CLINTON — An oft-neglected war memorial commemorating American soldiers who died in Europe is finally getting the cash it needs to remain in good condition.
The "doughboy" statue of a World War I soldier has stood in the southeast corner of DeWitt Clinton Park since it was dedicated in 1929 as a memorial to Americans who died in the Great War, but for years it was neglected, surrounded by dead plants and trash.
Now, with a $70,000 gift from the Government of Flanders in honor of the war's centennial, the city's Parks Department will be able to landscape and maintain the area around the statue, where veterans gather annually on Memorial Day.
The memorial is engraved with the words of the famous WWI poem "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae and was built by sculptor Burt W. Johnson and architect Harvey Wiley Corbett.
At a wreath-laying ceremony made up of veterans, foreign dignitaries, locals and active-duty soldiers on Thursday, officials stressed the importance of remembering the massive war a century after it began.
"It is a memorial to the young men of this neighborhood who died in World War I," said Kris Dierckx, a representative of the Government of Flanders to the United States. "World War I was the first international conflict on a global scale, and also the deadliest. Flanders became a mostly static battlefield."
In 2012, a group of Canadians hoped to take the memorial's maintenance into their own hands. Now, with the Flemish money, the Parks Department will use $10,000 a year for seven years on upkeep for the statue and memorial.
Dozens of people gathered at the site on Thursday, each wearing a bright red poppy, which is used in countries like Canada and the United Kingdom on Remembrance Day — an equivalent of Veterans Day — to commemorate soldiers.
Longtime Community Board 4 member Jean-Daniel Noland stressed the importance of the memorial to the neighborhood, pointing to a tenement across the street where he said the young men who went off to fight the war once lived.
"These young men from this neighborhood went and died in Europe and we honor their memory," he said.