Private George Eber Duclo and the Human Experience of War

*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.

Editor’s Note: This is the story of a single Marine in the Great War. His name was Private George Eber Duclo. He was from Manitou Springs, Colorado.

One of our non-resident fellows, Major (P) ML Cavanaugh, lives in Manitou Springs and wrote a five-part series on Duclo for the Pikes Peak Bulletin (April 26 through the May 24, 2018 editions). The Bulletin is largely a print operation and so the series is not easily accessible online, which is why we’ve asked for and received permission to run the whole series as one large essay (with some minor modifications).

Duclo’s life at peace and death at war—one hundred years ago this month—were so compelling that Cavanaugh also penned some words on the experience of learning about Duclo in an essay that ran in the Wall Street Journal on May 25, 2018.

Today, Fort Carson and the Air Force Academy stand near Duclo’s hometown of Manitou Springs. In the most obvious sense, this is where his life intersects with the Modern War Institute—right now, soldiers who call Fort Carson home and Air Force Academy graduates are serving, as Duclo did, in American wars abroad.

But there is a deeper connection. Duclo’s story is one with near-universal echoes that travel far across time and place, resonating in the enduring elements of the human experience of war.

Everywhere and Nowhere

Where did this giant rock come from? I was standing in Memorial Park, in Manitou Springs, Colorado. The rock forms a platform for an enormous bronze statue of a World War I-era soldier, a “Doughboy,” eternally lunging forward as if to meet some unseen danger.

Memorial Park isn’t large—just over two acres—but it is lively, and when the day is nice there are always kids, dogs, runners, artists, and even sunbathers. Most American towns have a park like this. It’s the community’s go-to gathering place, where city parades line up and where people gather to toss fruitcakes in the winter (really).

But look a little closer and you’ll see it’s full of both history and mystery.

Take, for example, the big cannon on the park’s west side. It’s pointed at Pikes Peak, as if it might fire on the mountain. It’s almost certainly a French-designed, 75-millimeter field gun (often known as a “Seventy-Five”). During World War I, the Americans simply didn’t have time to build their own artillery, so in exchange for steel and raw materials, the French gave the American Expeditionary Force some 3,532 field artillery pieces, according to Michael Neiberg in Fighting the Great War. At 3,400-pounds, it could fire twenty shrapnel rounds a minute, and was so powerful that a cocktail was named after it (order a “French Seventy-Five” and you’ll get a bit of gin, champagne, lemon juice, and sugar).

But I kept coming back to that giant rock on the east end of the park. How did it get there?

A Colorado Springs Gazette article, from April 12, 1923, described the work it took to get the 20-ton native granite boulder into place. Taken from what’s now known as Miramont Castle, the boulder was rolled down Ruxton Avenue by three men with a moving truck, ropes, and a telephone pole (presumably to slow the rock’s roll) to navigate the nearly one mile it took to get to Memorial Park. The Gazette commented that “certain death would have resulted had one of [the movers] fallen” in front of the boulder.

But what was worth three moving guys nearly getting squashed by a 40,000-pound boulder?

Which led me to the Doughboy sculpture. It’s relatively rare; only about fifty-five like it are scattered across the United States. Sculptor John Paulding’s seven-foot-tall “Over the Top to Victory” was patented in July 1920; it came from the American Art Bronze Foundry in Chicago. Manitou’s model is 2043-B (of four total varieties), distinguished by its open right hand.

The statue was raised to honor Marine Corps Private George Eber Duclo (he went by “Eber,” pronounced “ee-ber”), I learned from the Manitou Springs Heritage Center. On June 15, 1918, he was the first from Manitou Springs to die in World War I. While there was once a plaque dedicated to him in the park, it was defaced by vandals and had to be removed. All that’s left of Eber’s name in Memorial Park is an empty stone where the plaque was once affixed.

And so Eber is everywhere and nowhere. His name lives on in his hometown through the local American Legion post, and the street that abuts the community’s elementary school. But we’ve mostly forgotten who he was.

And when I dug, I found Eber played baseball at the high school and worked at a grocery store. I found Eber lived just up the street from that elementary school. I found Eber volunteered to fight in France and was in a unit responsible for several Marine Corps legends. I found Eber was likely killed by a German machine gun. I found it rained the day of his memorial. And I found the most heartbreaking evidence that his mother and father never forgot the death of their one and only son.

By finding Eber—remembering who he was and what he gave—my hope is we can be better citizens and soldiers.

A Boy from Manitou

Like many American families, the Duclos went west. Moses Duclo was born in upstate New York in 1837, married a French-Canadian girl named Matilda, and had six children. Their eldest, John, was born in 1862, just as Moses left for the Civil War.

