LITTLETON, Colo. — A bronze statue of a fallen Navy SEAL holding a machine gun was dedicated here yesterday over the objections of some locals who disapproved of the firearm.
But none of the 2,000 people who flooded Berry Park for the ceremony seemed to have a problem with the statue, which paid tribute to Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Danny P. Dietz Jr., a Littleton native killed two years ago in Afghanistan.
Naysayers argued that the memorial should be moved because it would frighten children from nearby elementary and middle schools, but the city of Littleton refused to budge.
"Their argument is dumb," said Jim Kenfield, an Army veteran who drove more than an hour to attend the event. "I guess they expect these guys to go over there ... and sing 'Kumbaya.' "
Added Denise Tarrant of Lakewood: "Our children should learn about our history and how we got our freedoms," she said. "You can't throw bubble gum at the enemy."
The larger-than-life bronze statue, created by sculptor Robert Henderson, depicts Petty Officer Dietz crouching in combat gear holding an automatic rifle across his knee. The pose was inspired by one of the last photos taken before his death.
Members of Rolling Thunder, a veterans support group, rode their Harley-Davidsons to Littleton and camped out near the statue to deter vandalism in the week before the unveiling.
"It was an honor," said Randy Taylor, who organized the round-the-clock protection at the request of the Littleton Police Department. "We had people stop by and thank us for doing this."
At the ceremony, a host of distinguished speakers, including Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter, Rear Adm. Joseph D. Kernan, commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, and Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, recounted Petty Officer Dietz's career as a SEAL and praised his sacrifice.
"Today it is particularly gratifying that the people of Littleton honor his service with a statue that does justice to his heroic sacrifice," Mr. Winter said.
Petty Officer Dietz, 25, was wounded in an attack in June 2005. Despite his injuries, he continued to fight until he was mortally wounded. Eighteen Americans died in the attack, the largest loss of life for Navy special warfare sailors since World War II.
He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the service's second-highest military honor.
"He will never be forgotten. He will not be forgotten in name and he will not be forgotten in his actions," Adm. Kernan said.
Tiffany Bitz, Petty Officer Dietz's sister, recalled how she and her brother used to walk through Berry Park on their way to school.
"Children will now understand what a hero is [because] a true hero will now be kneeling before them every day," Mrs. Bitz said.
The Dietz family began working on the memorial last year with Mr. Tancredo and the city of Littleton. They raised $42,000 to cover the cost of the memorial.
Critics argued that the statue was particularly inappropriate in light of its proximity to Columbine High School. The school, site of the 1999 massacre in which two gunmen killed 13 persons, is located about a mile from the memorial.
The statue's supporters fumed at the comparison, calling any connection between Petty Officer Dietz's service and the school shooting offensive.
"The tragedy that happened at Columbine High School had nothing to do with the vets," Mr. Taylor said.
Indeed, the controversy may have helped organizers attract more support for the memorial.
Gary Hoover of Aurora, who attended the ceremony with his wife and two children, said he wanted to send a message to the statue's critics.
"We're here for Danny Dietz and his sacrifice and as a statement in support of this memorial," Mr. Hoover said.