Planned Navy SEAL Memorial Divides Community

Statue Of Danny Dietz To Be Erected At Littleton's Berry Park

A statue of naval hero Danny Dietz will be unveiled July 4th at Berry Park in Littleton.

The statue, depicting Dietz in uniform with a rifle, is generating controversy among some nearby residents.

"It's right to honor Danny," said a resident named Gregg. "But the appropriateness of mixing war next to a playground with small children may not be appropriate."

Dissent about the statue caught the Dietz family off guard.

"The last few days have been pretty difficult," said Cindy Dietz, the slain hero's mom, "but not nearly as difficult as losing our son. We understand that a small number of people don't want us to erect this sculpture. Ironically, D.J. died defending their right to disagree."

Cindy said her family asked that the statue be modeled after the last photograph taken of her son -- both to honor him and to convey "that defending freedom is a dangerous business."

"This is what Danny died for, for people to have dissent and protest," said Dan Dietz, Danny's father.

Community leaders raised $42,000 for the sculpture honoring Dietz, who received the Navy Cross, the Navy's second-highest medal, after his death in Afghanistan.

Officials told Dietz's family that on June 28, 2005, Dietz and three other Navy SEALs were ambushed by al-Qaeda guerrillas. Dietz, 25, severely wounded, fought off attackers for more than 45 minutes, allowing one of his team members to escape.

A Chinook helicopter en route to search for Dietz's four-man reconnaissance team crashed, killing all 16 aboard -- eight special operations soldiers and eight Navy SEALs. The U.S. military believes the helicopter was shot down by insurgents.

"I don't believe it (the statue) promotes violence. It's an American hero who gave his life for all of us," Cindy said.

The statue is being cast in Canon City and will be placed on the west side of Berry Park in Littleton. Cindy Dietz said Danny attended two schools near that park.

Dan said he understands that there are differing viewpoints and he respects those viewpoints. However, he said that the statue depicts the reality of defending freedom.

The Dietz' may be understanding, but state Sen. Steve Ward, (R) Littleton, is less so.

"What's next? Do we want to take the bursting bomb out of the Star Spangled Banner," said the veteran who served in Afganistan. "Perhaps we shoud recast the Marine Corps Memorial, so the marines are not depicted with rifles. This is a pathetic reflection of political correctness, and I admire the city and the Dietz family for staying the course."

Littleton City Manager Jim Woods said they are moving forward as planned.

"Based on the public feedback we've had, I think most of the citizens of Littleton feel like it's an appropriate selection," he said.

Meanwhile, veterans are speaking out in favor of the memorial. Tim Drago, a Vietnam Veteran who founded the Colorado Veterans Monument, said the Dietz memorial is the right image in the right place.

"It's in a prominent location. It sends a message, and for a message to be heard, people have to be able to respond to it and see it," he said.

As far as the weapon, he points to the statue of Private Joe Martinez outside the Capitol. It was unveiled in the 1980s, and Martinez is carrying an automatic weapon.

"I make this analogy, and it sounds trite, but to have a soldier without his weapon would be like having a plumber without a pipe wrench," he said. "It's a tool of their trade. It's what they use, and they should be allowed to have that weapon."

Dietz was buried in July, 2005 at Fort Logan National Cemetery, not far from Heritage High School in Littleton, where he graduated in 1999.

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