Following the WWI sinking of HMS Otranto , October 6, 1918, Berrien County sought to establish a permanent memorial to the soldiers who perished in the disaster. Of the 25 Berrien men killed in the Otranto disaster, two from Ray City, GA were Ralph Knight and Shellie Loyed Webb.
While the country celebrated victory over Germany and the Central Powers, Berrien County struggled for funds to pay for a monument to its dead. It stands today as an enduring reminder of those young men from Berrien who gave their lives in WWI. Located at the Courthouse Square, West Marion Avenue at North Davis Street, Nashville, GA.
The Art Inventories Catalog of the Smithsonian Institution describes the monument titled “The Spirit of the American Doughboy,” Viquesney, E. M., 1876-1946, sculptor:
“Figure of a World War I infantryman advancing through the stumps and barbed wire of No Man’s Land. He holds a Springfield rifle in his proper left hand, with peep site in rear, and a grenade in his upraised proper right hand. His uniform consists of an ammo packet, canteen, backpack, bayonet scabbard, gas mask and helmet. The sculpture sits atop granite base with shield shapes on each side and stars and stripes decorations. The granite pedestal sits atop a paved brick footing.”
“Funds for the sculpture were raised by a memorial committee headed by Rev. Perry T. Knight (Ray City, GA). The sculpture was erected between 1920 and 1923 and was dedicated ca. 1921 or 1922. It was left veiled until late 1923, pending completion of fund raising efforts. The sculpture was originally installed in the middle of Marrion Avenue, facing north approximately 50 feet west of where it now stands. It was moved in the early 1950s and rededicated when Marrion Avenue, Georgia Highway 129 was paved. A member of the Parrish family who had a monument carving company in Nashville possibly may have assisted in carving the base.”
The following paragraphs are extracted from:
By Skeeter Parker
Fund Drive Begins
As if the flu pandemic in 1918 were not enough, the pall of death hung even heavier over Berrien County at a time when the rest of the country was celebrating the end of hostilities in WWI. However,the local citizenry was determined that the soldiers’ names would never be forgotten, as it says on the Doughboy monument “LEST WE FORGET.” A monument fund was announced on the front page of Nashville Herald on November 29, 1918, and readers were told “Every public spirited man, woman and child in Berrien county should contribute liberally to this glorious cause.”
Because most of the Nashville newspapers from the 1920s were destroyed or missing when microfilming was done, details surrounding the Doughboy statue’s coming to Nashville mostly come from various internet sources. According to one of those sources the statue was ordered in the spring of 1921 and erected in the middle of Marion Avenue in late July or August 1921. Different sources also say that while the monument was installed in 1921 it remained under covers until 1923 when “payment for the sculpture and impressive base was completed.”
This is borne out by a January 18, 1923 article in The Nashville Herald in which the writer said:
“It is an everlasting shame and a matter to cause the people of these three counties to feel badly over that this handsome memorial now stands veiled, because it is not paid for.”
The reader should keep in mind that in October 1918 Cook and Lanier Counties had not been formed yet and were still part of Berrien.
In January of 1923, Reverend Perry Thomas Knight made a personal appeal to the people of Berrien County to pay off the final balance owed on the statue. Knight grew up at Rays Mill (now Ray City), GA where he attended the nearby Green Bay School, and later attended Oaklawn Baptist Academy at Milltown (now Lakeland), GA :
Letter to the Editor
Let Us Unveil
There stands erected at Nashville, Ga., a suitable Memorial to the memory of the World War Veterans, but the veil must be lifted, “Lest We Forget.”
J. W. E. Powell of Nashville has a complete record of every person who has donated to the Memorial Fund and the amount donated by each.
If you have subscribed to the Memorial Fund and have not paid your subscription, please do so at once. Our boys did not fail us when they were called to service.
We are writing the builders of the monument, asking that they give us until Wednesday, Jan. 31, 1923 to finish paying a balance of Two Thousand Dollars.
Will you contribute $10.00 and by that be one of the Two Hundred to lift this obligation? Just as soon as the amount is sure to be in hand we will announce the day of the unveilling.
Send your contribution to J. W. E. Powell, Nashville, and tell him what it’s for. Do that today. We expect to have printed in the Nashville Herald, beginning next week, a list of the donors and amount given, until we reach the $2,000.
Talk to your neighbor, to the stranger, to the Veteran, to the Everybody until we raise the money. It must be done.
Send The Nashville Herald a card now saying: “I am one of the Two Hundred and will pay $10.00.”
- Perry Thomas Knight Attended Oaklawn Baptist Academy
- Update on Perry Thomas Knight
- Ray City Masons Celebrated Saint John the Baptist Day In 1936
- Bank of Ray’s Mill
- Rhoda Futch Knight
- George Washington Knight and the Populist Party