Oh, what a world Missoula’s World War I Doughboy statue has seen from his 90-year perch at a corner of Broadway and Ryman.
Now the old boy on the Missoula County courthouse lawn is getting some loving.
The World War One Centennial Commission named him one of its first 50 World War I Memorials in a live stream feed Wednesday morning from Pritzker Military Museum and Library in Chicago.
A matching grant of $2,000 comes with the honor, as does an official certificate. The 100 Cities/100 Memorials program will also make available a bronze medallion suitable to be attached to it.
"We are so pleased to see that, and we're looking forward to whatever the county comes up with to do with it," said Gary Sorensen, a retired Army colonel from Missoula who mustered support for the grant from American Legion Hellgate Post 27 and the Western Montana Military Officer's Association.
Officially called “Over the Top to Victory,” the Missoula Doughboy statue is one of two World War I memorials in Montana chosen in the first round of awards. The other is the Gosman statue in Dillon, modeled after George Gosman and erected in 1940 in Dillon’s Mountain View Cemetery by American Legion Post 20. Gosman was a World War I veteran, a department commander of the Montana Legion and, in the 1950s, lieutenant governor under J. Hugo Aronson.
Missoula County’s nomination was submitted by grants administrator Nancy Rittel, who said the opportunity came along at an ideal time.
Time has taken its toll on the granite base, the plaques that list heroes who died in both world wars, and the Doughboy himself, who needs a wash and wax.
The fifth and final phase of a six-year courthouse renovation project is focused on the exterior, and originally the Doughboy statue and a plaza area around him were going to be part of that.
“However, due to unanticipated costs during the prior phases of the renovation, funding is not available to fulfill the original plans to restore the Doughboy memorial,” Rittel wrote in the grant application.
Rittel said less than two weeks before she was made aware of the 100 Cities/100 Memorials grant, Sorensen asked the county what could be done about the statue’s condition.
"It was deteriorating, especially the names on the plaques," Sorensen said. "They're getting a little more difficult to read."
The Missoulian feted the Doughboy statue in 2014 as one of 100 Missoula icons. It's among roughly 55 “Over the Top to Victory” memorials around the country from a series patented in 1920 by John Paulding of Chicago. The monument was erected by the American Legion Auxiliary in 1927 to honor the 39 local men who died in the Great War, which the U.S. joined in 1917 and which ended November 11, 1918.
The statue depicts a uniformed infantryman in charge mode, with tin “doughboy” hat on his head and a backpack on his back, standing with right arm raised openhanded and a rifle in his left hand. It was cast in 1921 by a Chicago foundry and bears plaques dated 1927 and 1948 listing the honor rolls of Missoula County citizens who died in the two world wars.
A local veterans group landscaped the area around the statue and lighting was installed by the city in 1993. A poignant Veterans Day ceremony has been held at its base each November.
The county hopes the WWI Centennial Memorial designation, courthouse renovation project and added visibility of the Doughboy statue after the Norway maples were removed this summer will spur the community to rally around fundraising for improvements around the statue.
“Missoula is poised to not only restore our Doughboy statue but to act on the vision for an improved and expanded plaza with ground-level access from the sidewalk, new pavers and better lighting to allow residents and visitors a beautiful place to honor the memory of our hometown veterans — those still living and those who have passed,” the application read.