With Nogales’ traditional Veterans day parade called off due to COVID-19, one local veteran is putting a pandemic-safe sculpture display out for the holiday.
For Veterans Day 2020, on Wednesday, a wooden sculpture of the flag raising at Iwo Jima will be displayed by the Wall of Honor at Nogales City Hall.
The artist behind the sculpture is Ray Contreras, a veteran who lives in Rio Rico. He originally built the piece for the 2018 Veterans Day parade, where it was pulled behind a pick-up truck with several children riding along. “I figured, this is something I wanted to do for the community,” he said.
On Friday, Contreras and Jose “Joe” Diaz, the commander of the local VFW post, and Ramiro Estrella, the VFW manager, pulled the piece out of storage and got ready to display it again.
Diaz said he wishes the organization’s annual parade could go on this year, but, given the situation, he’s glad to be doing something to commemorate Veterans Day.
For this year’s display, Contreras is planning to mount the sculpture on a 6-by-10-foot stage. On the stage, underneath the sculpture, he’ll attach emblems from the different armed services, and flags will be placed around the display.
Contreras said he chose to carve the flag raising at Iwo Jima because it’s an iconic scene from a battle that U.S. soldiers won despite having the odds against them. “We all want to relate to a victory, to winning a battle,” he said.
He’s hoping local residents will come by City Hall to look at the sculpture, take a selfie, and maybe get inspired to learn about veterans issues.
The project took several weeks to complete when Contreras carved it in 2018. He used a jigsaw to make the initial carving, then sanded the surfaces and did the artwork.
Contreras, who’s in his 60s, is a California native and said he picked up his skills over the course of a 25-year career as a Hollywood set designer and prop master. But he’s found a way to put his talents to work in the local community since he moved here three years ago.
Shortly after he moved to Rio Rico, he said, he heard that Nogales High School students were working on a float for the Homecoming parade. He offered to pitch in, ultimately building the structure for the sophomore class’ “The Jetsons”-themed float.
These days, he keeps busy by remodeling homes in Nogales and Rio Rico.
Contreras said he’s planning to put a few finishing touches on the sculpture that he hadn’t managed to complete for the 2018 parade. And he hopes that the artwork can bring people together after a difficult and divisive year: “I thought, man, it’s time for some unity.”