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NEWS | Nov. 16, 2015

Homage to the Fallen

By Lanelle Strawder Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center

The front courtyard of the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center was filled to capacity on the morning of November 10. Though rain showers had threatened just moments before, the sun shone through as area Veterans, patients, and VA administrative officials and employees gathered to witness the unveiling of a sculpture donated to the Charleston VA Medical Center.

Though only 27 inches long and 14 inches high, the bronze sculpture speaks volumes in its careful depiction of a dying Marine in the moments before his death. Local Vietnam Veteran and artist Dr. Edward Byrd fashioned the piece in the image of Private First Class Dennis Lee Lobbezoo, a 19-year-old former patient of his who died during combat in Vietnam in 1968. Byrd portrays Pfc. Lobbezoo leaning to his side, felled by an unseen injury.

Byrd, the retired neurosurgeon-turned-sculptor of Mount Pleasant, S.C., spoke of the weeks in 1968 he had spent treating Lobbezoo and the unforgettable impression the young Marine's good-natured personality and high-minded sense of duty had left on him. Byrd was devastated when he learned his young patient was killed a few months later and vowed that he would one day honor the fallen Marine.

Byrd's sculpture serves as a reminder of harsh reality of combat-a reality in which Pfc. Lobbezoo, like Pfc. Ralph H. Johnson and countless other Service members, have laid down their lives to protect our Nation's freedoms. It is Byrd's hope that viewers of the sculpture will remember that the price of freedom is not free.

Charleston VA Medical Center Director Scott Isaacks stated, "Our hope is that all who enter our VA will take a moment to remember all who have made the ultimate sacrifice when they see this display."

The sculpture's installation and unveiling at the Charleston VAMC was timely, as the day marked the 240th birthday of the United States Marine Corps and fell just one day shy of Veterans Day. Special guest Sloan D. Gibson, Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, attended the dedication ceremony and brought remarks for the occasion.

Gibson said of the sculpture:

"When you see itI think you'll experience a flood of emotion, of compassion, of deep respect: respect and admiration for the subject, Private First Class Lobbezoo; respect for the artist who has laid bare his soul, sacrificed a part of himself for us and every Veteran; respect and admiration for what the subject represents; and respect and thoughtful reflection for the sobering question Dr. Byrd's work demands of us at this moment in our Nation's history: 'What is the cost of war?'"

The program was emceed by Bob Hamlin, a U.S. Army Vietnam Veteran and dedicated volunteer at the Charleston VAMC. Other notable guests included Medal of Honor recipient Major General James E. Livingston, USMC (Ret.); Helen Richards, sister of Medal of Honor Recipient Pfc. Ralph H. Johnson, USMC, the Charleston VAMC's namesake; VA Southeast Deputy Director Dr. Robin Jackson; Craig Arsell, Director of Beaufort National Cemetery, Beaufort, S.C.; Colonel Robert Lyman, Commander Joint Base Charleston and the 628th Air Base Wing, Joint Base Charleston, S.C.; Colonel John Lamontagne, Commander 437th Airlift Wing, JBC; Colonel Maggie Jones, Commander 628th Medical Group, JBC; Captain Elizabeth Maley, Commander of Naval Health Clinic Charleston; Captain Gary L. Tomasulo, Commander of the United States Coast Guard Sector Charleston; Trux and Durbin Emerson of Fisher House Charleston; representatives from area Veterans Service Organizations; and attendees from the offices of Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Tim Scott (R-SC).

The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center is the proud recipient of this distinguished work of art. The sculpture is displayed prominently in the medical center lobby, fittingly placed just feet away from the portrait of Ralph H. Johnson. - See more at: