Delaware pays tribute to its World War I heroes

Frank E. Schoonover’s “Doughboys First,” above, and Ethel Pennewill Brown Leach’s “Delaware Awake!” below, will be featured on a new World War I memorial that will be dedicated at noon on Saturday, a week prior to the 99th anniversary of Armistice Day.

DOVER — The art of two famous Delaware artists will soon be on display on a new monument outside Legislative Hall in Dover.

A memorial in honor of World War I-era Delawareans will be dedicated at noon Saturday, a week ahead of the 99th anniversary of Armistice Day.

“It’s quite beautiful,” said Lori Christiansen, director of Legislative Council’s Division of Research. “One side is dedicated to the soldiers and the other side is dedicated to the people that provided support at home.”

The artists, whose early 20th century paintings will be reproduced on a granite block, are Frank E. Schoonover and Ethel Pennewill Brown Leach.

Schoonover’s “Doughboys First” — now owned by the Delaware National Guard — shows the 1st Infantry Division crossing the Moselle River. Among the 1st Infantry were soldiers from Fort DuPont in Delaware City.

“After the end of the war on Nov. 11, 1918, Delaware troops were used for occupation duty in Germany and this painting shows a group of them marching across a bridge in Alsace-Lorraine.”

Leach’s “Delaware Awake!” was a war bonds poster, featuring a Delaware seal and blue hen. It is now owned by the University of Delaware.

Dick Carter, chairman of the Delaware Heritage Commission, said the monument effort started last winter with some discussion about the centennial of America’s entrance in World War I. He said Rep. Earl Jacques, D-Newark, initiated it.

The memorial will be on the southwest corner of Legislative Hall, just down from a World War II monument that was dedicated two years ago.

The memorial is funded by the Delaware Department of State and the Delaware Veterans Commission.

More than 9,000 Delawareans served in the military during World War I. Of those, 270 are listed as war casualties — 43 who were killed in action and the rest victims of the great influenza epidemic.

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Among the featured speakers for the memorial dedication will be Brig. Gen. Kennard Wiggins Jr. (Delaware National Guard, Ret.) and Maj. Gen. Francis A. Ianni (Delaware National Guard, Ret.) who both have authored World War I books.

Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, a World War I history buff, and Senate President Pro Tempore David McBride, D-Wilmington, will also deliver remarks.

Sen. McBride’s uncle Laurence Roberts was a pilot who was killed in fighting in August 1918 in France. Lt. Roberts, once penning thoughts after the death of a comrade killed in a flying accident in England, wrote, “I hope that if I have to bump off, it will be at the front, where I can give a good account of myself.”

A program and keepsake book that will be available at the event will feature Mr. Roberts’ story.

An interesting history of the more than 1,000 African Americans who served in World War I will also be included in the booklet. Mr. Carter said it was a summary of what state retiree Joe Hickey had included in a master’s thesis some years ago.

The book’s cover features a unique photo, originally printed on a metal plate, of Musician First Class William Ambrose Ross who served as an army bandsman in the 808th Pioneer Infantry. He was from Milford.

He was one of some 1,400 African-American Delawareans who served in the military during World War I.

It was provided by his niece, Dr. Reba Hollingsworth, a longtime member of the Delaware Heritage Commission.

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At 9 a.m. Saturday, the Delaware Veterans Parade will pass through Dover, starting at the west end of Loockerman Street and concluding at Legislative Mall.

Featured will be the First State Corvette Club, Del Rods Car Club, cadets of the First State Military Academy, the Holy Cross Marching Band and veterans’ groups.

Those interested in participating may call (302) 739-2792 or email sable.vance@state.de.us for more information.

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The walkways around Legislative Hall now have a significant collection of memorials to the past.

In addition to the World War II memorial, there are tributes to the Delaware Continentals, Delaware’s Medal of Honor recipients, the Dover Light Infantry, those who served and continue to serve in the Middle East, Delawareans who died on 9/11 and law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty.

“I think that people enjoy having the historical material here,” said Mr. Carter. “When I started working for the Senate 30 years ago, there was some, but not a whole lot. Over the years, there has gotten to be more and more historical material on display. And, I think it adds a lot to the general interest in the building and its grounds by members of the public and people who are visiting the state.”

Coming next spring will be a monument paying tribute to Delaware women who served in the military.

“We’re trying to have a design ready by the end of the year,” said Mr. Carter.

It will feature a montage of photos who served in the different wars since World War I. Featured prominently will be an image of U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Elizabeth A. Loncki, a New Castle native killed by a bomb blast in 2007 in Baghdad.

“As far as I’ve been able to find in my research,” said Mr. Carter, “she’s the only Delaware woman ever killed in combat.”

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As an aside, Mr. Carter shared a fun story about how the Delaware Continentals statue in front of Legislative Hall came to be.

It was dedicated in 2008.

He recalled looking at an opening that’s part of the design at the front of Legislative Hall and then deciding to go speak to Russ McCabe, the state archivist at the time.

“It’s what I used to refer to as the hole in the ground,” said Mr. Carter. “I said, ‘Russ, what would be a good subject for a statue in front of Legislative Hall?’ He immediately said, ‘The Delaware Continentals.’”

From there, he went to the party leaders Sen. Nancy Cook, D-Kenton, and Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Wilmington, and they were all in.

An sculptor in New York state — the late Ron Tunison — came up with a sketch and said he randomly included three soldiers from three walks of life.

“Wayne said, ‘Well that’s perfect — New Castle, Kent and Sussex,’” said Mr. Carter.

“Nancy says, ‘The one in front is from Kent County,’ and Wayne says, ‘The officer is from New Castle.’”

“I said, ‘Well the one in back who has sense enough to let the other two go in front of him is from Sussex.’”

Reach Executive Editor Andrew West at awest@newszap.com

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