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Causeway bridge lookouts need a new post

© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 28, 2001

CLEARWATER -- Two aging warriors guard the entrance to the city's Memorial Causeway.

The sailor -- a statue called the Spirit of the American Navy -- seems the more relaxed of the two bronze men, who were given to the city in 1927 to remember World War I and celebrate the opening of the new causeway. The sailor looks happy, forever waving his cap, leaving his head exposed to squawking sea gulls who have left their calling cards.

Closer to the bridge stands the Spirit of the American Doughboy, which refers to the common name for American soldiers in World War I. The 7-foot statue has one arm raised to throw a grenade as he walks through tree stumps on a battlefield. Although his rifle's bayonet has been broken off, the doughboy still wears his Army backpack, a gas mask and a look of determined calm.

The damaged statues were part of a wave of monuments erected by small towns around the country to honor the ordinary men who never came home from World War I. And the doughboy -- a stock statue that was placed in at least 163 cities in nearly three dozen states -- is thought to be one of the most seen monuments of that conflict.

Like other cities across the country, Clearwater now faces the question of how to preserve the statues, which must be removed and stored during the construction of the new Memorial Causeway bridge to avoid further damage.

The city must consider whether to replace the statues at the entrance to the causeway, relocate them elsewhere along the road to Clearwater Beach or create a new park setting for them on the city's downtown bayfront, near the bridge.

City Manager Bill Horne, who was an Air Force colonel before switching to local government, emphasized last week that Clearwater will not forget the monuments.

"The staff has been asked to come up with ideas," Horne said. "This is not something we will let fall off the table."

Nevertheless, local veterans say they will watch closely to see what happens to the monuments. Furthermore, they would like to see the doughboy statue restored to its original state.

The monuments are symbols that are just as important now as when they were donated to the city by American Legion Post 7, said the Clearwater post's adjutant, Bill Storm, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars.

And if anything, interest in such patriotic displays has been renewed since the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks on America, said John Carey, another local veteran, who flew fighter planes in World War II and in Korea. Carey has urged the city to place the monuments in a more prominent place, such as the center of the Clearwater Beach roundabout.

"I think that (Sept. 11) brought our country to the realization that we are vulnerable, and there are a lot of people who have given their lives for this country," Carey said. "I think they absolutely have to be preserved. It's part of Clearwater's heritage."

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