One hundred years after the United States’ entry into World War I, doughboys are again in the news. This morning, in a big parade in Paris, France that both celebrated the French National Day (Bastille Day) and commemorated the centenary, a corps of American soldiers marched in the parade as a salute to President Trump, who had been invited to view the event, and several of the soldiers were dressed as WWI doughboys.
First, “doughboy” is an informal term referring to a member of the United States Army or Marine Corps, especially those who served with the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, although it was apparently in use during (and possibly originated in) the Mexican-American War in the 1840s.
In case you’re wondering, no, I’ve never photographed an actual doughboy; the last one to have served in the First World War, Frank Buckles, died in 2011 in West Virginia, aged 110. But a few years ago, at the invitation and request of the archives of the Dominican Order’s Eastern Province, I photographed a rather famous statue of a doughboy located in North Providence, Rhode Island (the Order’s archives are housed at Providence College, a few minutes drive from where the statue stands).
The statue is titled “On to Victory” and was designed by John G. Hardy, a sculptor from Warwick, RI. The connection between the Dominicans and the statue? The model for the statue is said to have been a Dominican priest, Rev. Nicholas Hugh Serror, OP (1896-1972), who served in the infantry in WWI. Clearly destined for a life of service, Nicholas Serror entered the Dominicans, received the habit in 1927, and was ordained a priest in 1934. A faculty member at Providence College for many years, he collaborated with a colleague at nearby Brown University in the development of a drug that ended an epidemic of ringworm in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada, in 1950.
Photographing this statue was a challenge. It stands right up against St. Albans Church and so there’s always going to be some background interference. In addition, I was taken there on a bright, sunny day–though fortunately, in very late afternoon, not in the most garish period of midday light. The best solution was to select the two best “poses” of the shots I took, blur out (or remove altogether) the background, and–which was especially appropriate given the historical nature of the subject–convert them to B&W. Here are the results; you’ll note that the one photograph is a crop of one of the others to provide a close-up. (I’m tempted to go back and reprocess one or two of them in sepia to give them a “vintage” look.)
I want to thank my Dominican friends at Providence College for the opportunity to photograph this historic statue and for honoring the results by framing one of the images to hang in their archives.
4 thoughts on “Photographing History: The Doughboy”
When the US Army liberated Paris in the end of WWII that was one of the great historical days of the country. I am not sure if the same can be said today… All the more reason to honour the original doughboys. You did a great job of photographing the monument, not the least taken into the account the challenges you had to face.
Thank you so much, Otto! It was a labor of love and I’m glad to see someone appreciating it in addition to those who invited me to do this project.
Thank you for this article! I had read about the statue years ago, but lost the article and could not find out where the statue was located. I assumed it was at PC, so thank you also for mentioning the location. Rev. Serror was a relative of my husband. Do you happen to have any details from the archives about why he was chosen as the model for the statue? If you would like a photograph of him as a younger man, I’d be happy to email it to you. Thanks again.
Deborah, thank you very much for this. I’ll email you.