For all of the suffering that the young men who fought in World War I went through; for all of the disfigurements, loss on limbs, gasping from gas warfare; imprisonments, torture and loss of life, another cruelty is that before the century was over their memory would be superseded by another World War.
That second war would produce even more compelling images including goose-stepping troops, and one of history’s most reviled villains. Not even the Kaiser from the first War could generate the passion and ultimately intense hate directed at Adolph Hitler. His Nazis were masters of presentation including cool uniforms and heated propaganda. They also conducted crimes against humanity. And once the war spread to the Pacific, no fight between nations would have as explosive of an ending.
Yet World War I, the one that was supposed to be the war to end all wars, merely ended leaving more reasons for people to want to fight. That was a failing of the diplomats and not the boys who fought it.
American troops were referred to by their allies as “doughboys,” a term whose origin is still not fully understood (though it was used by other countries in other wars). The term does not seem like a compliment, but the Americans did not seem to mind so the phrase was widely applied. In 1970 a statue honoring the doughboys was placed in New Orleans near the corner of Tulane Avenue and South Galvez in a spot of land known as Pershing Plaza.
There is nothing sentimental about World War I except for that when the Germans surrendered in 1918 the date was November 11. The officially recognized time would be 11:00 am. To this day, the 11th remains as a moment for commemorating the war’s end.
This year, there will be something special at that moment. The local Doughboy statue had been removed to make way for construction of the medical center. Now it will be returned fully restored, repaired and in condition good enough to withstand more battles. Though back near its previous location, the doughboy will now stand guard from what is part of the new University Medical Center campus.
To the Americans who fought in the Great War, Europe was even further than it would be when faster ships crossed the Atlantic by the 1940s or as jets rush across the ocean today. They were fighting in a truly distant land and not totally sure why they were fighting, other than that their nation asked them too. The songs they sang such as George M. Cohan's “Over there” foretold the distance they were marching to:
Over there, over there,
Send the word, send the word over there
That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming
The drums rum-tumming everywhere.
… Send the word, send the word to beware.
We'll be over, we're coming over,
And we won't come back till it's over
Fortunately for the world the Yanks not only arrived but also returned three decades better. Today, thanks to the doughboys and their successors, most of "over there" is a much safer place to be. A restored statue is a small but necessary remembrance.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and at book web sites.
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