A Dunn landmark has sadly become a part of the recent backlash over statues honoring Confederate War veterans — and wrongly.
The statue of U.S. Army Gen. William C. Lee was vandalized sometime around 10 p.m. Thursday, and the action has many people, both residents and non-residents, up in arms.
“Someone doused the statue with a flammable liquid and set it on fire,” said William C. Lee Airborne Museum Curator Mark Johnson. “They placed a container on the base of the statue and it scorched the side of it.”
The act of vandalism has the museum baffled why anyone could ever misidentify Gen. William C. Lee for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
“I just find it amazing that someone would think that Gen. Lee from World War II would be the target of damage to a stone statue,” Mr. Johnson said. “It’s just unbelievable somebody would think that’s the thing to do.”
Mr. Johnson believes the act was not random and the person or persons who did it were trying to make some sort of statement about racism, bigotry and slavery.
“I think that’s probably it,” Mr. Johnson said. “So just an alert to people who may be thinking about such things, this is the wrong general.”
When you take a look at the statue of Gen. William C. Lee and compare it to a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee, it’s obvious the two are completely dissimilar and look completely different.
“Complete different generation, complete different war, complete different everything,” Mr. Johnson said. “Everything is different.”
Mr. Johnson said the last name alone — the only thing the two men share — has spurred questions in the past about kinship between the two, something which does not exist.
“People have asked if they’re kin and we tell them they’re not kin that we know of,” Mr. Johnson said. “There’s been no other concerns about the Confederate general versus the World War II general that we know of at all.”
As far as suspects in the case, there are none at this time, according to Dunn Police Chief Chuck West. He said the investigation is being taken serious and will continue. There has also been a $500 reward posted for information leading to he arrest and conviction of those who committed the vandalism.
“We have no new information at this time,” Chief West said. “The information is very limited and they’re going to keep working on it. But, we have no further information at this time.”
Mr. Johnson said he believes Gen. Lee would be appalled at not only seeing his statue being vandalized, also to even consider him anything resembling a racist or a bigot. As the “Father of the Airborne” Gen. Lee was responsible for creating the element of paratroopers and its installation. Something he did without prejudice, according to Mr. Johnson, who has studied the general’s life.
“He’d think it was unbelievable because he was not a prejudiced man,” Mr. Johnson said. “He would find it so hard to believe. He was a humble man who didn’t like the spotlight. I think it would hurt his feelings real bad because somebody did that.”
The public backlash has been enormous, especially on the museum’s website. Mr. Johnson said the outrage has been from civilians, military and especially paratroopers, both past and present.
“Messages I’ve got off our Facebook sight, the paratroopers are really, really upset with it,” Mr. Johnson said. “And they should be.”
Mr. Johnson said in addition to insulting all who have the slightest knowledge of Gen. William C. Lee, it is also a slap in the face to the community itself. The general took an assignment to create an airborne force and pulled many facets together and overcame several obstacles, giving all who were willing a chance, according to Mr. Johnson.
“It opened a lot of doors for a lot of people,” Mr. Johnson said. “This really represents the face of the community and there’s really no need to come over here and take out anything you’re upset about on this guy. It just doesn’t work.”
While the statue now has a significant amount of blackening from the flames, Mr. Johnson said the statue can be repaired. It will take more than just a rag and some soap and water. Because of the porous nature of marble, of which the statue is made, the repairs can be quite costly.
“I’ve talked to a local stone mason and he says probably steam cleaning with a good solution to soak into the marble pours,” Mr. Johnson said. “That may take care of it.”
Mr. Johnson said the cost of repairing the statue will likely rise into the hundreds of dollars and will take a professional to come in and perform the work. Work he says will be done as soon as possible.
“We’re going to hope the people who are responsible for it are going to realize they’ve made a bad mistake,” Mr. Johnson said. “We’ll absorb the damage, clean it up and go on like normal.”