A bell tolled Tuesday in memory of each of the 41 soldiers from Danville who died in service during World War I as the City of Danville rededicated the World War I memorial erected on Mount Vernon and Virginia avenues for those soldiers.
More than 100 citizens gathered for the Veterans Day ceremony, listening quietly as Jim Livingston, president of the Kiwanis Club of Danville, read the names of each soldier listed on the memorial.
Mayor Sherman Saunders, in his keynote address, noted that Danville sent into that war more soldiers per capita than any other U.S. city. He detailed the history of the three volunteer companies from Danville and the work of Danville women toward the war effort.
“The world must never forget Danville’s contributions and sacrifice for the freedoms that America enjoys today,” Saunders said. “Our city’s place in history is prominent.”
Saunders also talked about his family’s military service. His grandfather, William Henry Ferguson, served during World War I. Saunders’ father served during World War II. Saunders and his brother served during the Vietnam War. Saunders’ cousin, Timothy Lamont Saunders, was one of the 17 sailors killed in October 2000 during a suicide attack on the USS Cole while it was harbored and being refueled in a Yemeni port.
“I am honored to stand before you on this solemn but proud day, a day that we both remember and pay tribute to all the men and women who are serving, those have served and those gave their all,” Saunders said.
The World War I memorial was established on Nov. 11, 1922, when the Kiwanis Club planted 41 maple trees on Mount Vernon Avenue and Virginia Avenue in memory of the 41 soldiers from Danville who died in service during World War I. Each tree was dedicated with a bronze plaque with the name of the soldier and a Kiwanis emblem. The plaques were attached to the curb adjacent to the trees.
The maples became diseased and were replaced by willow oaks in 1929. Through the years, all but 18 of the trees died and were removed. On June 29, 2012, a derecho storm felled four trees. At the recommendation of a certified arborist, the city removed the remaining 14 trees.
The city has planted oak trees to replace the ones removed. In addition, the city is restoring the bronze plaques on the curb. The Kiwanis Club paid for replacement of plaques that had been damaged through the years.
The memorial also includes two granite markers with the names of all 41 soldiers. One marker is located at the intersection of Mount Vernon Avenue and West Main Street. The other marker is located at the intersection of Virginia Avenue and West Main Street.
The ceremony also highlighted the history of the World War II-era 105mm howitzer that for 65 years has stood at the memorial site. The cannon was restored and rededicated in 2013.