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It began with a rotor blade.
Steven McKaig, technology education instructor at Anderson County High School, said his original intent wasn’t to create a memorial in his classroom.
He had been talking with student Caleb Tiedi about their mutual interest in military aircraft, and Tiedi offered to talk to his father, who possessed a decommissioned helicopter main rotor blade from a Kiowa OH56 Army utility helicopter.
Tiedi’s father brought in the helicopter part, and McKaig decided to mount the 16-18-foot, 300-pound blade to his ceiling with the help of some students. Since then, McKaig and his students worked collaboratively, piece by piece, to create a complete memorial in the classroom.
“It kind of grew,” McKaig said of the project.
McKaig said he was surprised when he first received permission from principal Ronnie Fields to hang the rotor blade.
“I’m asking to suspend a rather large rotor blade above the heads of my students,” he said.
But McKaig said he was careful in choosing the hardware and method of installing the blade, using three steel cables and steel brackets to mount it into the wall.
About 12 students, some from independent art study courses and others from McKaig’s graphic design class, worked on the large helicopter mural for the next three years, filling in details such as mixing custom paint to match the Army green to painting the eagle on top of the flag pole.
McKaig estimated that it took students about 100 hours for the painting of the helicopter alone.
A banner hangs next to the mural, listing the names of the Kentucky National Guard servicemen who fought and died in the Iraq conflict.
“I would hope that [the memorial] would add to my classroom, keep our servicemen in the minds of the kids,” McKaig said.
His decision to recognize the National Guard through the memorial was three-fold: the blade came from a National Guard/Army vehicle; it was rare to find an inclusively National Guard memorial; and McKaig personally knew a friend serving with the National Guard.
McKaig said he’s still thinking of including a quote to bring the banner, the mural and the suspended helicopter rotor blade together.
He thought of something from an essay written by one of his students, Kelly Harlan, about her father and his friend Donald Harlan, a National Guardsman deployed in Iraq: “‘Most people don’t realize, but the families of soldiers serve, too.’”
Now that the memorial is nearly complete, McKaig said he hopes it can teach his students that freedom isn’t free.
“I hope that I can communicate to them, in some small way, that they should show support for the military when there are people you don’t know who are willing to risk their lives for your freedom,” he said.
McKaig said he hopes to hold a dedication for his memorial toward the beginning of the school year, and plans to put information about the project and dedication on his web page on the school website.
For more information, contact McKaig by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 502-600-8312.