- Associated Press - Thursday, July 8, 2010

A statue of three soldiers installed at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial after critics thought the V-shaped memorial wall was too abstract has been restored to its original finish in a six-week project completed Thursday.

A private foundation that built the memorial raised about $125,000 to restore the bronze “Three Servicemen” statue of three soldiers for the first time. After 25 years, weather and the hands of millions of visitors wore down the patina finish on the soldiers’ faces, arms, hands and guns, turning those areas a greenish-blue color.

Retired Marine Master Sgt. Fred Burns, a Vietnam veteran who lives in Laurel, Md., visited the sculpture Thursday as he does at least twice each year. It brings back memories, he said, recalling the towel draped around one soldier’s neck to wipe away sweat.

“This is more realistic” than the previous worn finish, said Mr. Burns, who works for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “We carried a little bit more gear than that, though - a lot more gear.”

The statue was completed in 1984. It faces more than 58,000 names etched in the wall representing those who died.

Retired Army Brig. Gen. George Price, who served in Korea and Vietnam, said the memorial keeps alive memories of one of the United States’ greatest challenges.

“We are a nation that loves heroes and hates wars,” he said. “When you look at this monument … recognize the era it represents and understand it could have gone either way.”

Baltimore-based New Arts Foundry restored the statue with two artists who worked with the original sculptor, Frederick Hart. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is creating a maintenance program to preserve the statue’s new finish, said Jan C. Scruggs, the foundation’s founder and president.

The project is part of an effort begun last year to help the National Park Service maintain the memorial grounds. Foundation officials said they were moved to act after reading an Associated Press investigative story on the lack of federal money for the Mall, despite needed repairs. The park service contributed a $25,000 grant for the statue’s restoration.

The foundation has raised more than $230,000 to care for more than 13 acres of the Mall, including landscaping and repairs to an irrigation system for the lawn.

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