The Sentinel:  The Perfect Watchman

Details matter.  More so to a soldier than perhaps most anyone else as battles and wars are literally won or lost in the decisive moments of parsing details in order to craft strategy for carrying out a mission and defeating an opponent.  

Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.  A mantra familiar to every U.S. Marine is built on the critical importance of details to a soldier.  

When it came to designing a bronze statue to serve as a symbolic, yet real and ever-present watchman over Kingsport’s honored, inspiration was/is definitely evident in the details of the Kingsport Veterans Memorial’s sentinel.  “There was zero margin of error,” artist and Sentinel creator Val Lyle said regarding the design process.  “The hands have to hold the weapon correctly, in exactly this position, so I actually worked backwards from that.”1

Lyle, an acclaimed artist, sculptor and painter from nearby Bristol, Tennessee, would know all about details.  Titled “Spirit of Generosity” and serving as a focal point at Kingsport’s Centennial Park, Lyle’s full-size bronze Santa sculpture was unveiled on November 17, 2017 paying honor to the 75th anniversary of Kingsport’s Santa Train.  The wonderfully gifted Lyle has performed similar pieces for other destinations including the wildly popular interactive artwork titled “Take the Stage” for Bristol’s Birthplace of Country Music Museum.  

Using a roughly 5,000-year-old creative process known as “lost wax casting” that took 18 months to complete from start to finish, The Sentinel features stunning detail ranging from the stitches in the guard’s uniform, to the details present in the service weapon, and even the nameplate “Lane” found on the back of the sentinel’s backpack.  So detailed, in fact, is The Sentinel that Lyle’s finished product is considered a stunning, almost spitting image of the real-life soldier who served as model for the statue.

U.S. Marine Major Kyle May, of nearby Johnson City, not only served as model to assist with the detail of the design, but also served as an advisor on the project working closely with Lyle, members of the Armed Forces Reserve Center (Gray, TN), and the Veterans Memorial Subcommittee to ensure all details in the equipment and uniform of the sentinel were accurate, currently in use by modern-day service men and women, and representative of a true soldier regardless of the branch of service.  May and the Armed Forces Reserve Center roles in the creation process were critical in order to ensure accurate detail as civilians such as Lyle cannot easily access military equipment. Both May and those at the Armed Forces Reserve Center were honored to contribute.  “It represents all those who have gone before and who will continue to follow in our footsteps, to take the initiative, to step up and support everything our Constitution and our country stands for.  That’s really what it’s about,” said May.2

“I think our veteran community and the community as a whole is going to be absolutely overwhelmed with the level of detail of this sentinel,” added Miles Burdine, president and CEO of the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce and retired U.S. Marine colonel.3

Indeed, Kingsport veterans and others in the community are overwhelmingly amazed by the detail and proud of their sentinel.  The 6-foot, 4-inch tall, 700-pound hollow statue was officially unveiled and dedicated before a solemn crowd of Veterans Day service attendees on November 12, 2018.  On this day, Ernie Rumsby, then president of the Tri-Cities Military Affairs Council, spoke reminding everyone, “These men and women don’t volunteer for the recognition, the fame or the honor we bestow upon them… they fight to protect our country and to maintain our way of life.” 4  Men like local U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Master Gunnery Sgt. Kenneth Lane, whose nameplate is among the details found on the back of the sentinel’s backpack, personify the type of volunteer Rumsby spoke of.  Lane served in Vietnam and again later in Iraq. 

Oh yes, details matter.  Details that only a veteran can understand are part of the reason the Veterans Memorial Subcommittee is comprised of veterans from the Kingsport community serving as advocates to protect the integrity of the memorial and to ensure that any improvements or maintenance needed to the memorial are performed.

It was the attention to detail in the planning and design of the Kingsport Veterans Memorial that inspired retired U.S. Navy Captain Herbert V. Ladley to make the donation that made The Sentinel’s creation possible.  Ladley, a veteran of two wars, served his country proudly in World War II serving as a member of a fighter squadron stationed in the Pacific aboard aircraft carriers U.S.S. Langley and U.S.S. Cabot.  Ladley also served during the Korean War stationed aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S Eldorado.  Additional funding was provided by the City of Kingsport. 

Details mattered to the veterans who are honored within the confines of the memorial, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and they matter to those who continue to volunteer to defend Kingsport and our country’s way of life.       


1 McGee, David.  “Local Artist Creating ‘Sentinel’ Sculpture for Kingsport Veterans Memorial Park.” Bristol Herald-Courier; 8 June, 2018

2 Lane, Matthew.  “Kingsport Veterans Memorial Now has a New Sentinel on Duty.”  Kingsport Times-News; 6 November, 2018

3 Lane, Matthew.  “Kingsport Veterans Memorial Now has a New Sentinel on Duty.”  Kingsport Times-News; 6 November, 2018

4 Lane, Matthew.  “Always on Duty.  Crowd braves rain, cold to honor veterans, dedicate new sentinel at Kingsport memorial.”  Kingsport Times-News; 13 November, 2018