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Iron Mike statue gets an overdue spit shine

Ted Monnich, an art preservation specialist from Columbia, works on Iron Mike earlier this month at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. The 85-year-old statue  received a $13,000 makeover to remove mold and oxidization that was damaging the monument.
Ted Monnich, an art preservation specialist from Columbia, works on Iron Mike earlier this month at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. The 85-year-old statue received a $13,000 makeover to remove mold and oxidization that was damaging the monument.

Bearing the marks and scars of an 80-year battle with the elements, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island's most famous monument was long overdue for a makeover.

Iron Mike, formerly named the Parris Island Memorial, was dedicated in July 1924 in memory of Parris Island Marines killed in World War I. Created by sculptor Robert Ingersoll Aitken, the 12-foot bronze sculpture -- depicting a Marine with a machine gun slung over his shoulder and a .45-caliber pistol raised high over his head -- has sat at the end of Boulevard de France since being relocated in 1941, an icon of Parris Island and the Marine Corps.

Since it was installed, the depot has given Iron Mike an occasional wash with soap and water but nothing on the scale of the work performed earlier this month by a Columbia art preservation specialist.

Brig. Gen. James B. Laster, the depot'scommanding general, instructed his staff last year to look into ways to help Iron Mike clean up his act. The statue had a layer of mold on it, and the bronze had oxidized, leaving yellow streaks on the surface of the monument.

"The Iron Mike statue is an important piece of Marine Corps history," Laster said. "It was placed at Parris Island by Gen. John A. Lejeune when he was the commandant of the Marine Corps. In order to preserve this significant statue, we needed to properly maintain it."

Laster's order landed on the desk of Stephen Wise, the director of the Parris Island Museum and the base's cultural resources manager.

Wise's primary task was to find someone to restore the statue. He contacted an architecture firm in Charleston that had worked on statues there.He later was referred to Ted Monnich, a Columbia art preservation specialist whose resume includes work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C.

The depot requested $13,000 from the Navy to restore Iron Mike in January and received it in May,said Leroy Washington, the depot's supervising engineer technician.

Monnich spent nearly a week in early July chemically stabilizing the oxidization on the statute before removing the yellow streaks and restoring the statute to its original dark brown hue, according to the depot. He finished his work by sealing the monument with a coat of lacquer. The depot expects that the statute will never again have to be refurbished.

Monnich could not be reached for comment.

Washington said Parris Islandplans to restore other monuments on the 94-year-old base, starting with the Iwo Jima Monument near the depot's Parade Deck. He said he hopes to have the monument refurbished by the end of the year.

Wise said preserving Iron Mike, which draws its nickname from a moniker used for a "gung-ho type of military man that all other enlisted men wanted to be like," was important and necessary work.

"Iron Mike is one of the most recognizable statutes in the Marine Corps," Wise said. "It's a national treasure."

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