Building the Washington County Veterans’ Plaza
If you look out the northeastern-facing windows in the courtroom of the 1889 Courthouse Museum, you’ll see a statue. Several, actually – the most noticeable being a soldier. He holds a gun in one hand, the other raised, holding a grenade. The Doughboy statue is the cornerstone of the Washington County Veterans’ Plaza, a memorial located on the campus of The Tower Heritage Center.
Three pieces make up the plaza: The Spirit of the American Doughboy Memorial, the Freedom Memorial, and the WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War Memorial, all with the intent of honoring those who gave their today for our tomorrow.
But it wasn’t always the Veterans’ Plaza… Almost a century ago, it had begun as an idea for a statue honoring Washington County’s soldiers. Who would have guessed that this monument would become an iconic landmark in Washington County – one of unrivaled cultural and historic significance?
PLANNING THE MEMORIAL
A memorial for our soldiers… in 1925, the Washington County Board was hard at work on this idea. The concept was to build something that wholeheartedly expressed the community’s appreciation and admiration for their veterans. After the end of WWI, Washington County had much to be thankful for. A monument of some kind seemed essential to preserving this gratitude.
Eventually, the board landed on The Spirit of the American Doughboy, a statue designed by E. M. Viquesney. The Doughboy Statue was made from thin sheets of brass hammered into a design. Created in Spencer, Indiana, during the 1920s, The Spirit of the American Doughboy has been replicated in hundreds of locations across the US.
The board planned to place the Doughboy monument in the square of the 1889 Courthouse, the central meeting point of Washington County. By doing so, Washington County joined a hundreds-strong network of communities that similarly valued the importance of The Spirit of The American Doughboy.
SET IN STONE
In 1927, a list of 2,554 soldiers’ names was sent to engravers. Of those, were 1,054 Civil War Veterans, 31 Spanish-American Veterans, and 1,469 World War Veterans. The names were to be inscribed into plates on the base of the Doughboy Statue. Here comes the wrench in the plan…
What had been arranged as a $3,900 project quickly escalated because of the intricate detail that the names required. Funding for the memorial was a community effort. Everyone – including school children – rallied together. Most students voluntarily contributed 2 to 10 cents to the cause. In return, they received a memorial button with a picture of the monument. Ultimately, the memorial cost $5,000 and was erected by P. L. Gehl & Sons, Inc. from Hartford.
AN UNFORGETTABLE DEDICATION
On November 13th, 1927, over ten thousand people gathered to honor Washington County’s veterans and dedicate the memorial. How did this event draw such a colossal crowd? Well, one swaying reason was that the festivities were being filmed. According to the newspapers, the ‘moving pictures’ were featured in theaters across Washington County.
It wasn’t the only excitement, though. The dedication ceremony included speeches from famous American Legion commanders, a banquet, and the biggest parade in the city’s history, reaching over a mile long! All seven bands within the county performed (West Bend High School, Allenton, Slinger, Kewaskum, Hartford Legion, West Bend Moose, and the Juvenile Band) along with several others from across Wisconsin, one being a drum corps.
The parade was joined by over one thousand former servicemen and two thousand students. One can only wonder how those soldiers would have felt, knowing how the monument would evolve and seeing those who had taken up arms after them, joining in their sacrifice.
In 1998, a new monument was added to the Veterans’ Plaza, made from Vermont granite. It is dedicated to the men and women of Washington County who served our country in WW II, Korea, Vietnam, and other peacekeeping missions worldwide, and in grateful remembrance of those who made the supreme sacrifice in their conflicts.
In 1999, the restoration of the Doughboy statue began. It returned to its base in 2000 with a new dedication ceremony.
Come 2008, the Freedom Memorial was added.
Today, the Washington County Veterans’ Plaza continues to serve as a memorial to the veterans of Washington County, both past and present. Their dedication and sacrifice are inspirational, to say the least.
It’s important to remember that the legacy of these veterans is not just a name engraved in stone. Their legacy is very much alive – and it lives on – woven into our community. It is engraved into our every day, whether we notice it or not…
Next time you visit The Tower Heritage Center, stop by the Veterans’ Plaza to pay your respects to Washington County’s courageous soldiers.
“2,554 Names to be Stamped on Memorial.” West Bend Pilot (West Bend, WI), Aug. 18, 1927.
“A Monument for Soldiers.” West Bend News (West Bend, WI), Nov. 11, 1925.
“Children to Aid Memorial.” West Bend Pilot (West Bend, WI), May 5, 1927.
“Dedicate Monument Nov. 13th.” West Bend News (West Bend, WI), Oct. 26, 1927.
“Dedicate Soldiers’ Memorial With Pomp and Splendor.” West Bend News (West Bend, WI), Nov. 16, 1927.
“Local Pictures” West Bend News (West Bend, WI), Nov. 16, 1927.
Mcalpine, Linda. “Standing as a Sentinel for Peace.” Daily News (West Bend, WI), May 5, 2013.
“Memorial Day Well Observed.” West Bend News (West Bend, WI), June 6, 1928.
“Need Donations for Memorial.” West Bend Pilot (West Bend, WI), Aug. 25, 1927.
“Soldiers’ Memorial Dedicated Sunday.” The Kewaskum Statesman (Kewaskum, WI), Nov. 19, 1927.
“Thousands at Memorial War Memorial Dedication.” The Hartford Times (Hartford, WI), Nov. 18, 1927.
All photos are sourced from the Washington County Historical Society’s Research Center
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