John grew up, drifted westward, and met Emma, two years his senior and also the child of a New Yorker and a French-Canadian. On November 19, 1887, in Cheboygan, Michigan, John and Emma married. And there, in 1893, the couple gave birth to their only child: George Eber Duclo.

The growing Duclo clan continued west. By age four, Eber was living with his parents in the Manitou Springs area, according to a Gazette article from July 17, 1918. In addition, several other family members from John’s side lived nearby in Colorado Springs: Eber’s grandfather Moses; Uncle George and Aunt Camilla; Uncle Abraham and Aunt Mary, among others.

Colorado Springs was much smaller then. In 1918, the city held about 38,000 people (compared to today’s nearly half a million residents). And Manitou Springs was roughly 1,750 citizens (today, a little over 5,000 call Manitou “home”).

The annual city directories of that era, a precursor to the phonebook (or Facebook), was a record of physical location (and often vocation) that can tell us quite a bit about John, Emma, and Eber.

They moved a lot. In the 26 years from 1909 to 1934 (the year John died), the Duclos listed ten separate addresses, as well as nine years without an entry. John recorded himself as an engineer, laborer, and cement worker.

The family spent their pre-war years in Manitou. In 1909, they lived at 160 Grand Avenue; in 1910, at 373 Manitou Avenue; and from 1914 to 1916 they were at 147 Deerpath Avenue, just at the top of the street from the modern Manitou Springs Elementary School. (While these specific numbers and dwellings no longer exist, the streets and locations still do.)

Newspapers also provide a window into their lives. In January, 1911, Eber attended a girl’s sixteenth birthday party. In April, 1911, John placed ads in the Gazette to sell a small brick house for $600. On March 15, 1915, Emma Duclo paid a $6 water bill.

On August 30, 1911, Eber challenged five friends to a speed-walking contest from Soda Spring to the Cave of the Winds, and won with a time of 15 minutes and 20 seconds, which earned him a box of cigars. One of Eber’s competitors, Carl Bruce, would also enlist for the war.

Eber was the second best hitter on the 1912 Manitou Springs High School baseball team, and typically hit in the mid-to-high 300s.

It’s unclear if Eber ever actually graduated from Manitou Springs High School. During the 1911-1912 school year, at about age eighteen, he was moved to an eighth-grade class, likely for remedial purposes. Even so, he scored well in all his subjects that year, according to his report card.

Such a demotion was much more common then. Considering the Duclos multiple moves and his father’s shifting employment, Eber’s education was probably put on hold at some point to help support the family. This we cannot know for sure, as the only pre-war employment record we have for Eber is that, as a local historian found, from 1914 to 1916 he worked at the C.E. Bruce grocery store at 114 Ruxton Avenue.

On November 22, 1916, Eber enlisted as a private in the Marines, and would have earned $18 per month (about $380 in today’s dollars) serving overseas, according to a Gazette article from June 1916.

Maybe it was to see some more of the world. Maybe he needed some money. Maybe he believed in the defense of democracy. Maybe he wanted to be the first to volunteer because he thought war would come (eighty-four Manitou boys would serve in the war, according to an April 1920 Gazette article).

Eber’s grandfather Moses certainly would have had something to say. Moses was in some of the worst fighting in the entire bloody Civil War with the 142nd New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He’d seen trench warfare up close; over half his unit was killed, wounded, or went missing.

Moses knew better than anyone what was waiting for Eber. And it probably frightened him.

Over There

At least by sheer size, the Great War was indeed great.

Sixty-five million troops from forty countries fought. Eight million soldiers died, along with 6.6 million civilians. Over twenty-one million were wounded. World War I was terrible, and it was huge.

America went to war after Germany adopted a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, sinking several American ships and citizens, and then offered an alliance to Mexico to re-take Kansas, New Mexico, and Arizona from the United States (states taken by the United States in the Mexican-American War). On a rainy night in April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against Imperial Germany. A few days later, he got it.

Four months earlier, just before Thanksgiving, 1916, George Eber Duclo had joined the selective Marines. The Marines rejected 80 percent of volunteers in those days, according to David Bonk in Chateau Thierry & Belleau Wood 1918.

After basic training, the Marines issued Eber a Hotchkiss heavy machine gun and assigned him to the thousand-man 6th Machine Gun Battalion, which was sent to France after the US declared war, and was later folded into the US Second Infantry Division.

While training in France, on March 2, 1918, Eber wrote to his friend and former baseball teammate, Carl Bruce. At the time, Bruce, who had also enlisted, was training in southern New Mexico at Camp Cody. Eber wrote he “was sure glad to hear” from Bruce, and that Eber was certain there were other “Manitou boys over here” and he just hadn’t seen any yet. Eber called France “the muddiest place,” and announced he was learning “something new every day and somedays two things.” Eber mentioned how excited he was to get the Manitou Journal in France, and signed off, “Yours, Eber.”

