Skip to content

Douwe Blumberg Statue to be First Near Ground Zero




As originally printed in the Washington Times: NORMAN, Okla. — The first statue near ground zero to salute the heroes of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will not depict a New York firefighter or policeman — but a lone U.S. commando on horseback in the Afghan mountains.

Titled “De Oppresso Liber” — “to free the oppressed,” the Green Berets’ motto — the 3-ton, 18-foot-tall bronze monument was forged to honor the troops who first responded to al Qaeda’s attack from its safe haven in Afghanistan.

A piece of steel from the World Trade Center is embedded in its base, which bears the words “America’s Response Monument.” The statue will be unveiled during the national Veterans Day Parade in New York on Nov. 11.

Its artist, Douwe Blumberg, was inspired in part by a photo of commandos on horseback in Afghanistan that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld displayed during a news conference in late 2001.

“The visual irony of a 21st-century, high-tech trooper mounted on a ragged Afghan mountain horse, unchanged for centuries, fascinated me,” said Mr. Blumberg, who incorporated the stories of four of the first horseback commandos as he cast the statue in Norman.

“No one man did it, no one horse did it, no one commander did it. It was a collective mission,” Army Sgt. 1st Class Joe Jung, a Green Beret medic and sniper, told the artist.

Three teams of “killer elite” — a total of 34 U.S. commandos on horses — were tasked with something without precedent: orchestrating tribal warfare against the Taliban, al Qaeda’s protector in Afghanistan. They led the Northern Alliance, a group of warlords and freedom fighters, into combat against the Taliban and directed laser-guided U.S. airstrikes against the regime.

“These are the guys that, if it’s impossible, they’ll excel. And that’s what they did,” said retired Lt. Col. Max Bowers, their Special Forces ground commander.

The modern commandos even witnessed a cavalry charge: “Horses start rolling, bombs go off, except instead of sabers being swung, it was AK-47s,” said retired Master Sgt. Chris Spence, who took the famous photo Mr. Rumsfeld displayed to the press.

“American sentiment was: ‘We need to get those bastards,’ ” Sgt. Spence added. “That was the bottom line.”

For Sgt. Jung, the medic, that meant continuing the mission with a broken back after his horse slipped in the treacherous mountains and fell on top of him in the first days of their mission.

“Two shots of morphine to relieve the pain and get back on the horse. I would not allow myself to be the weak link. It’s not in my nature, and it’s not in any Green Beret’s nature,” said Sgt. Jung, who currently is serving at Army Special Operations Command.

Col. Bowers, who chose each commando for this secret mission, always carried with him a piece of the World Trade Center while he advised Northern Alliance warlords during violent battles in Mazar-e-Sharif and Kunduz.

“We were almost slaughtered. It could have become a massacre,” he said.

Their Air Force combat controller — Master Sgt. Bart Decker, now retired — radioed for airstrikes, calling in bombing coordinates to a female navigator on an AC-130 gunship nicknamed “the Angel of Death.”

“The warlord we were advising heard her on my radio and broadcast to the enemy: ‘Female up in this airplane is wreaking havoc on you,’ ” Sgt. Decker recalled. “That’s an insult, obviously, to the Taliban, who used to beat down their women.”

After the Taliban fell, the commandos buried Col. Bowers‘ fragment of the World Trade Center inAfghanistan. “We did that because the [reason for] sending U.S. forces to Afghanistan was that 9/11 attack — and New York’s firefighters, police and emergency responders had done such a great job,” the colonel said.

Two New York firefighters witnessed the ceremony.

“We went over to thank them. They even wore our baseball caps,” said Monsignor John Delendick, a chaplain for New York’s fire department. “It impressed me that they gathered with us, even though they risked blowing their cover. We were the first soldiers in the war against terror and took a beating at the World Trade Center. These soldiers took it from there.”

In forging the statue, Mr. Blumberg paid attention to the commandos’ stories and included tiny details: In the tread of the soldier’s boots are pieces of gravel from Afghanistan that a Green Beret gave the artist for inspiration.

Another detail: On the soldier’s left hand is the outline of a wedding band under his glove. “That’s my way of tipping my hat to wives, marriages and strain on families,” Mr. Blumberg said. “It’s to acknowledge the stresses caused by multiple deployments.”

The statue will be located temporarily at One World Financial Center until its final installment near ground zero. A group of 9/11 survivors from Wall Street, who asked to remain anonymous, paid for the statue’s creation, and no public funds were used.

On Nov. 12, Army Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, commander of Special Operations Command, will present to New York Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano a map showing where the commandos buried that piece of the World Trade Center in Afghanistan.


More Stories

  • **Updated Event Cancellations

    Saddle Horse Report will provide daily updates to the list of canceled and postponed horse events. Read More
  • Latest Issue 9 21 20

    Read More
  • From the Desk of Marty Schaffel: Change Is Not Easy

    Robert Samuelson is a well-respected columnist on topics of economics and human behavior. He has been writing since the early ’70s.  He wrote his farewell column this week, and I excerpted the above quotation from him... Read More
  • CH Fiasco Succumbs to Heart Failure

    CH Fiasco, the first ever Western Country Pleasure World’s Champion of Champions died of heart failure September 13th at Michael Craghead Stables in Fresno, California. The big, beautiful bay gelding set the standard for the Western country pleasure division with Doug Glick. Read More
  • UPHA Update

    COVID-19 has caused many changes in our world and has had a significant impact on our sport. We have all learned to wear our face coverings, practice social distancing and elbow bump instead of shaking hands or giving hugs. It has been a steep learning curve, but our equine industry has risen to the challenge and prevailed when many other sports have faltered. Read More
  • UPHA/American Royal National Championship Horse Show Update

    With concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the health and safety of our guests, community members, volunteers, and our employees is our top priority. We are working to make sure our operations will run smoothly and safely for all our attendees at the 2020 UPHA/American Royal National Championship Horse Show in November.  Read More
  • Osteen Captures the All American Action

    Rick Osteen, official photographer at the All American Horse Classic, has proofs available online at www.rickosteen.com and despite not being able to set up his viewing table he and wife Joni are fulfilling orders as quickly as possible. Read More
  • Rock Creek Cancelled

    The Board of Directors of the Rock Creek Riding Club regret to announce that they have made the difficult decision to cancel this year’s show.  We had high hopes that rescheduling the traditional June show for October would allow us to do justice to the Rock Creek tradition even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Read More
  • American Saddlebred Museum Accepting Consignments

    The American Saddlebred Museum is pleased to accept consignments for the next Equine Art, Antique, and Rare Book Auction taking place in July 2021. To prepare for this much loved event, the Museum is accepting consignments until February 1, 2021. Read More
  • Latest Issue 9 14 20 Insert

    Read More