On 100th anniversary of WWI armistice, Missoula welcomes back doughboy statue

In 1927, veterans groups raised enough money for the statue’s granite base but didn’t have enough to pay for Missoula’s doughboy statue. (Laura Lundquist/Missoula Current)

An iconic figure has returned to Missoula, much to the relief of many military veterans.

He has resettled in his corner of the county courthouse lawn, lunging toward Broadway Avenue, looking much as he has for almost a century: young, solid and determined, his hand reaching toward Montana’s big sky.

But Missoula’s doughboy statue, erected to immortalize the sacrifice of Missoula’s 39 World War I soldiers, now has a little bit of new polish, thanks to the county and several individuals and organizations that wanted to see him make it another 100 years.

On Sunday, about 100 veterans and other Missoula citizens gathered at the statue in the snow to welcome the doughboy home at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the time the armistice ending WWI was signed. Veterans wearing hats and uniforms of various services and campaigns greeted each other as Doug McDonald, wearing his own doughboy uniform, played music from the WWI era.

Pavement now encircles the base of Missoula’s doughboy statue so disabled people in wheelchairs can reach out and touch the monument. (Laura Lundquist/Missoula Current)

After the courthouse bell struck 11, County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier welcomed those who came to commemorate a world war that ended 100 years ago, to recognize that Americans are still in wars today and to rededicate a statue that serves as a reminder to future generations.

Strohmaier told the crowd that in 1927, veterans groups raised enough money for the statue’s granite base but didn’t have enough to pay for the statue, dubbed “Over the Top to Victory.” Missoulians petitioned the county for the funds and the county responded to the outpouring of support.

“Apparently, they didn’t need to go through a budget amendment process at that time,” Strohmaier said with a smile. “Now we have a restored and refurbished memorial, the capstone of our multi-year courthouse renovation. We rededicate this as a sacrament of hope, acknowledging that through sacrifice, we strive to attain our ultimate goal: peace.”

One of about 100 statues nationwide commemorating WWI that were erected in the 1920s, the statue is no longer surrounded by the courthouse lawn. Pavement now encircles the base so disabled people in wheelchairs can reach out and touch the monument, which now holds names of Montana soldiers from both world wars.

In addition to county funds, the restoration received money and support from the 100 Cities/100 Memorials Program of the Pritzker Military Museum and Library in Chicago and the local Americanism Committee of the Elks, among others.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Gary Sorenson was instrumental in getting the $2,000 grant from 100 Cities/100 Memorials.

“It has stood in this corner for 100 years. May it continue to stand forever as that special symbol that Missoula County supports veterans of Missoula and Montana,” Sorenson said.

During the ceremony, a photograph and the service cap of Capt. Sherman J. Denton stood on a stand in front of the statue. He was a WWI pilot and father of Ramona Holt, the last member of the WWI Auxiliary in Missoula before it dissolved.

When they saw modifications occurring at the courthouse, Holt and a few other veterans were worried that the statue would be relocated somewhere else. They took their concerns to the county commission to make sure the statue wouldn’t be moved.

As she place a rose at the base of the statue, Holt said she was pleased with the results.

As an American Legion officer laid a wreath on the front of the statue, veteran Larry Fox remembered when he had done the same thing about 20 years ago.

“I come here every Veterans Day. It’s good to know we’ll be coming out here for many more,” Fox said.

The service cap of WWI pilot and Capt. Sherman J. Denton stood on a stand in front of the statue. (Laura Lundquist/Missoula Current)