It was standing room only at Tooele City Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday as several hundred veterans, citizens and dignitaries joined hearts to unveil a bronze statue that is hoped will help raise awareness of veterans suicide.
Or even better, stop it.
Called “Proud,” the 13-foot-tall, 800 pound statue of World War II veteran and purple heart recipient Robert Calder of Garden City, Utah, was presented by Jon Gossett, president of the Life’s Worth Living Foundation, and its creator, sculptor Dan Snarr of Stansbury Park.
Calder did not die by suicide, but the statue’s visual power and presence are being used to relay an important message, not only to Tooele County, but America as well.
“I want to tell you how important this statue is today,” Gossett said while fighting back tears before the audience. “In the Vietnam War, we lost 58,220 troops to combat. Since that time of those same troops, we’ve lost 170,000 to suicide. And it’s gotta stop.
“This monument today will be the first bronze monument in the United States that talks about veteran suicide and connects those veterans to resources,” he said.
He thanked all of the veterans “who did what we didn’t have to do to keep us free at home,” and all of the donors who contributed more than $50,000 since last January to pay for the statue.
“There’s so many people to thank today and there’s no way possible to do it,” Gossett said. “So just know that I thank you from the bottom of my heart. When we started this, I didn’t know if we could pull it off. I didn’t know we could raise the money and make it happen. But we did. And it’s because of all of you.”
Snarr, of Stansbury Park, who created the sculpture, said he loves Tooele County and loves the people here.
“Man, I can’t believe the turnout,” he said to the crowd. “You guys are awesome.”
Snarr thanked the donors and support from Tooele City. He said he couldn’t believe the “amazing amount of support” he received from the community throughout the project.
“Way back when I first started having this idea of placing it in the park, there were people showing up at my door wanting to give me money to work on this,” Snarr said. “As a sculptor that’s really a fulfilling thing when people would back your work like that, because it’s such a personal journey. You don’t know if your work really stinks or if people like it because you’re so attached to it personally.”
Snarr pulled a release string on a black cloth that shrouded the statue. As the shroud slowly dropped to the ground, late afternoon sunlight covered the statue and the crowd erupted in applause and cheers.
Gossett said the statue has been appraised at $250,000 and “Dan did this without a dime coming to him. He did that because he loves this community and he loves where he lives.”
The rest of the presentation featured several guest speakers, including Tooele City Debbie Winn; Rep. Doug Sagers; Sen. Dan Thatcher; Tooele Army Depot Commander Col. Todd Burnley; Michael Mower, deputy chief of staff for Gov. Gary Herbert; and Brigadier General Tyler Smith, assistant adjutant general from the Utah National Guard.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an average of 20 veterans die by suicide every day in the U.S.