GILBERTVILLE, Iowa (AP) — The first female commander of Gilbertville's American Legion post was the perfect model for a new statue that will honor female veterans in the eastern Iowa community, a park committee official said.
The statue that will be dedicated on Memorial Day will join four others in Veterans Park, but it will be the first to depict a woman. It was made in the likeness of Melissa Knight, an Iraq War veteran who became commander of American Legion Post 714 in Gilbertville, just south of Waterloo.
“We don't feel women are receiving the honor they deserve for their sacrifices, leaving children and husbands behind,” Park Committee Chairwoman Linda Freet said. “We thought ‘Why not have a local vet's face on that statue?' (Knight is) very special to us.
“Melissa was the first woman Legion commander, and her grandpa was its first commander. There's nice history there.”
The concrete statue, which was delivered to the park Wednesday, depicts a woman in combat gear, holding a rifle and Kevlar helmet.
Knight served from 2000 to 2008 in the Army Reserves. She drove a truck and was a gunner during convoy duty in Iraq for a year beginning in 2004.
After leaving the military, she became commander of the local Legion post at age 26.
“I thought it looked great,” Knight said. “It's quite an honor. It's a big step for female veterans, and it shows more are joining all the time ... and serving (in combat roles) during wartime.”
Knight, a counselor at Irving Elementary School in Waterloo, said she hopes to attend the Memorial Day ceremony, but she and her husband, Dustin Knight, are expecting their first child next week.
The statue was paid for by a $6,500 grant from the Black Hawk County Gaming Association.
Veterans Park was dedicated in 2009 in Gilbertville, a community of about 700 people.
The park's four other statues represent the major branches of the armed forces. The community also has built a gazebo with granite monuments that depict military scenes.