What started as a vow between two World War II fighter pilots will soon become a monument honoring the more than 88,000 U.S. aviators who lost their lives in the war. Longmont resident and retired Army Major Fredric Arnold, 93, served as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps as part of the P-38 Class of 42J Group. Sadly, 12 members of their 14-person team were killed in battle during the first six months. The two survivors, Arnold and Jim Hagenback, remained close friends—and vowed to honor the memory of their fellow pilots.
After Hagenback’s death in 1998, Arnold was tasked to follow through on their pledge, and thus the idea for “Lest We Forget: The Mission,” a monument built to honor the pilots who lost their lives, was born. The scene depicts fighter pilots being briefed before a mission, and is one that Arnold was familiar with: He sketched this very scene on a mural that now hangs in his Longmont home.
“The briefing scene haunted me; it was a powerful part of WWII story that hadn’t been told,” Fredric says. “It wasn’t the Hollywood version of heroic combat, just the quiet heroism of deciding to go back into combat in spite of devastating odds.”
With the help of sculptor Sutton Betti, Arnold has completed all 12 life-sized fighter pilots for the monument out of clay. Each figure took about six months to complete, and together, they were molded with more than 3,000 pounds of clay. Molds have been created from the clay figures, and once the bronze casting and assembly are complete, the project will be transported to The National WWII Museum in New Orleans in the fall of 2016.
The 12 figures are not likenesses of the deceased members of P-38. They are archetypes of the many characters Fredric encountered during his time of service, and they stand to honor all airmen from every branch of the military that served and gave their lives during WWII.
“My goal is to complete the sculpture and see it cast and put on display,” says Fredric. “When that happens, I will have finally fulfilled my vow to Jim and will have honored our 12 buddies.”
—All photos by Sarah Boyum