While the purpose of some Civil War military statues in several southern states has caused controversies in recent months, there is one statue from another period of history which stands high and strong to honor soldiers from WWI at a cemetery in New Ulm.

It’s the “Spirit of the American Doughboy” and the only one of its kind originally erected in Minnesota. The sculptor is Ernest Moore Viquesney who was born in Spencer, Indiana. His father was a stone carver by trade and young Ernest learned sculpting, engraving and carving from him.

He was a portrait artist as a youth and also served in the Spanish-American War. He was involved in the design and construction of the monuments placed in the National Cemetery at the Andersonville Civil War Prison.  During his career he knew the respected sculptor Gutzon Borglum of Mt. Rushmore fame in the Black Hills.

The “Spirit of the American Doughboy” statue stands high in the New Ulm cemetery and is regarded to be the only one of its kind originally erected in Minnesota. Photo by Steve Palmer

WWI was still going on in the summer of 1918 when Viquesney made a few sketches and first conceived the idea of creating a monument to honor all those who had served and died in the “War To End All Wars.”

In 1920, the first working clay model was completed and he copyrighted the piece, which later became one of the country’s most famous war memorials at that time.

Viquesney didn’t want his statue to portray the glamour or heroics of the fighting American Doughboy soldier, but rather wanted to show what the average hometown soldier had to endure and sacrifice in war. The statue shows a soldier striding forward in an erect posture through “no-mans land” with a heavy backpack and grenade in hand, armed with a bayoneted rifle and carrying a gas mask pouch.

New Ulm’s original Doughboy was cast out of zinc to reduce manufacturing costs in Chicago and erected in the cemetery in late 1941.  It was dedicated during WWII on May 30, 1942.

Eventually the Doughboy statue became weathered and was in poor structural condition by the 1990s. The statue was intentionally destroyed by vandals who pulled it down with a rope and smashed the head on Valentine’s Day 1995.  No charges were ever filed in connection with the incident.

New Ulm rallied to get fundraising from individuals, businesses and community organizations along with matching donations from three banks in town to rebuild another $42,000 statue. It was cast from parts of the original statue by a business in Howard Lake.  The rebuilt Doughboy was rededicated in October 1995.  Only the undamaged statue base remained from the original.

Earlier this year on Memorial Day weekend, a 75th rededication program was held at the cemetery complete with cannon fire salutes.

The original rifle from the first statue was preserved and is on display at the American Legion Post 132 in downtown New Ulm. The original grenade and the hand clutching it is on display at the Brown County Historical Society Museum in New Ulm.

While the New Ulm Doughboy statue is the only one of its kind in the state, the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul erected a replica earlier this year in observance of the 100th Anniversary of WWI.

There are 140 Doughboy statues erected in 39 states with Ohio having the most with 13. Not all statues are alike as 120 were produced before the Great Depression and were made of pressed copper sheets forged together and welded over an internal skeleton.  There are three statues made of southern-mined marble.

New Ulm’s statue has an identical Doughboy memorial standing 1,200 miles away in New Braunfels, Texas. Both communities have strong German populations and are proud of their heritages.

In New Ulm, those strong feelings were quite evident when war was declared on Germany. More than half of Brown County residents were first and second generation German immigrants at the time. The German language could commonly be heard in country schools, local stores and saloons.

After one anti-war meeting in New Ulm that protested the sending of German-American troops overseas, Minnesota Gov. James Burnquist removed rally speakers from public office including the mayor, city attorney and county auditor. The Minnesota Commissioner of Public Safety also forced the removal of a local college administrator. Later, two more men, including the newspaper editor, were arrested and charged under the Espionage Act.

All of which it seems a little ironic that the Spirit of the American Doughboy statue ever found a place to stand in New Ulm. More likely it was respectfully erected to acknowledge that support for persons who served in the war also existed.

As for Doughboys, I’ve often wondered how the American soldiers serving in WW I were labeled with that moniker. Apparently it’s connected with food and my first thought was were we sending some overweight soldiers off to war.

Turns out the nickname was given to our boys by the Europeans who referred to the troops as Doughboys because the brass buttons on their uniforms looked like flour dumplings or dough cakes called “doughboys.”

Sort of like “Long John’s” or “Bismarck’s” or any other various rolls and pastries we give names to when placing an order in the local town bakery.

For more information about Viquesney and his Doughboy statues you can conduct internet research at www.doughboysearcher.weebly.com