Statue pieces found in local creek

by Alan Hodge

Police recovered the head and helmet to this statue in a Mount Holly creek. (Alan Hodge/MIM photo)

Gaston police officials solved the mystery of what happened to a missing head and helmet of a vandalized World War II memorial statue last month, after the fragments were recovered from a Mount Holly creek.

With help from the Mount Holly and Belmont police departments, members of the Gastonia Police Department’s special dive team found the missing pieces on Feb. 8 in Dutchman’s Creek, near the North Main Street bridge. Vandals allegedly dumped pieces of the statue, formerly located at Belmont Middle School, at the location last July, where they stayed despite massive amounts of rain during August, Mount Holly Police Sgt. Jeff Skidmore said.

“I figured with all the rain we’ve had (the fragments) would have washed downstream,” he said.

Belmont Police Lt. Basil Marett led the investigation, and the Belmont Police Department arrested Justin Russell, 19, and Henry Diegert, 18, both of Mount Holly, and Steven Morgan, 18, of Stanly, for the alleged destruction of the statue and theft of the statue’s head on Feb. 9. Each man was charged with felony larceny, conspiracy to commit felony larceny and misdemeanor conspiracy to deface and injure a public statue, according to police reports.

The teens, Belmont Police Chief Charles Franklin said, pulled the statue, The Spirit of the Fighting Yank, off of its base and stole the head before driving to Mount Holly to throw it in Dutchman’s Creek.

Marett said divers found the head and helmet broken into four pieces.

“The water was about five feet deep and somewhat murky,” Marett said. “The divers put on scuba gear and scraped the creek bottom since silt had built up since the pieces were thrown in. After about 30 minutes of searching they found four pieces of the head and helmet. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of parts missing.”

Plans to replace the statue have been made, but an exact timeline or details have yet to be set. The statue’s body has remained at the Belmont Police Department since the incident and the recovered pieces are currently being held as evidence.

Erected in 1946 at the former Belmont High School, now Belmont Middle School, the statue used to hold a Thompson submachine gun that was stolen many years ago, but was never recovered. Artist E.M. Viquesney sculpted the piece, which was erected and dedicated in 1946 after his death. Only four other Spirit of the Fighting Yank statues exist in the country.

“We are glad to solve this case,” Franklin said. “For anyone to show this level of disrespect to our veterans is unacceptable.”

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