by Dennis Dalman
For a long time, Charlie Dechene of Sartell and his significant other, Patricia Farrow, lamented the fact that there are not all that many monuments to veterans in the central Minnesota area.
Then, one day, they decided to do something about it – to create a monument right in their front yard in the Pine Point neighborhood of north Sartell.
Veterans are dear to the hearts of Dechene, who is a veteran of the Vietnam War era; and Farrow, who has three brothers who served in the U.S. Marine Corp.
Making the monument was hard work but a labor of love. To create a four-feet-high berm on which to place the monument, Duchene hauled a trailer-load of dirt once a day for 22 days.
The monument itself is a silhouette metal sculpture of one of the most iconic photographs in history – World War II soldiers raising the American flag on the blooded, blasted volcanic island of Iwo Jima in the Pacific Ocean. The Americans captured that strategic island from the Japanese who fought with fierce intensity but who lost against the determined American GIs.
When Americans landed on the island, six of the men raised the flag on the highest place on the island, Mount Suribachi, which they had taken from the Japanese.
Aided by the U.S. Navy, 70,000 invading U.S. Marines took part in the five-week battle for Iwo Jima, and 6,102 of them died in combat. Most of the estimated 20,000 Japanese occupiers of the island were killed, all but about 2,000 of them, who were captured or later surrendered.
That moment (the flag raising) on Feb. 23, 1945 was immortalized by an Associated Press photographer, Joe Rosenthal. The photo came to known as “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima.” The very famous, instantly recognizable image shows the soldiers’ exertions as they planted the flag and raised it.
That photograph was the visual inspiration for Chris Imig, an Elk River metal sculptor who used black, rust-proof steel, 3/8ths-inch thick, to create the silhouette of the six flag-raisers. Dechene, who was born in Elk River, had commissioned Imig to make the dramatic cut-out with his steel-cutting laser.
Dechene’s monument was completed about a month ago. He and Farrow are very pleased with it and proud the monument commemorates the sacrifices of all veterans in all wars.
After his birth in Elk River, the Dechene family moved to California for a time but returned to Minnesota when he was 7 years old. Later, he and his brothers owned and operated a big potato farm near Big Lake. In February, 1966 Dechene was drafted into the U.S. Army when the Vietnam War was raging. However, he did stateside duty as an artillery wireman (electronics), stationed at Fort Sill, Okla. And for a time at Fort Chaffee, Ark. He earned the rank of specialist 4 before being honorably discharged in February 1968.
Dechene retired from farming in 1999, but then decided to work for six more years at Electrolux in St. Cloud to save up more money for retirement, finally retiring for good in 2005.
“Veterans don’t seem to get enough attention,” Dechene said. “Some of them even get shunned. It’s important to honor them and take care of them. I’ve always been patriotic. The best thing that could happen is to put more money into the VA (Veterans Administration) system to care for so many veterans who suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). So many of them get depressed and turn to drugs and drinking and even commit suicide. We’ve got to make sure they are well taken care of and honored for what they’ve done for the country.”