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Argonne Forest sentry gets helmet makeover
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The World War I soldier added to the Argonne Forest at Veterans Memorial Park sported a different helmet when it was installed in November. It will change again before it is done. - photo by Susan Thacker

The World War I soldier that oversees the Argonne Forest at Veterans Memorial Park is getting a new helmet.

The Great Bend Tree Board unveiled part of the display last April when it celebrated Arbor day by rededicating the forest on the northeast side of the park. By Veterans Day, the display was nearly completed and included a nearly life-size cutout of a World War I doughboy standing at the entrance to the arboretum. 

However, the soldier's helmet didn’t seem right to some people who viewed the display. As one Great Bend Tribune reader noted, “the soldier depicted looks to be German, based on the headgear.”

Toni Rice from the Great Bend Tree Board said the artist, Joe Bussen from Hoisington, was asked to change it to something more like the helmets most commonly associated with U.S. soldiers, known as doughboys, in World War I.

The steel, bowl-shaped helmet with wide brim can be seen in World War I sculptures such as “Over The Top to Victory,” by John Padding, which graces the Leavenworth County Courthouse, and E.M. Viquesney’s mass-produced “Spirit of the American Doughboy,” which can be found in Axtell, Oakley and Parsons. A framed black-and-white a photograph in the Argonne Forest display — just a few feet from Bussen’s artwork — also shows World War I soldiers in action, wearing the traditional iconic helmets.

Responses to the display prompted Bussen to do more research.

“I did modify the helmet somewhat,” Bussen said Tuesday. “As of right now, I have a little more work to do on it.” He added a brim to the helmet for now and said he has found a real helmet that he plans to add later, which will not only be more authentic but will make the piece three-dimensional. He said he’s been consulting with a history expert in Wichita on all of the details of the piece.

Bussen said he also has some metal artwork to add to benches in the display.


U.S. experimental helmets

The brimmed headgear of U.S. doughboys resembles the British helmet invented by John L. Brodie in 1915. U.S. forces purchased helmets from Britain in 1916 but later manufactured their own version, called the M 1917.

However, Bussen’s original helmet depiction wasn’t necessarily incorrect. According to MilitaryTrader.com, American military planners were also working on original military helmets throughout the war. Today these are known as “experimental” helmets.

Dr. Bashford Dean and others designed 16 helmets during the war. The 1917 “Model 2” resembles Bussen’s original artwork. “Based on the helmets of the 15th century Greece and Italy, the Model 2 saw limited field-testing during the First World War, but it was deemed to be too similar to the German Model 1916 helmet,” the website states.


Great Bend’s Argonne Forest

The northeast section of Veterans Memorial Park was originally dedicated to the young men from Barton County and the surrounding area who fought in World War I and, specifically, the Battle of Argonne in Germany on Sept. 26, 1918. It was one of the pivotal battles to bring the war to an end.

The legacy of their deeds lived on with the naming of the Great Bend’s American Legion Argonne Post 180, the Argonne Rebels Drum and Bugle Corps, and the trees inthe park.

Plans to enhance that display began in 2013. Members of the tree board oversaw the addition of several trees with the goal of making it a true arboretum where people could view trees of different species that are recommended for this area. The second phase of the project was to add an entryway and signage to explain its historic importance.