IRON MIKE RETIRES Bragg mascot now a museum piece By Kevin Maurer Staff writer Iron Mike has spent more than two decades gazing down Randolph Street on Fort Bragg. Staff photo by Andrew Craft Iron Mike, the likeness of a World War II paratrooper that has stood on Fort Bragg for 44 years, rolls down Knox Road on Tuesday. A new statue will replace it in August. With one foot propped on a pile of rocks and his finger on the trigger of a Thompson submachine gun resting on his right hip, the statue of a World War II-era paratrooper has become the unofficial mascot of Fort Bragg. On Tuesday, that symbol was retired for a new and improved version. The original Iron Mike statue, which sat at the traffic circle between the Fort Bragg Officers' Club and the post headquarters, is being replaced by a bronze version built by Todd Construction Co., Fort Bragg officials said. The new statue will be delivered some time in early August. The statue, which costs slightly more than $248,000, was paid for with money Fort Bragg won through the Army Communities of Excellence Program. The program seeks to improve the infrastructure and facilities of Army posts around the world. The original statue will be refurbished at Simmons Army Airfield and sent to the Airborne & Special Operations Museum in downtown Fayetteville. "He has been busted for a long time," said Tom McCollum, a Fort Bragg spokesman. Despite its name, the statue isn't made of iron or metal. Staff photo by Andrew Craft The Iron Mike statue is lowered by a crane onto a flatbed truck Tuesday on Fort Bragg. It will be refurbished at Simmons Army Airfield. The designer used strips of polyester dipped in epoxy over a wire frame to shape the statue. For the past couple of years, soldiers have used duct tape and paint to make repairs. Over time, water has seeped through the cracks. "He is falling apart inside," said Tim Shea, the deputy transportation officer at Fort Bragg. $4,340 tribute The statue was proposed in the late 1950s as a tribute to airborne soldiers. Lt. Gen. Robert F. Sink, the commanding general of Fort Bragg at the time, commissioned Leah Hiebert to sculpt the "Airborne Trooper." Hiebert, the wife of the deputy post chaplain, began making the statue in June 1960. She modeled it after Sgt. Maj. James L. Runyon, who dressed in a World War II uniform and combat equipment. The statue was completed in August 1961 and dedicated during a ceremony Sept. 23, 1961. The project cost $4,340. For 18 years, Iron Mike sat at the southern entrance to the post on Bragg Boulevard. But the statue was a constant target of vandals who painted its helmet orange and wrapped it in a diaper during the Vietnam War. In 1979, Iron Mike was moved to the traffic circle for protection. No one knows exactly how the statue got its name. Some believe it came from several heroic World War II soldiers named Mike who continued fighting even after they were wounded. Others believe the name is not really attached to any individual. A flatbed ride PHOTOS Iron Mike retires Early on Tuesday, workers placed steel wires under the base and lifted the statue and its concrete pedestal onto a flatbed trailer pulled by a tractor-trailer. Around 9 a.m., the truck slowly pulled away from the traffic circle. A handful of spectators stood and watched. Col. Al Aycock, Fort Bragg's garrison commander, and several former paratroopers stood at attention and saluted as Iron Mike passed. Shea, the deputy transportation officer at Fort Bragg, helped plan the route that the statue took from the traffic circle to the airfield. Because Iron Mike stands more than 27 feet high, Shea had to figure out a way to move the statue without knocking down power lines. Workers from the power and cable company were on hand in case of an accident. Claude Bright, a retired warrant officer, stood on the grass and watched the workers take Iron Mike away. "It's history. I am watching the decades as they change," Bright said. He served with the 82nd and the 18th Airborne Corps and retired in 2002. Bright remembers in his more than 20 years of service re-enlisting scores of soldiers in front of the statue. It was a sacred place for paratroopers, Bright said. "Standing in front of Iron Mike, it had more of an importance," he said. "It shows what we went through." By the Numbers 16'4" Height from the right heel to the helmet top 3,235 Weight in pounds 12 Height in feet of the concrete pyramid base 104 Waistline in inches 4,340 Costin dollars in 1960 Staff writer Kevin Maurer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3587.