On April 5, the 100 Cities/100 Memorials matching grant challenge – sponsored by the Pritzker Military Museum & Library in Chicago and the national U.S. World War One Centennial Commission (WW1CC) – announced its final 50 awardees, and nine projects with American Legion involvement were among them. Each awardee will receive $2,000 to help restore and publicize a World War I memorial.
The Emile Ladnier World War I Memorial in Ocean Springs, Miss., has been a labor of love for local Post 42, named for Ladnier, the only resident of Ocean Springs to die during the war. The memorial is set in a space known as Pershing Square. To develop the site and memorial, memorial bricks were sold honoring veterans from World War I on. According to project chairman Richard Eckert Sr., the grant will add to the building fund established by profits from the memorial bricks.
Eckert was one of the first to make a submission to the 100 Cities/100 Memorials site, and WW1CC used the information he supplied on the process of getting the Ladnier project completed to develop a how-to video that has gotten more than 500 hits.
At the 2016 American Legion National Convention, during Jim Yocum’s year as commander of SAL Squadron 283 in Pacific Palisades, Calif., a speech by a WW1CC representative inspired the squadron to look for a memorial to restore. They approached WW1CC itself; according to Yocum, “The commission took a special interest because of the relative scarcity of World War I memorials in the western United States, which mirrored the small population 100 years ago.” In the end, the memorial plaques to both World War I and World War II at the Santa Monica (Calif.) Memorial Open Air Theater, on the grounds of the local high school, were selected.
The squadron supplied the labor, and worked with Post 283 on fundraising. Yocum said of the reasons the squadron took this on, “First and foremost, it was a new aspect to our work with veterans: the paying of final respects.” He also noted that the original 1921 dedication ceremony of the World War I plaque was overseen by Bay Cities Post 123 of Santa Monica, which Post 283 has been attempting to revitalize. And the re-dedication ceremony, held in July 2017, included both descendants of one of the veterans named on the plaque and students from the high school, providing the perfect opportunity “to educate … about the lives of those 100 years earlier, which in comparison weren’t so different after all.”
E.G. Price is commander of Havens-Cannon Post 24 in Anadarko, Okla. Their grant will go toward completing the preservation of a doughboy statue and foundation that had been part of the Caddo County Veterans Memorial, outside the county courthouse, since 1922. Given that the post received its initial charter in 1919, Price stated that “the 100 years [since World War I] is important to us.”
The effects of both weather and vandalism had taken their toll on the statue over the years, so it was brought inside the courthouse in its own well-lit alcove near the entrance. Price said of the preservation work already done, “He is now a restored statue …. He looks like an active warrior who has been through what World War I fighters went through.” The memorial plaza was completed in 2011; the statue looks out over its old home. As for the other benefit of being chosen by the 100 Cities/100 Memorials challenge, Price concluded, “We are pleased that the sum total of efforts throughout the years has resulted in the designation ‘World War I Centennial Memorial.’”
The project of George A. Fitzgerald Post 65 in Dell Rapids, S.D., has focused on improvements to Dell Rapids Veterans Memorial Park. According to past post adjutant/commander Tom Reecy, in 2014 a local businessman contacted him. “He and his wife (both post members) wanted to upgrade the veterans park and better the first impression of the town,” Reecy said. The post got on board with sponsoring the upgrade, and the project is currently in development.
“It is a real honor to be part of the team,” Reecy added, calling them “a small group of patriotic veterans working to support all veterans.”
Phil Neighbors is with the project of Paul Garrett Post 121 in Mangum, Okla., involving Veterans Memorial Park in nearby Granite. His great-uncle fought in France “together with numerous other men from Southwest Oklahoma … in the 36th Infantry Division,” Neighbors said. Now, a new monument in the 1952-established park will honor the men of the 36th.
Work continues on the cleaning and restoration of two existing World War I statues, “the centerpiece of our park,” as Neighbors put it. The new memorial will go beside them. Ironically, it was the Legion post that repaired and placed them in the park in 1979, after decades spent on top of a bridge and then in a local barn.
The dedication is set for this fall, around the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Saint Etienne; on Oct. 8, 1918, the 36th alone suffered 1,300 casualties. Ultimately, six area soldiers were killed in action and buried in local cemeteries. “Virtually every little country cemetery has a military marker of a Greer County citizen who served with the 36th Division,” Neighbors said.
Post 72 in Wellesley, Mass., is among the participants in the project seeking to put the finishing touches on the World War I-era Memorial Grove in Wellesley Hills. Representative Tory DeFazio saw information about the grant challenge in The American Legion Magazine in 2016, and decided to take the initiative.
The grove was created by a special town meeting in January 1919. “Unfortunately, (it) was never completed as envisioned by the park commissioners at the time,” DeFazio said. “So it fell to us to complete it and make everyone aware of it.” Six Wellesley residents died during the war; trees were planted in their honor (as they were for all the local veterans), and their names were listed on a boulder created in 1968 for the 50th anniversary of the armistice.
“Now it has the designation as a ‘World War I Centennial Memorial,’ adding to its enhancement,” DeFazio added. The dedication of the grove will held in May during a town-wide weekend celebration that will include a veterans parade on Sunday afternoon.
More information about the winners, the grant challenge and the centennial of World War I can be found through ww1cc.org/100Memorials.