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Rifle, Helmet Stolen From Sculpture at Veterans’ Memorial

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The life-size bronze sculpture dedicated to Vietnam veterans is a permanent display at the New Mexico Veterans’ Memorial in Albuquerque

A life-size bronze sculpture dedicated to Vietnam veterans just six weeks ago was damaged last week by vandals who broke off and stole the sculpture’s M-16 rifle and helmet.

The sculpture, a permanent display at the New Mexico Veterans’ Memorial in Albuquerque, depicts a soldier in Vietnam kneeling at a “field cross,” an M-16 rifle stuck by its bayonet between the fallen soldier’s empty boots and topped by his helmet.

“Some unspeakable person came out here and broke off the rifle and helmet and took it away,” Dan Telfair, a volunteer at the memorial, said Monday.

Roger Knight, a retired Army colonel, Vietnam veteran and volunteer at the memorial, discovered the damage Friday. Knight said it took considerable strength to break the rifle and helmet from the sculpture’s concrete base.

“I guess what they did was they kept pushing and pushing on it until it broke,” he said.

An estimated 750 to 1,000 people, many of them Vietnam veterans, turned out for the sculpture’s dedication on March 29.

At the dedication, the sculptor, George Salas of Albuquerque, said he hoped the artwork “will allow veterans to release whatever feelings they have about Vietnam, and maybe provide some sort of closure for that part of their lives.”

On Monday, Salas, a Vietnam veteran himself, wondered why anyone would show such disrespect.

“At first I was just angry,” he said. “But then I got depressed. I took it very personally because I put my heart and soul into that sculpture.”

If the missing parts are not found or returned, Salas said the sculpture can probably be repaired.

“It is replaceable,” Salas said. “I kept the molds of the rifle and helmet and, I believe, of the boots.”

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