Joel Randell

Artist Joel Randell talks about the elements within the veterans memorial statue, Serving and Communication Through the Decades, which will be installed on the Northeastern State University Tahlequah campus.

As a special Veterans Day event, Northeastern State University unveiled the plans and prototype of a new veterans memorial statue, which will be installed on the Tahlequah campus.

For over a year, a committee appointed by NSU President Steve Turner has been working on the project.

Many of the members are veterans.

The committee members that selected the artist and location for the memorial are: Candessa Tehee, Joe Crittenden, Tony Oseland, Zachary Neel, Roy Wood, Christy Landsaw, and Dr. Debbie Landry.

During the event, Turner gave a rundown of the involvement of the NSU community in the military, and how wars have had an impact on enrollment, class projects, student life, and more.

"NSU students, faculty and staff have always answered the call to arms when needed," said Turner.

He then marked a spot on an NSU map of where the veterans memorial will be placed: east of Seminary Hall, near the roundabout in front of the Center for the Performing Arts.

The theme for the memorial design was Serving and Communicating Through the Decades. Joel Randell was tapped to design the sculpture out of the 13 artists who applied.

"I feel so very honored the committee selected me," said Randell. "Military veteran monuments are my favorite."

Randell became a sculptor's apprentice after Shan Gray asked him to help with a large bronze sculpture project.

Over the past 20 years, Randell has worked on several large bronze sculpture projects, including a veterans monument in Del City featuring seven statues showing women from all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and the National Guard.

Randell said the design arose from years of extensive study of military history, and the effort of him and others to recognize the veterans' service.

The bronze memorial will stand 12 feet high, be about 10 feet wide, and feature a lot of detail and expressions, according to Randell. Visitors will have to walk around it to get a view of each life-sized military member.

Veterans Day 2019

"The composition here captures all branches of the U.S. military and the time periods stipulated," said Randell. "All six bronze figures are arranged on a representation of the world, signifying the United States' widespread role and history over the years."

The base of the statue is a pentagon, and all of the figures touch the semi-globe, coming out on five directions.

"They are all connected to the world. They all serve the world stage," said Randell.

The Army is represented by a World War I Cherokee Code Talker.

"He is seen providing vital cryptic communication on the front lines of battle," said Randell.

The Vietnam-era Marine is seen trudging through a flooded rice paddy.

"He communicates with the type of hand signals that are frequently employed on the front lines," said Randell.

Using a headset and body language, the Navy sailor represents the crew of an aircraft carrier during the Gulf War.

The Air Force is represented by a woman officer and modern-day fighter pilot, while the Coast Guard rescuer is depicted as being lowered from a helicopter by a cable.

Along with representatives of the Army, Marines, Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard, a sixth figure stands tall in the middle, with "her toe on Tahlequah," according to Randell. She is a representation of the National Guard and the "home front."

"This is an oft-overlooked yet paramount supporting role. Here we see a woman communication steadfast patriotism and resolve," said Randell. I imagine a wife, mother, or even sister holding out hope for a safe and speedy return."

The female holds the flag in one hand and a lantern in the other.

"Many times, sculptures go away at sundown, but not ours. It will stay alive at night," said Randell. "Those who serve at home accomplish so much. She's keeping the lantern lit for those serving to find their way home."

A resin copy of the memorial was unveiled, and there are plans to have bronze replicas on all three NSU campuses.

Donations are still being accepted for the memorial, and Turner announced that private monies will be matched. The timeline of when the statue is placed may depend on funding.

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