After the end of World War I, America quickly returned to what Republican President Warren G. Harding called "Normalcy". However, the sacrifices of the 20,000 people in Los Angeles County who served during the war and the 1851 people from Los Angeles County who died were not forgotten. In October 1923, Major Robert C. Colten spoke to the Association of the Army of the United States on "Loyalty to Principles." His speech inspired members of the organization to form the Soldier Monument Committee of the Association of the Army of the United States for the purpose of raising funds by public subscription for a monument honoring the people of Los Angeles who died in World War I. The committee, led by chairman Major Robert C. Colten, vice chairman Lucien Brunswig, and treasurer Roger Andrews, commissioned the statue from Humberto Pedretti(2) and the pedestal from architects Clifford A. Truesdell and Henry Carlton Newton.(3)
The Los Angeles City Municipal Arts Commission became involved in the monument because it was scheduled to be installed in Pershing Square. It was an appropriate setting for the monument because of its strong connection to the war. During the war, bond rallies were held in what was then called Central Park, and on November 18, 1918, one week after the Armistice was signed with Germany, the park was renamed Pershing Square in honor of the commander of the American Expeditionary Force in Europe. On February 6, 1924, the Commission gave preliminary approval of the design after inspecting a model in Pedretti's Hollywood studio.(4)
Pedretti made a plaster cast of the statue and 300 small replicas of the "Doughboy," which were sold for $10 each by actresses Derelys Perdue, who starred in the movie "Daytime Wives," and Charlotte Stevens. However, Pedretti was unable to supervise the bronze casting at the Roman Bronze Works in Brooklyn, New York because sufficient funds were not available to pay his transportation back to New York.(5)
On July 4, 1924, thousands of people gathered at the northwest corner of Pershing Square and witnessed the monument's dedication.(6) Reaching back to 19th century Independence Day celebrations, the ceremony began with a reading of the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution. Speeches followed, but their theme was not the celebration of liberty and democracy, or the need for sacrifices to create a just and peaceful international order. Rather, the dedication was used as an opportunity to promote military preparedness. Judge Benjamin F. Bledsoe's speech on "Citizenship" linked millitary preparedness to Christianity by declaring "I do not accept this unmanly, unwomanly and un-Christian suggestion that under no circumstance should we take part in war. I want to damn with all my power the idea that we ought not to be ready when emergency comes--to do our part as those who made our country did theirs."(7) Lieut. Col. Perry W. Weldner added "Whether by intent or honest belief the pacifist is one who is willing to risk the humiliation of our country. If unpreparedness were a preventative of war, the United States never should have had any, for when were we ever prepared for any war?"(8)
The monument was unveiled after the speeches. Named after the term given to the American infantry soldier, "The Doughboy" avoids references to the horrors of war and ignores the goals contained in President Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points, which morally clothed America's participation in the conflict. Rather, the statue depicts a slightly larger than life bronze soldier in an authentic World War I uniform, carrying his unit's colors forward with unflinching resolve and determination. The personification of heroism and self-sacrifice is intensified by the statue's elevation on a tapered granite pedestal embellished on the front with a bronze eagle medallion, and on the rear with a bronze replica of a medal, both designed by Pedretti. Bronze stars representing the 48 states making up the United States lined the top of all four sides of the pedestal. These symbolic and decorative elements were augmented in 1927 by the gift from the French Veterans of the World War of a bronze relief depicting an olive branch surmounted by a French helmet.(9) Inscriptions on the pedestal identify the "Sons and Daughters of Los Angeles who participated in the World War" as those who are honored, and record the places where they served. The inclusion of Siberia in the list memorializes the participation of soldiers from Los Angeles in America's futile support of anti-Communist factions during the Russian Civil War. Other inscriptions identify the "Patriotic Contributions of the Citizens of Los Angeles" as the source of funds, and the motto "Duty, Honor, Country". Heavy rifles used in the coast defense of San Francisco were scheduled to flank the monument until trophies from the World War were available.(10) However, neither the rifles nor the trophies were ever obtained.
Originally the monument stood at the northwest corner of Pershing Square as a gateway piece for the park. After the Pershing Square garage was constructed in the 1950s, "The Doughboy" was transferred to the southeast corner. In 1963 the statue was moved to the park's center, where it remained until it was relocated to the Palm Court when Pershing Square was redesigned in 1994.
Footnotes:1 Edward J. Boyer, "Flashback: Reliving Moments in L.A. County History: 1917: The March to War," Los Angeles Times, October 10, 1990.
2 "Monument Unveiling to Mark Fourth," Los Angeles Times, July 4, 1924, Pt. II, page 1.
3 Minutes of the Los Angeles City Municipal Arts Commission, March 5, 1924.
5 "Artist Finishes 'The Doughboy'," Los Angeles Times, April 6, 1924.
6 "Unveil Statue of U.S. Soldier," Los Angeles Evening Express, July 5, 1924, p. 7.
7 "Heroes Lauded at Unveiling of War Monument," Los Angeles Times, July 5, 1924, pt.2, p.1; "Los Angeles Unveils War Hero Statue," Los Angeles Examiner, July 5, 1924, p.1
9 Minutes of the Los Angeles City Municipal Arts Commission, July 13, 1927.
10 Los Angeles Times, July 4, 1924, Op. Cit.
The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, January 2000.