Nearly 200 residents of West Liberty, Ky., stood watch on the county’s courthouse lawn as a U.S. flag wrapped around a restored World War I doughboy statue was carefully removed. The 800-pound marble statue, which had been symbolic of the town for 85 years, had not been visible to the community since it was damaged two years ago by a tornado.
“Our Doughboy is a symbol of West Liberty, and he will once more guard the courthouse from his post and continue to watch over the city,” said Lynn Nickell, a local historian who organized the World War I doughboy statue’s rededication ceremony on March 22.
According to Nickell, West Liberty’s World War I doughboy statue – one of hundreds built in Italy to commemorate the U.S. war dead – was purchased for $400 by the local American Legion post and had stood on a pedestal outside the county’s courthouse since 1927. But when an EF3 tornado struck West Liberty in March 2012, the doughboy couldn’t withstand the 140 mph winds that knocked him off his pedestal and broke him into pieces.
For several weeks following the tornado, community members searched through debris to uncover parts of the statue. What was recovered - the statue’s head, arms and legs - were placed at the foot of the pedestal. “It was sad,” Nickell said. “I couldn’t help but bow my head and thank him for all the years he had overlooked West Liberty.”
When images of the statue’s wreckage surfaced in the local news and on social media outlets, two Morehead, Ky., artists stepped forward to restore the statue that symbolized sacrifice and patriotism to the community of West Liberty.
Eddie Horton and Steve Tirone, both Marine veterans and friends for more than 30 years, spent a year carefully molding the doughboy back together to ensure he will withstand another 85 years. “I have always been close to this statue since 1972, the first time I viewed him there at the courthouse,” Horton told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “I grew a bond with him at that point.”
Before the rededication ceremony got underway, Horton and Tirone watched as a truck lifted the World War I doughboy statue, sealed in a crate, back to its resting place on the pedestal. “It was a beautiful sight to see him back up there,” Horton said. And after the two artists unveiled the statue to an audience of Legionnaires, Boys Scouts and Kentucky National Guardsmen, two American Legion Post 126 members from Morehead folded the American flag that was wrapped around the doughboy and handed it to Horton and Tirone for keeping.
The World War I doughboy statue faces west “from where the tornado came,” Nickell said, and “he still shows the battle scars from the tornado, which is intentional. He is our sign of victory over defeat.”