Photos by William Morgan
“Spirit of the American Doughboy” stands as a sculptural sentinel on the village green in the central Massachusetts manufacturing town of Winchendon. It is a harbinger of the forthcoming centennial of World War I, when all will be reminded of The Great War and the guns of August 1914 that changed the world forever. An isolationist America entered a war in Europe three years later, and turned the tide for the Allies, and presumptively ended “the war to end all wars.” The doughboys, as American soldiers had been known since the Mexican-American War when desert dust powdered the troops, had become G.I.’s by World War II, but the fresh-faced lads who landed in France in 1917 will forever be doughboys.
There was such a demand for this particular memorial that Spencer, Indiana sculptor Ernest Moore Viquesney, who completed the original in 1920, sold at least 150 copies of his doughboy (he also marketed statuettes of the figure, as well as the American Doughboy Art Lamp). Its popularity spawned knockoffs, some in marble.
Viquesney was no Augustus Saint-Gaudens or Daniel Chester French. But the American soldier, with his puttees and tin hat, demonstrates a certain élan as he is about to toss a hand grenade into a German trench in Flanders.
Nearby, a plaque honors the Winchendon men and women who served in the liberation of Kuwait. In keeping with the town’s factory heritage almost half the names demonstrate French-Canadian roots. Yet, compared to the very spirited doughboy, this foreign war seems to have elicited only a bland, sadly unartistic marker.