Duluth veteran's statue to be unveiled Friday

A statue depicting U.S. Navy Cmdr. David Wheat, a Vietnam vet who spent 7 1/2 years in captivity as a prisoner of war before returning to his home in Duluth, will be unveiled this Friday.

A statue depicting U.S. Navy Cmdr. David Wheat, a Vietnam vet who spent 7½ years in captivity as a prisoner of war before returning to his home in Duluth, will be unveiled this Friday.

But exactly where the $60,000 sculpture will be displayed remains an open question.

The piece, created by University of Wisconsin-Superior professor Tim Cleary, was designed to honor Wheat as well as other U.S. service members who fought, died or were imprisoned in Vietnam. It was funded through local donations.

Preparations have been made to put the statue on permanent display outside the entrance of Duluth International Airport, but then objections began to emerge that it should be placed inside the terminal.

Daniel Fanning, Duluth's communication and policy director, explained that outdoor exhibition would make it easier for viewers to fully take in the sculpture from all angles.


"The initial thought to put the statue outside was in no way a sign of disrespect or a diminishing of the statue," he said. "The thought process was that it worked a little better in that location because there was more space around the statue."

But Brad Bennett, a WDSM radio host, has called repeatedly for the sculpture to be displayed inside the airport, saying that would be more respectful and consistent with Wheat's wishes.

Wheat did not return a reporter's call to his home Tuesday afternoon.

Fanning said he looks to Wheat for direction.

"The most important thing is making sure David and his family are honored the way that they want to be honored and that they deserve to be honored, quite frankly. The city and the airport remain committed to making that work," he said.

But landscaping and lighting design have already gone into an outdoor installation.

"Everyone who has been involved with this process, from the veterans committee to the airport to the city to the contractors who have stepped up to donate a lot of their time and materials, every single person who has been involved in this project has wanted to make sure that David Wheat is honored appropriately," Fanning said.

John Marshall, project chair and member of the Northland Veterans Service Committee, voiced his hope that debate over how the sculpture should be displayed will not detract from the effort to celebrate Wheat and 62 other fellow Vietnam War vets who went missing in action or became prisoners of war.


"The intent is to honor all 63 and more specifically, Dave, as our native son. By having a sculpture of him in his prison garb, hands bound and cuffed, looking up at a prison window, it's a very, very powerful monument. When you see it, you'll be absolutely amazed at the impact," Marshall said.

He described Wheat as an inspiration.

"This man is so humble. It's just amazing the indomitable spirit that this man had to survive and then come back and be such a productive member of society," Marshall said

There will be plenty of time to sort display details later, Marshall assured.

"After we get this unveiled, we will work on getting it located in a place of prominence," he pledged.

WHAT: Unveiling of David Wheat statue

WHERE: Commemorative Air Force Lake Superior Squadron, 4931 Airport Road, Duluth

WHEN: 4 p.m. Friday


WHO: Members of the public encouraged to attend

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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