Gulf War soldier statue will go on dis­play in Lack­awanna County

Money raised to find home in Olyphant

The Citizens' Voice - - LOCAL / REGION - BY FRANK WILKES LESNEFSKY STAFF WRITER Con­tact the writer: flesnef­[email protected]­rock. com; 570-348-9100 x5181 @flesnef­skytt

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.

BUTCH COMEGYS / STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Artist and sculp­tor Mark Zin­skie at his home in Olyphant, next to his statue ti­tled ‘The Free­dom Fighter,’ which stands nearly 7 feet tall.

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