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Doughboy, museum revealed to the public

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Retired Lieutenant General Bruce Harris spoke at Sunday's ceremony to rededicate the Spirit of the American Doughboy statue in Memorial Park. Harris asked Henry County residents to continue supporting and praying for soldiers and their families.
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More than 200 people attended a Veterans Day ceremony Sunday at Memorial Park to see the newly-restored Doughboy statue. Park Superintendent Laurie Davis, right, is pictured with Friends of Memorial Park representative Rick Holder, standing just to the left of the statue, and local Army veteran, Lieutenant General Bruce Harris, far left, and Master Sergeant Steve Peckinpaugh, second left. Aileen McGrady, widow of former park superintendent John McGrady, also helped unveil the Doughboy.
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Korean War veteran Levi Muncy reads the new plaque on the back of the pedestal supporting the Spirit of the American Doughboy statue in Memorial Park. The statue was officially unveiled Sunday afternoon.
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New Castle residents Georjean and Terry Cory stop at a Civil War display in the Henry County Veterans Museum at Memorial Park. Sunday's "soft open" for the museum was part of the commemoration ceremonies for the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day and the rededication of the park's Spirit of the American Doughboy statue.

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

The Doughboy is back home in Henry County. The restored statue was revealed to the public and rededicated to the community Sunday afternoon.

More than 200 people came to be a part of the event and celebrate Veterans Day with local service men and women.

The day was made even more special because it was the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.

The formal name of the statue is “The Spirit of the American Doughboy.” It was installed on park grounds in 1929 by the Henry County Chapter of the American War Mothers to honor all the sons, fathers and husbands who fought in WWI.

The Memorial Park Board allowed local veteran Steve Peckinpaugh to have the Doughboy repaired and restored.

Peckinpaugh helped create a new flag garden for the Doughboy.

Two dozen people and organizations made cash contributions to the Doughboy restoration and flag plaza. The seven flag poles were purchased by local families, individuals and the American Legion Post 216, Sons of the American Legion, Legion Auxiliary and Legion Riders. Seventeen companies and individuals also made in-kind donations to the Doughboy project.

Dozens of volunteers also designed and brought to life a museum at Memorial Park to make sure that all Henry County veterans can share their stories with the community.

The Memorial Park projects are officially endorsed by the Indiana World War I Centennial Committee.

Sunday’s ceremony weather was cool, but not too cold for a November afternoon. Memorial Park Supt. Laurie Davis was joined at the base of the Doughboy statue by Aileen McGrady, widow of former park superintendent John McGrady.

With help from Peckinpaugh and Rick Holder of Friends of Memorial Park, Davis and McGrady pulled the tarp off the statue.

It was the first time in a year that the Doughboy had stood in the park. Sunday was also the first time some people had the opportunity to see the statue up close.

Families took pictures in front of the World War I fighting man. They also searched for familiar names inscribed on the memorial bricks inlaid in the walkway around the statue.

The park visitors then headed into the new museum, which was set up for a “soft opening.”

Displays were set up around the lower level of the W.G. Smith Building showing uniforms, newspapers, photos and equipment from America’s wars. The walls were lined with larger-than-life awards and ribbons.

“In my opinion, it would be easy to say the actual ‘Spirit of the Doughboy’ was his unwavering commitment to doing all he could do to push the enemy back,” Peckinpaugh said.

It was that spirit that held back the Germans during World War I and ultimately brought about the end of the war, Peckinpaugh said. 

“Think of what we can do with Memorial Park when we catch this spirit,” Peckinpaugh said. “I urge everyone in Henry County to embrace the spirit of the Doughboy and keep moving forward. It made the original Doughboys winners in their struggle and it will make winners out of Memorial Park and Henry County.”

Remembering veterans

Memorial Park Board members expected maybe 40 people to attend the Veterans Day commemoration. At least five times that many arrived by the time the ceremony started Sunday afternoon.

Retired Lieutenant General Bruce Harris of the U.S. Army came back to his hometown Sunday to speak about the park’s undertaking. He was greeted with a standing ovation.

“It’s a great day to be an American. It’s a great day to be a Hoosier. It’s a nice day to be a Hoosier living in Georgia, too,” Harris said with a laugh. “It’s nice to come home.”

Harris recalled days as a boy when he would bike out to Memorial Park to fish and play golf.

He remembered the Doughboy back then and the large World War I German cannon, which was also recently restored by volunteers. 

Harris has watched Memorial Park evolve over the years to a place where the community can honor veterans and casualties of all military conflicts and battles.

Sunday’s ceremony was to both rededicate the Doughboy and “to reaffirm Henry County’s respect for and commitment to its veterans,” Gen. Harris said. 

Harris shared what it was like to serve more than 30 years on active duty. He acknowledged that his wife carried most of the burden on the homefront when it came to raising their children.

“When we honor the veterans, don’t forget about the families, because they’ve been a part of this, too,” Harris said.

Harris looked back over 250 years of the American armed forces. He told stories of young men and women – most barely in their 20s and many barely old enough to vote – who volunteered to serve their country.

“People we call ‘vets’ have walked the ground of a war zone,” Harris said. “And once they have, they come home with the special understanding and recognition of what America is, that the American way of life is something worth defending and that they’ll never again take for granted what we have.”

Harris asked the people of Henry County to continue to support veterans organizations and the Department of Veterans Affairs for what they do for hometown heroes.

What’s next?

Peckinpaugh said work will still continue on the Doughboy plaza and the new veterans museum. There are still memorial bricks available for purchase and renovations are underway for the museum.

The next major anniversary for Memorial Park is 2020, when the park itself turns 100 years old.

Peckinpaugh said the 100th anniversary celebration of the park is also a good opportunity to honor the veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the Global War on Terror (GWOT).

“In my opinion, they have not been honored as they should be,” the retired Master Sergeant said. “We will, therefore, make it a priority to honor them in 2020 with a new memorial statue.”

Park Superintendent Davis originally unveiled plans for the GWOT memorial in March 2017. The design is on display in the W.G. Smith Building.

Donations to the GWOT memorial can be made at the Memorial Park office or to Friends of Memorial Park.