian District but a new life among “brothers” of the war.

On Thursday, a bronze sculpture commissioned jointly by the Vietnamese American Community of Greater Oklahoma City and Metropolitan Areas and the City of Oklahoma City was installed at Military Park to honor the shared service and the sacrifice of both the American and South Vietnamese soldiers in the Vietnam War.

“The monument is designed to show the brotherhood that developed between the American and the South Vietnamese soldiers,” said Robbie Kienzle, Arts Liaison & program planner for the Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs in the Oklahoma City Planning Department. “We were approached by the Vietnamese American Community of Greater Oklahoma City and Metropolitan Areas to do this sculpture as a huge demonstration of gratitude by multiple generations of Vietnamese Americans who created a new life here.”

COUNTRY, HONOR, DUTY                     

The sculpture was created by artist Thomas Jay Warren and was funded by a $210,000 donation from the Vietnamese-American group, which raised an additional $40,000 for other elements of a memorial plaza with the sculpture as its centerpiece, Kienzle said.

Named “Brothers in Arms,” the sculpture depicts an American soldier and a South Vietnamese soldier standing back to back, ready to face danger together as they did daily during the war.

Warren was selected through a national competition coordinated by the City’s Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs. The 12-person selection committee chose Warren’s concept from among 29 submissions from artists in 14 states.

 Warren, a professional member of the National Sculpture Society, has designed 30 war memorial sculptures in 13 states and Canada.

 “The sculpture shows the connection between the two soldiers, not just physically, but emotionally,” Kienzle said. “We chose the sculpture because the artist really listened to the chair of the commission who really wanted this sculpture to show how much (the Vietnamese community) appreciated the American soldiers who fought with them. They were like brothers.”

 “The two figures quite literally embody the soldier’s most solemn pledge: ‘I’ve got your back, brother,’” said Warren.

The soldiers stand at slightly larger than average life-size: 6 feet 6 inches tall for the American, and 6 feet tall for the South Vietnamese. They’re poised facing north on a 3 ½-foot tall pedestal that was locally designed to be part of a plaza that will serve as the site of war remembrance events, according to a press release from the City of Oklahoma City.

CENTERPIECE OF THE PARK

The Memorial Plaza at Military Park also includes flagpoles, a grand lawn, a stage and a Vietnamese urn to be used for incense burning, an important cultural tradition when remembering history or ancestors, Kienzle said.

“The urn part of the monument came from Vietnam. It was important to us as park designers to be aware of the cultural importance, and the Commission wanted the memorial to be a significant part of the park.”

 The soldiers are wearing authentic Vietnam War-era uniforms and accessories. The patina on the bronze has different shades for their skin, uniform and boots to add depth and realism.

The selection process for the commissioned sculpture was in-depth, and the city felt strongly that it wanted to use the official process to choose the statue. The Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs was approached by the Vietnamese Community with a formal request letter in September 2013 and entered into a conceptional agreement in May 2014. The project and call for entries were announced in May 2016 with the final selection chosen that September.

“We actually pay artists on the short list to visit the site and listen to the stories,” said Kienzle. “When we saw J. Warren’s design, it was unanimous.”

OKLAHOMA CITY’S ‘LITTLE SAIGON’

During the Vietnam War, thousands of Vietnamese refugees came to America after the fall of Saigon. One of the cities they were relocated to was Oklahoma City, and throughout the years, the community embraced and thrived in its new home.

Churches in the area opened their arms to the new citizens, and many of the former military and professional Vietnamese opened businesses, became lawyers and doctors, raised their children in Oklahoma schools and helped create a thriving Asian district in the city.

The Vietnamese community, along with Chinese and other Asian American groups, transformed the area around NW 23rd and Classen Blvd. Asian restaurants, supermarkets, temples and nightclubs were established, and today, the Asian district is a favorite area to sample traditional fare like dim sum, pho and Taiwanese Bubble Tea.

The sculpture will be dedicated at 3 p.m. Saturday at the park, which is located at NW 24th Street and Classen Boulevard. The event will include remarks by civic leaders, a presentation of colors, choral ensemble, dragon dance, ribbon cutting and laying of wreaths.

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Heide Brandes

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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