Gulf War soldier statue will go on display in Lackawanna County
Money raised to find home in Olyphant
OLYPHANT — The nearly 7-foot-tall Gulf War soldier seemed larger than life in Mark Zinskie’s kitchen, clutching a silver service rifle as shiny as its expressionless metallic countenance.
Known as the Freedom Fighter, the sculpture represents 440 hours of work for Zinskie, a local artist and mason. He is working with Olyphant residents and officials with the Olyphant Bor- ough Freedom Fighter Com- mittee to raise $60,000 to cast the statue in stainless steel and include it as part of a planned monument at the Queen City Train Station on Lackawanna Avenue. The statue will stand silent watch at the station atop a granite base laser-etched to resemble desert camouflage.
To raise money for the project, the committee is selling pavers at $100 each to be placed with the monument. So far, they have raised about $20,000, said committee coordinator Kim Onda Atkinson.
Zinskie hopes to have the statue cast and completed in about a year.
Standing in full military fatigues with a canteen slung across its back, the sculpture Zinskie created is comprised of a variety of materials, including foam, epoxy, rebarreinforced joints, caulk, construction adhesive and even chicken bones. Zinskie painted the soldier to give it a steellike finish to match its future stainless steel casting.
When he began sculpting, he exaggerated the height by elongating the torso and making the head larger and the feet smaller.
“It’s distorted the slightest so that if you stand underneath it, it even looks taller,” he said.
Zinskie started working on the soldier in 2011 and recently put the finishing touches on the project when he added a rifle strap made of curved layers of aluminum.
The statue is “one of a kind,” Mayor John Sedlak Jr. said. “It’ll really brighten up the town.”
Although Zinskie, 47, dedicated so much time to the project, he’s reluctant to attach his name to it, explaining that “this particular art piece is truly about the soldiers.”
As of Sept. 30, 2017, there were 819,185 veterans in Pennsylvania and nearly 20 million nationwide, according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Of those Pennsylvania soldiers, 225,009 served in the Gulf War, according to Sept. 30, 2015, statistics from the department.
There are roughly 12,000 soldiers in Lackawanna County who served sometime from 1991 to present, said county Director of Veterans Affairs David Eisele.
Seeing the statue was emotional for Eisele, who is a veteran.
“The first time I saw it, I didn’t see a statue,” said the Marine Corps veteran who served from 2001 to 2003. “I saw my buddies that never got to come home.”
The Freedom Fighter is the first of its kind for the region, Eisele said. There are local monuments for World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam but none for the modern soldier, he said.
“It towers over you, and it’s really what the world looks up to now, that modern-day soldier for protection,” Eisele said. “It reminds you it’s something for the guys we served with and lost. Something that’s going to permanently be there to remind everybody freedom does come at a cost.”
Like Eisele, Zinskie felt there were few monuments for modern soldiers, and to accompany his unique statue, he wanted to cast it in a unique medium.
“We want to be the first landmark out there with a desert soldier cast in stainless (steel),” he said.
Zinskie decided to make the commemorative statue after learning of the death of Army Sgt. Jan Argonish on Aug. 27, 2007, in Afghanistan.
“At first I was just going to tribute soldiers. … I was thinking, what’s the soldier I’d want to sculpt,” Zinskie said. “I wasn’t necessarily thinking modern.”
The monument also memorializes his late father, Army Sgt. Harry “Skip” Zinskie Jr., a combat photographer during World War II and Korea.
Zinskie lost his dad to cancer when he was 12 years old.
“He was my best friend,” he said.
Harry Zinskie photographed the aftermath of the atomic bombs in Japan. During his tenure in the military, he also photographed the Japanese emperor, five-star Gen. Douglas Macarthur and Gen. Omar Bradley, his son recalled.
As a World War II buff who collects toy soldiers, Zinskie initially wanted to make a statue that looked like a giant green plastic soldier. After speaking with others and more deliberation, he decided to make a monument that would honor present-day soldiers.
As he worked on the statue over the years, he looked to veterans for continued inspiration. After meeting with several soldiers, “that’s when I knew it was going to be real,” he said. “That I’d get it done.”
In the end, Zinskie wants the statue to honor soldiers, and he wants soldiers to look at the monument and honor themselves, he said.
“The masses live a great life in America because of the men and women that made the sacrifices — that went to war, that fought for us, that fought for freedom,” he said.
To donate to the Freedom Fighter project, send donations to Olyphant Freedom Fighter at 113 Willow Ave., Olyphant, PA 18447.
Artist and sculptor Mark Zinskie at his home in Olyphant, next to his statue titled ‘The Freedom Fighter,’ which stands nearly 7 feet tall.