As he wrote, Eber likely didn’t know what was coming. German fortunes had changed: the collapse of the Russian war effort meant they were able to send forty-four divisions, over half a million men, to attack the British, French, and their new American allies, according to Adam Hochschild in To End All Wars. In late March, they advanced and within weeks the Germans had overrun 1,200 square miles of France, approaching within thirty-seven miles of Paris. The French prime minister considered evacuating the City of Light as the German “Big Bertha,” a 420-millimeter artillery cannon, with a 100-foot-long barrel, pounded Paris with rounds that reached the stratosphere.

The German leader, Kaiser Wilhelm II, was said to have proclaimed, “The battle is won!”

On April 12, 1918, British Field Marshal Douglas Haig issued orders that “Every position must be held to the last man.”

In late May, Eber’s unit was called to the front. They moved first by rail and truck, and then marched to meet the Germans.

The Marines were ordered to attack on June 6, 1918, to stop the German advance near the French village of Belleau, which controlled an important road to Paris. Just to the south was Belleau Wood, which quickly became the focus of the fighting.

Before dawn, the Marines, including Eber’s 15th Company, 6th Machine Gun Battalion, moved to take some high ground near the southern edge of Belleau Wood. By the end of the day, they’d tenuously taken the hill, but at a steep price: over one thousand Marines were dead and wounded, one of the costliest days in Marine Corps history.

The Marines then advanced north and east. On the morning of June 15, a company of Marines, with machine gunners in support, attacked a well-entrenched German machine gun position in the far northeast of Belleau Wood. This is likely where Eber Duclo fell.

By June 26, the Marines held Belleau Wood. The threat to Paris was over. The Allies stopped the German offensive, and would go on to win the war.

The Marines’ heroism at Belleau Wood became legendary. It’s where the Marines earned the nickname “Devil Dogs.”

Belleau Wood is also where a boy from Manitou took his last breath.

Perhaps the most unfortunate coincidence was that a kid from Manitou Springs, home of then-world-famous spring water, would lose his life in a place called “Belleau,” a word formed by the combination of two French words, “belle” and “eau,” which means “good water.”

It was time for Eber to go home for the last time. No one could have anticipated how long and dangerous that journey would be.

Coming Home

The Great War was over. When the armistice was announced on November 11, 1918 in Colorado Springs, people lit fireworks, fired guns, and made a remarkable ruckus. For the six hundred troops that returned on April 26, 1919, there was a “Welcome Home” parade attended by well over half the city, according to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

John and Emma Duclo probably didn’t celebrate. Their only son, Eber, had been killed in action on June 15, 1918 at the Battle of Belleau Wood in France. The Gazette reported they had been notified of his death on July 15, 1918, while they served as caretakers at a summer home near Manitou Springs.

Following the battle, Eber was buried in France. Then, on December 31, 1919, the US government announced it would transport his remains back to Manitou.

As Eber’s body was disinterred overseas and made the long journey home, the city of Manitou Springs made several efforts to memorialize his loss. Formed in 1919, the Manitou Springs American Legion Post #39 was named in Eber’s honor. Their first priority was to remember his sacrifice. They held events to raise money for a proper memorial, including what was reportedly a well-attended ball at the Cliff House Hotel on February 9, 1921. The day after this event, the Legion announced their intention to construct their bronze statue for Eber, and the rest of Manitou’s war veterans, at the newly designated Memorial Park, which had been purchased by the city a few years earlier (previously, it was called “Mansions Park”).

In parallel, the Manitou Springs town council passed an ordinance changing what had been known as “Ute Avenue” to “Duclo Avenue” in April 1920.

Then, in August 1921, Eber’s body reached American shores. It was among the remains of five thousand other servicemen aboard the Wheaton in New York Harbor when a fire broke out on the ship and nearly drowned the docked vessel. With some luck, the fire was extinguished, and Eber’s remains survived to continue the journey home. On Thursday, September 8, 1921, Eber’s body arrived in Manitou.

It was time to lay Eber to rest. That Sunday, September 11, 1921, the Reverend Elliott W. Boone officiated the ceremony at the Manitou Congregational Community Church. John Torrence, the American Legion post commander, and Manitou Springs Mayor William Kirby spoke at the funeral. A procession then crawled the mile to Crystal Valley Cemetery. At the gravesite, a firing squad and bugler were on hand for the several hundred in attendance at the burial, which the Gazette called “one of the largest ever held in Manitou.”

After Eber was buried, the Legion continued to raise money for his statue in Memorial Park. The boulder base was in place by April 1923.

A year later, the people of Manitou Springs had their new, seven-foot bronze Doughboy figure, honoring Eber Duclo in Memorial Park.

