Columbus Blue Jackets Founder John H. McConnell, who passed away last April, was posthumously given The United States Navy Memorial's Lone Sailor Award at a black tie gala held at The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. earlier this week. Other honorees at this year's ceremony included golf legend Arnold Palmer, Chairman and CEO of Proctor and Gamble A.G. Lafley and Congressman Norm Dicks (D-WA). Mr. McConnell's son, John P., accepted the award on his father's behalf.
The Lone Sailor Award © is given to Sea Service veterans who have excelled with distinction in their respective careers while exemplifying the core values of Honor, Courage and Commitment. Mr. McConnell joined the Navy and served aboard the USS Saratoga as a gunnery control man during World War II.
The Lone Sailor© is a composite of the U.S. Navy bluejacket, past, present and future. He's called the Lone Sailor, yet he is hardly ever alone, standing there on the broad granite plaza which forms the amphitheater of the Navy Memorial. Visitors to the Memorial are immediately drawn to him to peer into his far seeing eyes, to admire him or size him up, to see if he's as tough or as gentle as he seems. Visitors find that he is all that he seems and probably more.
The founders of the Navy Memorial envisioned this Lone Sailor at 25 years old at most, a senior second class petty officer who is fast becoming a seagoing veteran. He has done it all - fired his weapons in a dozen wars, weighed anchor from a thousand ports, tracked supplies, doused fires, repelled boarders, typed in quadruplicate and mess-cooked, too. He has made liberty call in great cities and tiny villages, where he played tourist, ambassador, missionary to the poor, adventurer, souvenir shopper and friend to new lands. His shipmates remember him with pride and tell their grandchildren stories, some of which, like him, are seven feet tall.
The bronze statue is the creation of Stanley Bleifeld, the United States Navy Memorial's official sculptor, selected by a board of recognized art authorities from a field of 36 sculptors identified in a six month, nationwide search. A native of New York City, Bleifeld maintains a studio at his home in Weston, Connecticut, and also in Pietrasanta, Italy.
Stanley Bleifeld served in the Navy in World War II. Like many other talented artists at the time, he was assigned as an illustrator for Navy training manuals; he never went into battle, but he helped train those who did.
After so long an absence from the Navy, Bleifeld visited the fleet and other Navy activities to help him see anew the American sailor in the sea environment; he further focused his impressions in meetings with the Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations, other senior officer and enlisted personnel, and his patrons -- the Navy Memorial Foundation officers, staff and board members. These patrons represented literally hundreds of years of Navy experience and acquaintance with the Lone Sailor.
The process of conceptualization, modeling, sculpting, and casting went through five initial images, four different models, and well over a year of work before culminating in the unveiling at the formal dedication of the Memorial on October 13, 1987 - on the anniversary of the Navy's birthday. The third model of a strong and brash young man leaning over a cleat, although very well received, was passed up in favor of an upright model. However a full casting of this model, dubbed the "Liberty Hound", was subsequently commissioned for the Jacksonville Navy Memorial in Jacksonville, Florida.
As part of the casting process, the bronze for The Lone Sailor © was mixed with artifacts from eight U. S. Navy ships, provided by the curator for the Navy in the Naval Historical Center at the Washington Navy Yard. The ships span the Navy's history, yielding small pieces of copper sheeting, spikes, hammock hooks and other fragments from the post-revolutionary frigates Constitution (``Old Ironsides'') and Constellation; the steamer Hartford, flagship of Admiral David G. Farragut in the Civil War era; the battleship USS Maine; the iron-hulled steamer/sailing ship USS Ranger; the World War II-era cruiser USS Biloxi and aircraft carrier USS Hancock, and the nuclear-powered submarine USS Seawolf. One last addition was a personal decoration from today's Navy, one given to sailors in war and peace, the National Defense Service Medal. These bits of metal are now part of The Lone Sailor©.
Reaction to The Lone Sailor © has been gratifying. "He certainly represents us," is the claim heard from nearly every Navy community, active or retired. The Navy Memorial Foundation regularly receives telephone calls or notes from Navy veterans or their families wondering where the Foundation obtained their photograph as the model for the statue. The Lone Sailor© is impressive to people who have never served in the Navy and powerfully so for those who have served.
"You would want this guy at your battle station when it's not a drill," former Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Billy C. Sanders says of The Lone Sailor©. "He is the classic American sailor. That statue looks like bronze, but there is plenty of salt, paint, sweat, fuel oil and courage stirred in."