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Wheeling’s Doughboy statue is rededicated for its 90th birthday

WHEELING — The first time the “Spirit of the American Doughboy” statue was dedicated in Wheeling, it was an affair to rival the biggest street festivals — crowds thousands strong, music, and celebration less than two decades after the Great War.

The statue still stands 90 years later, and a smaller, lmcrowd of hundreds came to the Memorial Day service put on by Wheeling’s American Legion Post 1 at Wheeling Park. The statue was refurbished, cleaned and maintained with care so as to maintain its patina while refreshing nearly a century of wear. The work was done by Venus Bronze Works in Detroit, Michigan.

State Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, discussed the horrors of World War I, as 19th century tactics were enacted with 20th century technology, and the brutal, horrifying conditions endured by the soldiers. Weld said that while he was stationed in Germany, he witnessed how many towns have a close connection to their past, through the battles that took place, some literally underfoot. This is a connection to which most Americans can’t directly relate, but he urged those in attendance to read up on accounts of the war.

“Sometimes, what that war meant, what it signified, and the changes brought to the world are lost on Americans,” Weld said. “One of the things that, really, is striking about the war is its sheer brutality. For an entire generation of Britons and Frenchmen, it was described as ‘a reciprocating engine of blood and gore, each side advancing a few yards, then retreating across no-man’s land, laced with barbed wire, pockmarked with artillery shells, and mounds of those who died.'”

Weld went on to say how proud he was of Wheeling for housing the Doughboy statue, which honors the thousands dead in World War I, something of a rarity in comparison to memorials to other wars.

“I’ve been all over the country, and I’ve come across very few WWI memorials. This is a memorial I think the community should be very proud of. It’s a recognition that not everybody takes the time to learn about. If you remember anything from anybody’s remarks today, take some time to get a book on your Kindle, buy a book about World War I. Learn about the homefront. Learn about Americans who went to Europe as part of the American Expiditionary Force.”

Doughboy Restoration Chairman Sean Duffy said the training camps soldiers barracked in sheltered a foe chillingly familiar to modern audiences.

“In those camps, they faced a deadly enemy that killed without firing a single shot, one that’s all too familiar to us now a century later. Those training camps were ravaged by a pandemic of H1N1 influenza, attacking the respiratory system and killing tens of thousands,” Duffy said. “Soldiers on leave unwittingly took it home to their loved ones, where it spread like wildfire.

“Wheeling and Ohio County doughboys were not immune. Twenty-five of the 79 dead listed on the West Virginia Veterans database died of the effects of influenza, which killed 45,000 American soldiers, nearly as many as the 53,000 killed in the trenches of France.”

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