Passed by the Missoula County Courthouse lately and wondered what’s going on with the historic World War I Doughboy memorial on the corner of Broadway and Ryman? You’re not the only one; the infamous chain link fencing surrounding the memorial has prompted numerous inquiries concerning the statue’s status.
Don’t worry ̶ the Doughboy will not endure the same fate as the aging trees removed from the lawn last year. The statue, a tribute to the 39 Missoulians who lost their lives in the First World War, is undergoing a much-needed restoration, thanks to funding from 100 Cities/100 Memorials, a matching grant challenge spearheaded by the United States World War One Centennial Commission that’s funding restoration of WWI memorials nationwide.
According to the 100 Cities/100 Memorials website, the program “was created to help draw attention to WWI memorials across the United States and enables all of America to take part in the WWI centennial commemoration. Many of these WWI memorials have deteriorated due to the ravages of time, exposure to the elements, neglect and even vandalism.
“The funds will be used to conserve, restore or improve these memorials. More important, the program is designed to raise community awareness of those who served and provides a tangible connection to the profound impact this war had on local towns and cities, securing an important place in military history.”
Last year, the Missoula County Grants and Community Programs division, with the support of American Legion Post #27 and the Western Montana Military Officers Association, successfully landed one of these grants, one of only 100 in the country. Now, for the first time in more than 90 years, Missoula’s Doughboy bronze will be properly cleaned and waxed, so the names and language honoring the fallen servicemen will be easier to read. The county has partnered with Jackson Construction to complete the restoration, which also includes cleaning and repointing the statue’s granite base, as well as building a ground-level plaza to make the memorial accessible to all.
The memorial commemorates the significant role Montana and Missoula played in World War I. According to information provided by the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, when the U.S. entered the war in 1917, around 12,500 Montanans volunteered for military service, and another 28,000 men were drafted, due to the federal government overestimating the state’s population. In total, nearly 40,500 Montana men, roughly 10 percent of the state’s population, served “Over There” ̶ the highest percentage of any state.
By the time the war ended on Nov. 11, 1918, Montana had one of the highest mortality percentages in the country, with 939 servicemen killed in action, including 39 from Missoula. In 1927, the American Legion Auxiliary erected the Over the Top to Victory Doughboy Memorial Statue on the courthouse lawn to honor those killed in action. Sculpted by John Paulding, it’s one of only 55 such memorials across the country.
For the past 30 Veterans Days, Missoula’s American Legion Forgotten Warriors Post 101 has sponsored a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial at 11 a.m., and they’ll continue that tradition on Nov. 11 this year. With the restoration work slated for completion by then, it’ll be the perfect opportunity for Missoula County residents to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice during such a pivotal moment in our shared history.