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DOVER AIR FORCE BASE — Atop the pedestal, a rough-hewn angel in bronze has swept down to gather up a fallen soldier whose wide-eyed stare and parted lips say, unmistakably, that life is slipping away.
The image is one that sculptor Greg Wyatt said reflects countless conversations he’s had with combat veterans. And he hopes he’s captured that conviction — the comforting sense that a guardian angel is at hand, whatever might lie ahead — in his sculpture “The Angel and the Dying Unknown.” The piece is now a permanent fixture in the Meditation Garden at Dover Air Force Base’s Center for Families of the Fallen.
Dover is home to Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations and its Port Mortuary, where all service members killed overseas are first returned to home soil. At the unveiling Monday, Wyatt and base officials said they hope grieving families who visit the center will find solace in Wyatt’s creation.
“What we do here matters,” said Col. John Devillier, AFMAO’s commander. “It’s important. Families come here on the worst day of their life.”
Visitors won’t long remember the individuals they encountered, he said, but “what they will remember is how we made them feel when they came to Dover Air Force Base. And this beautiful statue will help do that.”
The facility opened in 2010. Since then, it has hosted some 2,400 families, according to Col. Rick Moore, commander of the base and its 436th Airlift Wing.
“We find that in their time of need, there are certain things that are comforting,” Moore said. “One of those, for people who are religious or spiritual, is the image of an angel. And this, we hope, will provide an opportunity for them to reflect a little bit, and also provide an opportunity to draw out some of the feelings that they’re experiencing. Grief is one of those things that has to be excised. It’s a process. And we know that this will be a part of that.”
The cast-bronze sculpture is crafted in a powerful style that renders sharp muscular detail with Impressionism’s short, quick strokes.
Wyatt, a New York native who is sculptor-in-residence at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City, bases his work on the philosophy of “spiritual realism.”
The sculpture is not large — several feet high and wide, it rests atop a short pedestal in a circle of brickwork. “I wanted it to be not overwhelming,” Wyatt said. “I wanted it to be still visible enough to have a rightfulness or a fit in terms of the Meditation Garden.”
Valued at $40,000, the sculpture was donated by the Newington-Cropsey Foundation of Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., a group dedicated to preserving and displaying art, particularly that of Jasper F. Cropsey, a Realist painter who believed that God and nature are one.
In Wyatt’s depiction, the divine descends from above to cradle a dying veteran, rewarding his faith with spiritual comfort in the final hour.
“They have all prayed to their guardian angels, and have willingly expressed this to me,” Wyatt said. In addition, he said, “The whole idea of a guardian angel providing an inner peace, an inner protection, that’s very much extended to the families of the fallen.
“This is my passion. This is my emotion,” he said. “This is what I have formed in bronze.”