Tooele City and the Tooele City Arts Council are raising funds to place a new statue at Veteran’s Memorial Park by Memorial Day 2020.
The 8-foot, bronze statue depicts a Vietnam era U.S. combat tracker and his service dog standing at his side. The statue is named “Seek On,” which is the command the soldier would give to the dog to commence tracking.
An 18-inch version of the statue, currently on display in Tooele City Hall, shows what the completed sculpture will look like. The City is raising funds for the project while the 8-foot sculpture is being made, said Mayor Debbie Winn.
She said $60,000 is needed to complete the project with about $39,000 raised so far. Of that amount, The Life’s Worth Living Foundation has raised approximately $22,000 and the city’s arts council about $17,000.
The statue’s sculptor is Marvin Hitesman, a Tooele County native and avid artist, who works at Tooele Army Depot. Hitesman said he has been collecting military gear since he was a kid and was naturally drawn to sculpting military period pieces.
Hitesman said he has done a considerable amount of research into the history of the Vietnam Combat Tracker Teams.
“The sculpture depicts a soldier as part of a 5-man Vietnam Combat Tracker Team,” he said. “I was doing research into Vietnam gear and I saw a soldier with a Labrador at his side and I wondered what their story was. So I did further research into their story and that led me to the tracker team. I thought a sculpture would be perfect because it would combine the legacies of Vietnam era veteran and service animal.”
The all-volunteer group was covertly trained in Malaysia at the British Jungle Warfare School under the British secret service and the Malaysian special forces. Since England was to remain neutral in the conflict, this training was done in secrecy, according to Hitesman.
“They learned to live off the land,” he said.
Hitesman explained that when U.S. conventional forces fought in the Vietnam War, it was challenging for them because of the nature of their enemy and the terrain. Tracker teams would reestablish contact with the Viet Cong, and also search for dead or wounded soldiers..
“These tracker teams would be called up after an attack or ambush had taken place and they tracked the enemy to regain contact with the enemy,” Hitesman said.
“They were as well-trained as Navy SEALs and no one knew about their efforts because it was covert,” he said. “They didn’t get credit for their duties over there and I think having this sculpture of them gives them that recognition for being in Vietnam and it pays respect to the service dog legacy, too.”
The statue serves as a reminder to veterans and their service, he said.
Hitesman’s portfolio has been featured by The American Society of Aviation Artists, The National Sculpture Society, and he has had his artwork displayed and sold at Sculpture in the Park in Loveland, Colorado.
According to Tooele City’s website, tax-deductible donations can be made to the Tooele City Arts Council. Those interested in donating are advised to call 435-830-2458 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tooele City Veterans Memorial Park is located at the intersection of Main and Vine streets.