At 93, Maj. Fredric Arnold (ret.), Sole Surviving Member of his WWII P-38 Class of 42J Group, is Sculpting A Monumental Bronze Sculpture in Memory of the 88,000 WWII US Airman Killed in Action.
Of fourteen original members of their group of Class of 42J P-38 fighter pilots, only two survived combat: Fredric Arnold and Jim Hagenack. Much of their survival was due to luck. Years later, they vowed to each other that whoever was left standing would do something to honor the twelve. Lest We Forget: The Mission stemmed from their deep gratitude to the twelve original members of their Group that didn’t survive to live their lives in peace.
Today, at the age of 93, Fredric Arnold is the last man standing and he is honor bound to fulfill his oath. To our knowledge, Maj. Arnold was the only commercial artist to live through combat as a WWII fighter pilot in his theater of operation. Turning to his art, the idea of the sculpture grew out of an intense memory of the quiet bravery of his comrades attending a mission briefing as they recommitted to executing the day’s mission, even while flanked by the memory of pilots killed in recent combat.
Although the sculpture began as a testament to the twelve pilots in his squadron, the scope of the work has grown. Now the twelve individuals figures are dedicated to the memory of all 88,000 U.S. aviators who gave their lives during WWII.
“Lest We Forget: The Mission” will be on permanent display at the National WWII Museum and speak to future generations. In time, we hope it becomes an iconic image linked to WWII aviators just as the famous Iwo Jima sculpture memorializes the sacrifices borne serves to memorialize the the Marines.
When asked to visualize scenes of WWII aviation, many think of the aircraft of that era or stylized dogfights unrealistically portrayed by Hollywood. Almost none of the public stop to think, however, about the daunting challenge which faced these young (typically 19-21 years old), ill-trained (90 hours total flight time) pilots prior to each mission.
During much of the war, the death rate among fighter pilots was so high that, statistically, it was a certainty that none would survive 50 missions to come home. In spite of that knowledge, each pilot made the conscious decision to board their aircraft and leave the safety of their home base to fly toward the battle. Day after day. This sculpture captures a poignant moment in time when the mission is laid before the squadron and each pilot recommits himself to go again, even as they feel the presence of pilots already killed and not yet gone or forgotten. In truth, it was a harrowing real life example of Russian Roulette.
Work on the sculpture began in 2004 and, as clear as the art was in his mind, the final destination for permanent public display was not defined.
Over the last ten years, he considered nearly two dozen potential venues. One of the venues considered was: The National WWII Museum, located in New Orleans. Founded by historian and author, Stephen Ambrose, the Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world — why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today… goals that dovetail perfectly with messages embodied in the sculpture.
Placing an important monument at a world-class museum, however, is not trivial. Thankfully, Dr. Nick Mueller, the museum’s CEO, recognized the close fit between the message of the sculpture and their institutional goals. Thanks to his vision and leadership, along with enthusiastic cooperation from members of the museum’s curatorial and management staff, the 18 month process ultimately led to formal acceptance of the artwork. September 25th 2014 marked the official execution of the relevant documents. We couldn’t be happier with this outcome and are thrilled the piece is destined to touch the hearts and minds of museum visitors in perpetuity.
The National WWII Museum is a private 501c3 corporation. Learn more about the museum at www.NationalWW2Museum.org.
The museum campus includes the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, showcasing the large artifacts of the war and exhibits on D-Day at Normandy, the Home Front and the Pacific; the Solomon Victory Theater, a 4D theater showing the exclusive Tom Hanks production, Beyond All Boundaries; the John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion, where staff and volunteers restore artifacts in public view; and the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center.
A major expansion is planned over the coming years. Until the full vision is realized, the sculpture will be placed on public display at the museum in one of the “Initial” locations . Once the museum expansion is complete, the sculpture will be relocated to the “Final” location.
Many people have asked how they can help. Thank you for your interest and good wishes. To date, we have not had a mechanism to accommodate your offers of support. We are investigating options and will invite your participation in upcoming Updates and via postings on the project website at: www.LestWeForgetSculpture.com. An here in the Prime Time for Seniors Newspaper. We couldn’t be more excited about the project. At times, it seems the sculpture is taking on a life of its own and we are just along for the ride!