World War I was titled as a “World War” for good reason, as it was indeed a war involving many nations, costing millions of lives and included many West Virginians who were quick to join the American forces in fighting the Germans for the first time. Of course, it would not be the last time Americans would take up arms against German forces, as the rise of Adolph Hitler would prove to ensure that more death and destruction would follow.
For those soldiers who had actually fought in such horrific battles as the Battle of Verdun, France, or in the Argonne Forest battle during the First World War, many never returned to their homes, but for those that did return, they never forgot their fellow soldiers, many of whom died on the battlefields in far off places— thousands of lonely miles from their friends and family. Such was true for many Logan Countians. Perhaps that is why the communities of Verdunville and Argonne, both Mud Fork localities, were named for the two important WWI battles in France. So significant were these two battles in the war that Island Creek Coal Company chose to name Verdunville for that battle even though no Americans actually fought in it. The 1916 Verdun battle is described as “the greatest and lengthiest in world history,” with over 700,000 casualties (dead, wounded and missing).
The Battle of the Argonne Forest, which was fought for 47 days from September 26, 1918, until the end of the war and the Armistice signing of November 11, 1918, was the largest military offensive in United States history, involving 1.2 million American soldiers. The small coal camp called Argonne is located just below and across from what used to be the No. 28 coal mine tipple of Island Creek Coal Company on Mud Fork. Marcum Trucking is now located at that site. Logan County has always supplied more than its share of men and women in the various military engagements that this country has endured, including even the Civil War. In addition to spilling their blood in battles around the world, the county’s people have supplied the coal the nation required to sustain the making of the war materials by steel mills and ironworks throughout the nation, especially during World Wars I and II. So, one can only imagine the excitement in Logan County when the unveiling of an awe-inspiring monument was revealed at the Logan Courthouse November 11, 1928 to honor Logan’s fallen soldiers.
In the November 9, 1928 edition of The Logan Banner, the writer said that the unveiling of the monument would be conducted on the 10th anniversary of the Armistice, more commonly known today as Veteran’s Day. The story relayed that the American Legion would be in charge of the services with the Boy Scouts and several others assisting. The Boy Scouts, of which there were hundreds in the county back then, were to conduct the flag raising ceremonies.
A November 2nd edition of The Banner described the monument: “Seventeen thousand pounds of Vermont granite will surmount the concrete base of the monument now being erected in the Court House yard. Atop the granite blocks will be placed a seven-foot statue representing an American doughboy carrying a riffle and a bomb poised for throwing.”
The story said the monument would be 19 feet high, according to Pete Minotti, local contractor, who The Banner described as “taking a leading part in providing a suitable memorial for Logan County’s heroic dead.” Minotti, like so many Logan Countians of that time period, was an immigrant, who had moved to Logan to work. Unlike most others, he was not a coal miner, but was a skilled contractor and built several of the town’s concrete and brick businesses. Minotti was responsible for the construction of the county’s first bank known as the Guyan Valley Bank, which was often referred to as the “old stone bank.” The bank took up the entire block where the current Logan Bank and Trust building is now located across from the courthouse. The talented mason also is credited for the building of the historic courthouse at Madison in Boone County.
Hundreds of people surrounded the courthouse on the historic day of the unveiling of the monument, which was to be called the Pete Minnotti memorial. Nowadays, most people simply refer to it as the “Doughboy.” The name “Doughboy” was the popular name for a WWI foot soldier during and after the war. The inscription on the plaque of the monument, which also features an American Legion Shield, reads: “To the memory of all men of Logan County, West Virginia who made the supreme sacrifice in the World War.”
It also lists the names of the men killed in action, those who died of wounds, as well as the names of men who died of diseases contracted in what was then called “The Great War.” In that war there were 4,332,000 allied forces who died and 13,595,502 wounded and missing. At the time of the celebration of the statue in Logan, no one could anticipate the other wars that were to follow in later years, or how the monument would later stand guard over memorials bearing the numerous names of other Loganites who went to various wars to help preserve the American way of life.
When the former old courthouse was being torn down in 1963 prior to the current structure being opened in 1964, the Doughboy monument was moved to Midelburg Island where it proudly stands today as a reminder of the sacrifices that have been made. The bronze structure presents a picturesque welcome to those visitors to the Island, whether for various sporting events, or otherwise. Along with a colorful football field and well-kept facilities and ballfields around the centerpiece of Logan Senior High School, the entire area presents a good image for Logan County visitors. However, it has not always been that way.
By 1983, uncaring vandals had all but made a mockery of the monument that had stood for so long and for so much. The shameful site featured visual abuse as it was missing the right arm, which had held the grenade, as well as other damages to the rifle and bayonet of the other arm. Pranksters had done other disgraceful things to the structure.
A “Doughboy Committee” was formed by Ray McKinney, who was the commander of the Junior ROTC program at Logan High School in 1983, and that committee garnered over $37,000 to repair the monument. The committee consisted of other veterans such as World War II fighter pilot, Bill Abraham, Clyde Freeman of Chapmanville, Charlie Moore, who was the Commander of the Chapmanville American Legion, and others, like community minded Lila Hinchman of the Logan Woman’s Club.
The fruitful efforts of that committee led to other American war memorials at the Midelburg Island site and the formation and naming of the area as the “War Memorial Park.” The names of all Logan Countians that died as a result of the various wars and conflicts are listed on memorials at this park. The Logan County Commission in 2015 appointed members to a committee to oversee improvements at the memorial park consisting of the addition of names of veterans from the area who served in various conflicts like Iran, Iraq, or other locations.
At a time when immigration is a hot nationwide political topic, some may find it ironic that both the creator of the statue, E.M. Viquesney, and Pete Minotti, who is chiefly responsible for our local treasure, were both either immigrants, or born to immigrants. Viquesney, who lived from 1876 until 1946, copyrighted the statue in 1920 and again in 1934. It reportedly sold for $1000 each, plus the base. According to research reported in the Frederick, Md. Post in 1991, there have been at least 110 of the statues located across America; most of them in small towns.
Although the creator of the statue, which he named “The Spirit of the American Doughboy,” was born in Spencer, Ind. (where his factory also was located) the town did not purchase their own statue until 1927. Its creator began selling them from that location in 1920 and he finished creating them in the late 1930’s. The Indiana town had 2,700 residents in the early 1990’s and is located about 55 miles southwest of Indianapolis.
According to T. Perry Wesley, who was a retired editor of the “Evening World” newspaper of Spencer, Indiana, in 1991 there had been 110 of the Doughboy statues located. Wesley had spent 40 years trying to locate all of the statues. Despite his prolific talents, Wesley reported that the genius creator left no records of his statues and sculptures, which also included a World War II soldier and a Civil War Confederate soldier. It is not known whether Wesley included the Logan Doughboy in his research.
There are various veterans and miners’ memorials in parts of Logan County, including the attractive memorial honoring veterans that is located just off the new road at the town of Man. However, we must always respect the results of an Italian named Minotti, the American Legion members and others who first chose to honor the war efforts of Logan County’s finest in 1928. We must also realize and respect what a Frenchman from Spencer, Ind., had to say about his creations:
“I do not urge the building of War Memorials to perpetuate more WAR but to impress upon American youth the desirability of PEACE.”
Logan County will forever salute the “monumental” efforts which gave us OUR “Doughboy.”
Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.