19 April 2002

Salute to U.S. sailors
Lifesize bronze statue now standing guard at Golden Gate Bridge
Jim Doyle, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, April 15, 2002
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle
URL: San Francisco -- Larger than life, the tall, bronze, lone sailor gazes intently across San Francisco Bay from the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, and his steely eyes betray a heartfelt look of longing for a city he may never see again.
"Here the sailor feels the first long roll of the sea, the beginning of the endless horizon that leads to the far Pacific," reads a plaque at the entrance to San Francisco's new Lone Sailor Memorial.
Because of its strategic location beside the bridge, the monument is expected to quickly become one of the most visited tourist attractions in California. It is dedicated to the men and women in the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and the Merchant Marine who have sailed through the Golden Gate in service to their nation -- and to the many who never returned.
Amid patriotic speeches, righteous celebration and the bright sounds of a Navy brass band, San Francisco's proud memorial was dedicated yesterday under crystal blue skies and a crisp breeze at Vista Point overlooking the fabled gateway to the Pacific.
"This has truly been a labor of love," Anthony Principi, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, told hundreds of VIPs, active duty sailors, bureaucrats and military veterans, including a contingent of Navy Waves. He congratulated all the federal and state agencies and volunteers who worked on the memorial project.
"We are a nation founded by seafarers, and there has not been a time in our history when we did not need the courage and skills of those who would go down to the sea in ships," said Principi, a combat-decorated Vietnam veteran who commanded a river patrol unit on the Mekong Delta.
During World War II alone, more than 1.5 million men and women shipped out through the Golden Gate.
"The world has changed dramatically over the years and even more drastically since last September," said Vice Adm. Ray Riutta, commander of the Pacific area for the U.S. Coast Guard. "It can be a confusing and frightening time, but ultimately challenging for our sailors."
"The Lone Sailor is the embodiment of honor, respect and devotion to duty," he said. "These values have been the basis of our maritime strength throughout our history, and they have contributed so much to America's security and prosperity. . . . In short, the Lone Sailor represents every sailor serving his or her country today and will continue to do so as our nation continues to require them to go in harm's way."
Riutta spoke of how "the history of the sea services has been deeply interwoven with the history of San Bay," one of the world's great harbors.
It was also a day of nostalgia for the years -- before military defense cutbacks and base decommissioning -- when San Francisco Bay teemed with Navy vessels, and the Bay Area was home to numerous active military bases, including Treasure Island, the Alameda Naval Air Station, the Presidio and shipyards at Hunters Point and Mare Island.
Sculptor Stanley Bleifeld was commissioned to reproduce the same image of a bronze sailor he created for the U.S. Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. He crafted a living image that stands about 7 feet tall, his hands tucked into the pockets of his pea coat and his collar upturned, standing next to his bronze duffel bag and a dock cleat.
The memorial has many elements.
San Francisco landscape architect Fred Warnecke designed a circular deck whose perimeter is marked by Sonoma fieldstone and four large ship's lanterns. Below the lone sailor's feet is a compass rose, its quadrants marked in different shades of granite cut by computer-guided diamond saws at an Italian quarry.
A plaque bears the words of veteran Chronicle reporter Carl Nolte: "This is one last chance to look back at the city of San Francisco, shining on its hills, one last chance to look back at the coastline of the United States, one last chance to look back at home."
The four sea services are recognized with separate bronze relief sculptures,
each containing a vivid image that seems torn from the pages of history: A plane taking off from a Naval aircraft carrier. A Coast Guard cutter and helicopter rescuing a sailboat at sea. Merchant Marine cargo and liberty ships under attack in World War II. Marines landing on a beach.
The memorial will be softly illuminated at night and visible to all who cross the bridge.
"I think it's going to be one of the great memorials of the United States," said retired Navy Capt. Jackson Schultz, who co-chaired the committee that raised money for the project and shepherded it through bureaucratic approvals. "The site is visited by 2.5 million tourists a year as well as millions of people who come across the bridge."
Memorial Committee Chairman Henry Trione, a Santa Rosa banker and vintner, is credited with coming up with the idea. "It took more than 4 1/2 years to put it together," he said. "There were crises, but there was superb cooperation from Caltrans and the National Park Service."
Yesterday, the memorial was an instant hit. Soon after it was opened to the public, scores of tourists streamed onto the monument's plaza. They pored over the words at the entrance. Others used the elevated deck to gain better views of the bridge. Children posed with the lone sailor and climbed atop his duffel bag.
Duc Long of Ottawa, Ontario, took snapshots of his mother and two children next to the statue.
The new memorial is "welcoming, but I don't know much about the history," said Matthew Saiz, who was visiting the bridge from San Luis Obispo.
The $2 million memorial was financed completely with with private donations,
led by contributions from Silicon Valley businessman Chong-Moon Lee and Trione.
"I wish I could do more than this," said Lee, who grew up in South Korea and served in the Korean War with the the U.S. Military Intelligence Corps. "This country gave me education. It taught me how to be a businessman, to be honest and to be part of the community."
Contributions also poured in from across the country. One veteran sent in a $5 bill accompanied by the message, "Don't waste this."
E-mail Jim Doyle at jdoyle@sfchronicle.com .

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