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Refurbished bronze statue to be unveiled Sunday

November 10, 2018

The Flathead Valley’s doughboy is back in action and looking good as new.

After a complete restoration, the seven-foot-tall bronze sculpture that honors America’s doughboys who served in World War I will be rededicated during a ceremony Sunday morning at the Montana Veterans Home in Columbia Falls.

The short ceremony will take place in the Veterans Home community room at 10 a.m., during which Bigfork veteran L.D. Gross and Mike Shepard, former commander of both the Columbia Falls and Whitefish American Legion posts, will speak briefly. The rededication of the statue commences at 11:11 a.m. - the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month - that commemorates the signing of the armistice that ended World War I.

Shepard has led the effort to restore the statue.

“We will be dedicating a completely refurbished doughboy,” Shepard said. “The thing was falling apart; we couldn’t believe the damage, but it’s looking great now.”

Acutech, a Columbia Falls area metal fabrication business on Montana 40, did the restoration, and Shepard praised their work.

“The metal work they do is unbelievable,” he said.

The doughboy had suffered a few near fatal blows during the decades it stood on Kalispell’s Main Street.

Dedicated on Nov. 11, 1928, the statue was mounted on the meridian north of the Flathead County Courthouse and for the next 44 years was a static centerpiece to the town that grew up around it.

As it turned out, though, the statue’s location became a precarious post for the doughboy. Time and time again, errant motorists collided with the statue, and every time the Daily Inter Lake was there to report the mishaps.

“Doughboy Again Felled by Auto” was the front-page headline on Feb. 14, 1952, that described how a motorist had struck the heavy pedestal (a 14,000-pound chunk of Washington granite) and knocked the doughboy off its base. The driver suffered a broken nose, rib fractures and other bruises. In that story the newspaper noted how six years earlier a passenger in a car that hit the statue died from her injuries three days following the crash.

By 1953 the Inter Lake took an editorial stand, saying “The Doughboy is a Hazard.” The decision to move the bronze soldier wasn’t an easy one for city leaders, though.

The doughboy was the backdrop for ceremonies that ranged from Flag Day presentations to Memorial Day military salutes. On Veterans Day through the years wreaths were placed at the base of the statue.

During the Vietnam War a peace rally was held around the doughboy.

When the state highway department rebuilt U.S. 93 around the courthouse, the Main Street median and its rose gardens were removed and a new home had to be found for the landmark doughboy. World War I veterans and the American Legion lobbied to have it moved to the Montana Veterans Home, which at the time was home to many World War I veterans.

The statue headed to the Veterans Home in 1972.

The bronze is a replica of the original “Spirit of the American Doughboy” sculpture by E.M. Viquesney, who designed it to honor the veterans and casualties of World War I. It depicts an infantry man walking through tattered tree stumps strung with barbed wire. The doughboy has a rifle in his left hand, and his right hand is held high above his head, clutching a grenade.

Viquesney’s sculpture was mass-produced during the 1920s and ’30s for towns across America. Roughly 150 copies were made for municipal memorials across the country. In Montana there are two such statues, the one at the Veterans Home in Columbia Falls and the other at Fort Benton, according to the E.M. Viquesney doughboy database.

Shepard said several veterans groups pitched in money to pay for the doughboy restoration, including the American Legion Post 72 and the local Vietnam Veterans of America Northwest Montana Chapter that donated its leftover funds from the traveling Vietnam memorial wall exhibition last year.

Shepard said he personally spent about eight hours cleaning the roughly 70-pound dedication plaque that accompanies the statue.

Following the doughboy rededication ceremony, the Vietnam Veterans of America Northwest Montana Chapter will lead a ceremony to dedicate a new plaque honoring Vietnam veterans, to be posted at the entrance to the Veterans Home.

News Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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