Through heavy rain, people gathered to unveil the statue on Memorial Day, May 30, 1924. Reverend Samuel Garvin, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, reminded those in attendance that Eber and others fought for ideals like “liberty, equality, union, righteousness, justice and law,” as well as “emancipation from future conflicts” and to rid the world of the “bondage of fear and burden of armaments.”

Eber’s grandfather Moses may have been in attendance; he died that same year. Eber’s father John died in 1933 at age 70, and was buried next to his son. Having lost Eber, and then John, Emma remarried a former firefighter named Sam Hicks in 1934 (himself a widower who had lost his wife Mary in 1924). Emma passed in 1939; she now rests next to Eber and John.

We know John and Emma never forgot their only son, in part by assumption, but also because we have concrete evidence. In the city directories of the day, after the statue was raised, from 1931 to 1933, John and Emma listed as their address, not one, but two locations: 701 Las Vegas Street, where they actually lived, and Memorial Park, where their only son’s memory lived on.

Memorial Park clearly touched the Duclo family. But what does the park mean to us?

Where Wars End

Millions flock to the World War II Memorial annually in its prominent place on the National Mall in Washington. After visiting the enormous memorial, a few will wander down a narrow dirt path to the District of Columbia War Memorial.

Dedicated in 1931 to the District of Colombia’s citizens that gave their lives in World War I, it is the only monument on the Mall to honor those from that conflict. Compared to the World War II Memorial, it’s tiny. It’s dirty. It’s not much to look at, and, when you do, it forces you to visualize the gap in the way Americans remember the two wars: World War II was the “good war,” while World War I has faded from memory.

But that’s not quite right. While Washington may not possess an appropriate, national tribute to service in World War I, one art historian has estimated there are over ten thousand memorials to that war all across America. San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House opened in 1932. New York City’s Pershing Place, which welcomes visitors to Grand Central Terminal, was named in 1923 after American General John J. Pershing. Chicago’s Soldier Field opened in 1925. Memorial Park in Manitou Springs, and the Doughboy statue dedicated to Eber Duclo, are simply a continuation of the local and dispersed way America chose to remember the First World War.

And look at what’s grown up around Eber. To his east is a gathering place for hikers and trail runners. To his south is the Manitou Springs Heritage Center, the Manitou Art Center, and a preschool that uses the park for recess. To his west is Manitou’s City Hall and the public library. And to his north is Seven Minute Spring, a popular natural spring water-filling site. In a very real way, Eber’s become the center of the community.

Then there’s Memorial Park itself, with its exceptional playground, stunning sandbox, an old hollowed out tree for kids to crawl in, and loads of green space.

We’re so spoiled with such a gorgeous park that we sometimes forget it’s even there. In August 2007, a Gazette series called “Where Is It?” featured partial photos of particular locations in the area, which the paper then challenged readers to identify. When a snapshot was taken of Eber’s statue in Memorial Park, only one person was able to identify the statue and its location.

But the woman that did, a Ms. Blakemore, wrote the most glowingly accurate description of Memorial Park. She called it “beautiful, peaceful” and “a park that belongs to the community in every sense of the word.” She said she’d seen many people arrive with “cares etched on their faces” but in the park, troubles quickly “ease away and a picture of peace and composure takes its place.”

This is where wars end, both real and personal. In Eber’s shadow. In Memorial Park. A peaceful place where children play, artists create, and people reflect.

What is it that motivates people to make such a positive public space? What caused a city, and its people, to turn swords into ploughshares—or, in this case, cannons into colorful bike racks, and artillery into children’s climbing obstacles?

I think it’s a collective decision to build something meaningful out of tragedy.

Eber Duclo’s death was tragic. For John and Emma to lose their only child would move the soul of even the most hard-hearted cynic. For Manitou to lose a local kid must have been devastating.

But instead of anger or apathy, the citizens of Manitou recognized that Eber’s life, and death, was meaningful. He volunteered for something larger than himself. He helped save one of the world’s great cities. He lost his own life in the process.

We can still learn from Eber. While military service and sacrifice are indeed unique and the consequences severe, the military holds no monopoly on serving and giving. We can all help others. We can all give more. We can all serve something greater.

That’s what we should remember when we look up at Eber’s statue or any of the many others around the country that commemorate the sacrifice of American men and women in our nation’s wars, whether for those lost yesterday, today, or in the conflicts certain to come.

Post Script: On June 20, 2018, a local community group in Colorado Springs presented a check to the Manitou Springs Heritage Center to replace the plaque to Private George Eber Duclo in Memorial Park. It should be up shortly.

Author: ML Cavanaugh

Unequal parts strategist, assistant professor, wordsmith, runner, wine-o, reader, philosopher of firepower, and hopeless lover of three ladies named Rachel, Grace, and Georgie.

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