ABOVE: Brookings resident Bill Farrell, who served eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps, left the blackened remains of his statue in the ashes of a house fire 22 years ago, thinking it was worthless. The Pilot/Jef Hatch
Bill Farrell's statue, "...but not forgotten," was exactly that after his home burned down in Laguna Beach on April 17, 1991.
The Brookings man didn't have time to think about it at the time, as he was trying to escape the flames that were devouring his plaster and lathe home.
"I couldn't get out," he said. "I was trapped. The flames were all over the walls, I opened the door, they were right there. andhellip;
"I got my .45 and said, 'I ain't going to die this way.' And then there was this big blast. I thought the gas or water heater'd blown up. But it was the can of black powder in the living room. Blew the whole front window out. The fire went that way, chasing the oxygen. That's the only way I got out. If it hadn't been for that black powder, I couldn't have gotten out of there. No way."
He lost it all - even his guns were melted. The house had burned to the ground, along with his bronze statue of a Marine infantryman he'd had commissioned by artist C. Ross Morgan in 1988.
The 2-foot-tall statue features a strapping man, helmet in one hand, M-16 rifle in the other, slogging ankle deep through reeds in a swamp. On its wooden base lie dog tags.
It meant a lot to Farrell, as he served eight years in the U.S. Marines.
"It was such a hot fire, everything was gone. Everything," Farrell said. "The base was totally burned off. The last time I saw it was in the house where I left it. The statue was so black ... it was worthless."
The insurance company thought so, too, and wrote off the house and its contents as a total loss. The statue, No. 15 of 35 made, was left, presumably melted into a blob of metal. Farrell moved to Oregon in 1993.
22 years later
One day, three months ago, Farrell found himself thinking about the statue's artist, who lives in Sedona, Ariz.
"All of a sudden, I thought of Clyde," he said, shaking his head. "I went through my Rolodex, found an old number and thought, 'Well, I'll try.'"
He hit paydirt.
"He said, 'Bill, I have your '...but not forgotten.' I said, 'No ...' He said, 'No, I have it.' I thought he was kidding me. It totally never entered my mind. It's gone. That was it."
The statue was in the possession of a man who was trying to sell it at auction in San Diego last September, Morgan told him. The auctioneer became suspicious and called Morgan - who flew to Southern California and purchased it for $3,000, the original asking price.
Morgan thought the statue belonged to O.C. Dale, who served as the model for the statue. Dale had given his statue to his aunt, who had it stolen during a home burglary.
But when he scraped off the patina, the numbers revealed themselves: 15/35. And number 15 matched up in his records to Farrell.
"He didn't know about mine (in the fire)," Farrell said. "He asked if I wanted it back, and I said, 'What? Do you have to ask me that? Of course I do."
It took Morgan two months, but he restored it to its original condition.
Farrell paid for the restoration and was reunited with his statue, which now adorns his mantle, just over a week ago when Morgan's wife, LeeAnn, drove through town on a road trip to Washington.
"I told my wife, since you're headed that way, why don't you drop off the statue," Clyde said.
"And just look," he said. "Boy, did he ever get the details. See that rubber band around the helmet? That's what held our mosquito repellent in. He got it down to the way were. Perfect."
Thursday, he was still shaking his head in amazement.
"Out of the blue," he said. "I was just shocked. No way. No way. Twenty-two years and two months later. I've been on cloud nine for a week. I'm ecstatic."