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When Army Spc. John Borbonus encountered a dump truck filled with explosives speeding toward his patrol base in Baghdad in April 2007, he fired on the vehicle, killing its driver. The truck didn't reach the base, but the ensuing explosion killed the 19-year-old.
The Idaho teen's swift action in saving his comrades earned him a Purple Heart.
Salt Lake City sculptor Lena Toritch was commissioned by friends of the family to create a monument to Borbonus, a testament not only to his bravery but to other military heroes who have given their lives. The life-size bronze statue was moved Tuesday to a park near Borbonus' hometown of Boise, Idaho, where it will stand.
Borbonus' father, Hans, agreed to donate land for the park a year before his son's death.
Toritch specializes in bronze portraits and says that her talent flows from getting to know her subjects' character through pictures and the memories of family and friends, which was especially important for Borbonus' statue, she said.
"As an outsider, you can't do it. You have to be an insider, get inside the story," Toritch said. "And it's not just looking at photos to know what they look like. You have to get to know them. He's not your typical hero. He's described as a fun kid and a practical joker, sometimes shy."
That didn't change while he was serving in Iraq.
"You never saw him angry or upset," said his cousin, Veronique Borbonus, who grew up with John almost like her little brother. "Even when his military buddies tell me stories of when they were deployed, they say he always had a funny little smirk on his face."
After his death, he was awarded the Bronze Star and Silver Star, at the recommendation of the friends he served with.
Veronique Borbonus and other family members helped in the monument's creation, critiquing Toritch's drawings and early versions of the statue. In May, they drove to Salt Lake City to see the final clay model that would be used to cast the bronze.
"I had seen pictures of it, but to actually walk in and see it gave me goose bumps," Veronique Borbonus said.
She also helped Toritch add an almost unnoticeable scar on Borbonus' face, the result of a dog bite when he was little. He refused treatment to make it less visible because he thought it made him look tough.
"The little scar is important to the family. It's part of their story of his childhood," Toritch said.
The statue depicts Borbonus in full uniform standing at ease next to an M240, the machine gun he used to stop the bomb-laden truck. The military gear is a perfect representation of the real thing from his helmet and patches down to the Velcro straps and way the boots are tied thanks to the help of a National Guard sergeant.
That means the monument tells his story. The monument will be installed in Kelly's Whitewater Park in Cascade, Idaho. A dedication service is scheduled for Sunday.
"It's cold bronze, but still it's familiar," Toritch said. "They want to touch the hand one more time, caress the cheek."
Veronique Borbonus agreed. "In a silly way, if I ever wanted to give him a hug, I could."