A new memorial dedicated to local veterans will also salute their fuzzy, loyal companions.

Herkimer County residents have a little over a week before seeing a breathtaking new statue that honors their best and brightest.

The Herkimer Guardians of Freedom Memorial will be unveiled Saturday, October 15.

The bronze structure will be located at 799 Mohawk Street, near the thruway.

A Labor of Love

Groundbreaking on the new memorial started eight years ago with critical support from John Brezinski, a local legislator and the Chairperson of the Guardians of Freedom Memorial.

Brezinski's vision was to honor veterans and the dogs that dutifully served by their side.

He told WKTV:

I was trying, somehow, to honor the four legged soldiers... the veterans, the four legged dogs that served since before World War I. These dogs are very very important to people that are in these wars because of their noses and their senses. They're very valuable to the veterans that fight these wars.

As for the soldier who will be immortalized with this statue, Brezinski set out to locate a photo of a veteran and their trusty companion.

Honoring US Marine Sgt. Adam Cann and Bruno

Brezinski consulted Tim Trainor and Rob Jenkins to find a photo of a soldier and their war dog. That led him to United States Marine Sgt. Adam Cann and his loyal friend, Bruno.

Courtesy Herkimer Guardians of Freedom Memorial
Courtesy Herkimer Guardians of Freedom Memorial

Cann died weeks before his 24th birthday on January 5, 2006. He lost his life to a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. Cann threw himself onto two fellow Marines and Bruno.

They survived because of Cann's sacrifice. Bruno recovered from the attack and passed away in 2011.

Cann was the first Military K-9 handler to die in combat since the Vietnam War. He was also awarded the Bronze Star for Valor.

Brezinski was moved by Cann's story and called his family in Florida to ask if he could design the monument in his honor. He was granted legal permission.

Designed by Lena Toritch

The bronze statue was created by sculptor Lena Toritch, who hails from Utah.

Courtesy Herkimer Guardians of Freedom Memorial
Courtesy Herkimer Guardians of Freedom Memorial

The official website for the Herkimer Guardians of Freedom Memorial explained:

This statue will be created to honor all handlers and their dogs which have bravely served the United States of America.

Lena Toritch, MFA, creates detailed bronze statues of many shapes and sizes. From animals to humans of every age, Toritch is skilled in making these statues in the likeness of individuals.

Those interested in honoring Cann and those we lost to combat can visit the official statue unveiling on Saturday, October 15.

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Gallery Credit: Rob Banks