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FLORENCE, S.C. (AP) — A group of Florence-area residents have undertaken a monumental task -- relocating the Florence County WWI monument from where it currently resides to the Florence Veterans Park at the Florence Civic Center may only be part of it.
The monument itself - an imposing marble monument with a bronze plaque attached to it -- and the history surrounding it, touch on many parts of Florence's past. Once relocated it will be readily available to be viewed and appreciated by Florence's future residents and visitors.
"We're trying to enhance the beauty and significance of the Florence Veterans Park by adding another monument and we're trying to do it, quite frankly, as cheaply as we can," said Barry Wingard, a retired colonel who is spearheading the effort to move the monument. "The American Legion Post No. 1 has agreed to donate this monument that was dedicated to the soldiers of WWI, although it was not called WWI in 1928 at the dedication, to the veterans park."
And on the cheap is working for the group so far.
Brown Memorials is on board to assist with the deconstruction, reconstruction and limited restoration and as consultants on the actual move.
The South Carolina Army National Guard will provide a crane, a heavy-lift vehicle and the soldiers to get it done.
"In this case the South Carolina Army National Guard has been solicited to provide some of the heavy-lifting capability because this monument altogether weighs more than 10,000 pounds and the heaviest single piece weighs 4,600 pounds," Wingard said.
That doesn't even include two stone urns that formerly graced either side of the monument. Wingard said he found pieces of one of the urns on the ground near the monument.
Park officials have given their OK to relocate the monument to the park, Wingard said.
The coming move is the latest chapter in an incomplete history of the monument. A big piece of the monument's history is MIA and the marble edifice has been subjected to the ravages of time and vandals.
The monument started out life when it was officially dedicated on Wednesday, May 30, 1928, in front of the Florence County Library -- the one at the corner of Pine and Irby streets.
A front page from the Saturday, June 2, edition of the Florence Morning News Review shows the monument in front of the library with both a United States and a South Carolina flag flying from the center portion. In front of the monument, from left, are Master Henry Thompson Malone, who could be a Boy Scout judging from the photo; twins Katherine and Wilburta Jones, whose father died in the war, and Col. Henry T. Thompson, who is credited with fostering the creation of the monument.
The monument, according to the newspaper article, was presented to the public schools and was accepted by Dr. N.W. Hicks, who served as the chairman of the board of trustees at the time.
The monument cost $1,000 and was constructed by Peter C. Curry of Florence Memorial Works, according to the article.
Wingard said the twins in the photo were daughters of a soldier who died in the war, Madison W. Jones, a second lieutenant.
The monument was erected by the American Legion Rifles Platoon and the Ladies Auxiliary, according to the front page, which was researched by Florence County librarians and provided by Wingard.
"It must have been something to see in 1928. It's still pretty impressive, even though it's been subjected to 90 years of wear and tear and it looks like it's been used for shotgun practice. It's pockmarked," Wingard said.
"Brown Memorials is pretty good at what they do and they're going to get it back to pretty good condition. We're not going to get it back to what it looked like 90 years ago but we're going to do the best we can and it'll be a great addition to the Florence Veterans Park," Wingard said.
Sometime after the monument was dedicated -- Wingard said nobody seems to know when -- it was relocated to American Legion Post 1 on East Palmetto Street.
The post was formed in 1919 and named after Lt. Fred Sexton, who died in WWI and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross -- the second-highest military medal awarded by the United States -- for his actions in battle.
Sexton was a native of Union, South Carolina who moved to Florence in 1911, enlisted in the National Guard, served in "the old Company K" along the Mexican border, and entered officer's training school once he was deployed to France. The newly minted second lieutenant died, at 28 years old, on Oct. 21, 1918, in a shell explosion, according to a newspaper clipping from the Morning News. In the years that he lived in Florence, Sexton made "hundreds of friends" and worked at the establishment of W.M. Waters.
That connection with the S.C. Army National Guard is one of the reasons that the Guard is on board for the move.
Having already been moved once, the monument no longer has "integrity of setting," which, combined with damage done by vandals, leaves it out of the running for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places, said Jason Moser, cultural resource manager for the S.C. Army National Guard, who came out with several member of the Guard to survey the monument at its current location and the future location ahead of the move.
Another connection between the WWI monument and the S.C. Army National Guard is a former adjutant general for the guard, Gen. James C. Dozier.
Dozier was awarded the Medal of Honor on Oct. 8, 1918. He went on to serve 32 years as South Carolina's adjutant general.
During his tenure he oversaw construction of many of the state's WPA-era armories as well as those built during the early stages of the cold war, Moser said.
"He's responsible for the a lot of the infrastructure of the National Guard that you see across the state today so he's a very important person nationally and to South Carolina so he ties into it quite a bit," Moser said.
The monument, when placed in its new home, will sport a freshly restored bronze plaque which has been removed from the monument ahead of planned move.
A pre-removal photo of the plaque shows how unkind the years had been to it. Several days in the shop of Marion Jeffords, working on it for Brown Memorials, has restored much of the plaque -- though areas damaged by what appears to have been shotgun blasts still show damage.
The plaque lists the names of 66 Florence County residents who died in the Great War.
In 1920 Florence County boasted a population of 50,406, up from 35,671 in 1910 according to census data.
"The number listed seems like a huge percentage of what would have been the population of Florence in 1917 and, not only that, it breaks them down by race, which would be very unusual today, but back then it was common," Wingard said.
Wingard credited Florence County librarians with the research that came up with so much of the history of the monument and the people associated with it along the way.
The project to restore and relocate the monument is planned to be completed and unveiled at the Veterans Day ceremony at the park -- another tie in with WWI. Originally Armistice Day, Veterans Day is celebrated on Nov. 11 to coincide with the documents signed that ended hostilities on the western front of WWI.
Wingard said that closer to the unveiling ceremony officials will reach out to Florence residents to find relatives of those who have connections to the monument to participate in the unveiling.
Information from: Morning News, http://www.scnow.com
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