Airborne Trooper Statue, Fayettevile
Leah Heibert, Sculptor
Leah Heibert, Designer
This is the original of two identical statues depicting a World War II-era paratrooper with one foot propped on a pile of rocks and holding a Thompson submachine gun. It was originally proposed by Lt. General Robert Sink as a tribute to airborne soldiers. This version is constructed of fiberglass over a steel frame. News reports from 1961 indicated the statue as fifteen feet tall and weighing 2,500 pounds but measurements taken during restoration report the height as sixteen feet four inches tall and weighing 3,235 pounds. The rock base is roughly five feet tall. The rocks forming the statue’s base have great significance. They were brought from Currahee Mountain near Camp Toccoa in Georgia where the first paratroopers were trained. Paratroopers would run three miles up and three miles down this mountain for training.
Images: Face | Plaque | Back view | Facing the NC Veterans Park
Photos courtesy of the Fayetteville Observer (Fayettevile, NC):
Original location at Knox Road and Bragg Boulevard | Leah Hiebert sculpting model for statue. 1960 | Leah Hiebert with head of Iron Mike, 1961 | Sgt. Major James L. Runyon modeling for Iron Mike | Work on the sculpture continues, 1961
Front, Outside edge of landscape feature: IRON MIKE / IN HONOR OF / AIRBORNE TROOPERS / WHOSE COURAGE, / DEDICATION, AND / TRADITIONS MAKE THEM / THE WORLD’S FINEST / FIGHTING SOLDIERS
Front, rock base: THE ROCK BASE BENEATH IRON MIKE HAS ITS OWN STORY. IN JULY 1942 OVER 5,000 / MEN ARRIVED AT CAMP TOCCOA FOR TRAINING AS A NEW TYPE OF SOLDIER, A / PARATROOPER. OVER THE NEXT FEW YEARS OVER 17,000 SOLDIERS OF THE 501ST, 506TH, / 511TH AND THE 517 PARACHUTE INFANTRY REGIMENTS TRAINED AT CAMP TOCCOA. / THESE BOULDERS WERE ACQUIRED WITH THE ASSISTANCE OF THE LANDOWNER, THE US / ARMY AND THE CITY OF FAYETTEVILLE FROM THE STORIED CURRAHEE MOUNTAIN IN / TOCCOA, GEORGIA. TODAY “CURRAHEE’ IS THE MOTTO OF THE 506TH PIR. / “CURRAHEE IS A NATIVE AMERICAN WORK THAT MEANS “STAND ALONE”. / PARATROOPERS “STAND ALONE” AS THEY DROP BEHIND ENEMY LINES
United States Department of the Army, Fort Bragg, North Carolina
September 23, 1961
35.055950 , -78.885480 View in Geobrowse
“Airborne Trooper Statue To Be Unveiled Saturday,” The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, NC), September 21, 1961, 1C
"Iron Mike, (sculpture)," Art Inventories Catalog, Smithsonian American Art Museum, (accessed June 27, 2014) Link
"Leah L Penner Hiebert," Find a Grave, findagrave.com, (accessed August 18, 2015) Link
"Museums," Fort Bragg, (accessed June 26, 2014) Link
Airborne & Special Operations Museum Foundation, asomf.org, (accessed January 10, 2017) Link
Futch, Michael. “A Fete Of Feats,” The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, NC), August 15, 2010
Maurer, Kevin. “Mike Is Home,” The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, NC), August 6, 2005
“Iron Mike,” Airborne & Special Operations Museum Foundation, (accessed August 18, 2015) Link
“Monument To Airborne Unveiled,” The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, NC), September 24, 1961, 11A
“Statue Honoring Airborne Unveiled,” The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, NC), September 23, 1961, 1B
The supporting material for the statue is steel with the basic details outlined in steel mesh. The primary coat forming the figure is polyester resin with chopped glass fibers. A secondary and final coat of epoxy resin, glass fibers and bronze powder were then applied. The basic outline of the boots, helmet and entrenching tool were made from wrought iron.
United States Army
Lieutenant General T.J.H. Trapnell presided over the 1961 dedication ceremony attended by civilian and military friends. Commenting on the Cold War, Trapnell was quoted as saying “the paratrooper is now a symbol to freedom-seeking peoples throughout the world.” Mrs. William C. Lee, widow of the late Major General Lee, considered to be the father of the airborne, had the honor of pulling a rip cord to release the parachute silk covering the statue. As the fabric fell away 82nd Airborne Division artillery boomed a 21 gun salute.
After restoration and relocation to the Airborne and Special Operations Museum, Iron Mike was rededicated on National Airborne Day, August 14, 2010 before a crowd 5000 people on a hot, muggy day that also commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Army Parachute Test Platoon’s first official jump. The day’s activities were designed to celebrate the significant role of the airborne soldier over the years. Special guests included retired Lt. Gen. Richard Seitz, General James J. Lindsay and Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick then commander of Ft. Bragg and the 18th Airborne Corp. During his comments Gen. Helmick noted that “Airborne soldiers are a different breed of soldier. When they take on a task, they go all the way.” During the course of events elite parachutists from the Army’s Golden Knights, the Special Operations Command parachute team the Black Daggers and the 82nd Airborne’s All American Free-Fall Team maneuvered overhead before landing at the museum.
The sculptor, Leah Hiebert was the wife of the deputy post chaplain Samuel L. Hiebert. She studied painting and sculpture in Japan, Germany, Holland and the United States. In 1947 she became the first western female to have a solo show in Korea. She later had four of her sculptures in the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art, the first American woman so honored. She wrote three books, one an autobiography titled 50 Journeys (1982) and one titled The Making of Iron Mike (2006) published when she was 96.
Sgt. Major James L. Runyon dressed in World War Two uniform and combat equipment modeled for the statue. General Sink intended for him to resemble artwork from the cover of Those Devils in Baggy Pants, a first-hand account of World War Two paratroopers in combat written by Ross Carter. Runyon had jumped into Normandy on June 6, 1944 with the 101st Airborne Division.
Begun in 2014, The “Mike to Mike” Half Marathon and All American Marathon take place in Fayetteville/Ft. Bragg, starting near the original Iron Mike Statue in front of the Airborne & Special Operations Museum in Historic Downtown Fayetteville, finishing near the replica Iron Mike Statue on Fort Bragg.
The statue was moved from its original location at the Knox Street entrance of Ft. Bragg to its second location on Randolph Street in 1979. It had become a common target for vandals and anti-war protesters and was moved for its protection.
The statue stands outside the entrance to the Airborne and Special Operations Museum facing north looking towards the North Carolina Veterans Park. The museum is located at 100 Bragg Blvd. Fayetteville, NC 28301. The statue is flanked across the circular drive by sixty seven marble markers to individual airborne and special operations units (As of May, 2015). The sidewalk leading to the statue is embedded with square marble blocks inscribed in memory of individual deceased veterans. The General Hugh Shelton statue stands down a tree-lined sidewalk to the north of Iron Mike next to a grass lawn. The Black Test Platoon Marker and Special Operations Force Dog memorial are nearby.
The statue sits inside a circular sidewalk which in turn is separated from the front entrance to the museum by a circular drive. This landscape element is circled by a black chain on short post and low shrubs as ground cover.
The original location was at the entrance to Ft. Bragg at Bragg Blvd. and Knox Streets where it remained until 1979. The second location was in the traffic circle at Randolph and Armistead Streets where it remained until a bronze replica was dedicated at the same location in 2005. The statue was in storage from 2005 to 2010 while undergoing restoration.