Brown County Browser: Doughboy has unique history

Brown County Browser

Have you seen the large bronze statue of the World War I soldier in the New Ulm City Cemetery? I have and I also gave it no more thought that this statue was the only one of its kind. After all, most war memorials are unique to their placement by the particular group who commissioned the design.

Our Brown County Veterans Memorial, which rests on the Courthouse lawn, was designed by Craig Schmidtke and it’s the only one of its kind. The large bronze statue at the cemetery is dressed in a U.S. Army uniform complete with a heavy backpack, armed with a viciously bayoneted rifle, clutching a hand grenade, and carrying a gas mask pouch. He is portrayed in motion, running through barbed wire and tree stubble. He is an exact replica of the soldiers affectionately known as Doughboys.

It’s unknown exactly how U.S. service members came to be dubbed Doughboys. The term most likely came about as an informal moniker because of the big brass buttons on their uniforms. The buttons resembled the savory flour dumplings or dough cakes that the Brits enjoyed, and so they called the Yanks “Doughboys.”

Five years ago, while driving through central Arkansas with my father-in-law Bill, I was the “navigator” for a very early morning fishing trip to the Mississippi River in West Helena, AR. We were pursuing the giant flathead catfish that lurked near the muddy river’s bottom. We were about a half-mile from the river, as depicted on our map, when we encountered a one-way rotational street sequence in the town’s center. We were forced to drive around the County Courthouse in their downtown “square” which is a common traffic pattern in many county seats. It was 6 a.m. and the sun was just peeking through the trees on the shoreline. We’d been on the back roads since 4 a.m. boasting about the big one we’d be sure to hook. When we made the third turn in the square we were at the intersection of Cherry and Perry Streets; and, lo and behold…in the center of the street stood a Doughboy! I wanted to hop out with my camera, but even sighting another Doughboy did not deter Bill’s tenacity. He simultaneously spotted the glistening river and exclaiming, “Over there!” as he pointed to the boat landing. We met up with our guide and spent the next five hours hoping for the big one, but as I’ve learned to say “the fishing was good, but the catching was poor.”

Leaving the river experience behind gave me the opportunity to see the Doughboy up close and take a couple of pictures. A large brass plate affixed to the monument base reads: “Erected in honor of the Men & Women of Phillips County who served in the World War 1917-1918.” Back at home base when asked if we had caught any fish, I was more excited to tell of the new Doughboy discovery. With a laptop computer I immediately turned to our good research pal named Google and after several clicks I found a treasure trove of information about an early 20th century sculptor named E. M. Viquesney. Viquesney learned sculpting, engraving, and carving from his father and he also had studied under famed Mt. Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum. He had served in the Spanish American War wearing a forerunner uniform to that of the Doughboy.

During the summer of 1918, he first conceived, with a few sketches, the idea of an enduring monument to all those who had served and died in the still ongoing World War. A year later, the first working clay model had been completed, and in 1920, he copyrighted what was to become the most famous war memorial in U.S. history. Since 2012 my family and I have visited five other Doughboys in Arkansas, Iowa, and Missouri. This summer we will visit Texas and snap a photo of at least one of their nine Doughboy statues. New Ulm’s Doughboy is the only one in Minnesota, other than a replica that was created last year in preparation for the Minnesota History Center’s new exhibit entitled WWI America.

The New Ulm Doughboy has a unique history of its own, which will be discussed at a special Rededication Ceremony on Sunday, May 28 at 2 p.m. at the Doughboy monument. Come out to learn more about our Doughboy, his historical significance, and the 38 New Ulm Doughboy’s that lie in peace, buried nearby in another unique location called Soldiers Rest.

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