Veterans Group Says NYC Vandals Who Defaced WWI Statue and Burned American Flag Need To ‘Learn Their History’

Veterans Group Says NYC Vandals Who Defaced WWI Statue and Burned American Flag Need To 'Learn Their History'

A World War I monument in New York City’s Central Park became the target of vandalism this week as anti-Israel protesters defaced the 107th United States Infantry statue with graffiti and pro-Palestinian stickers while burning an American flag at the site. 

The 107th United States Infantry statue, sculpted by Karl Illava and standing near Central Park’s 67th Street entrance, is dedicated to seven American soldiers depicted in the throes of battle during the final push through Germany’s Hindenburg Line.

Mayor Eric Adams condemned the attack, calling the vandals “cowards” and offering $5,000 of his own money for information leading to the perpetrators’ arrest, in addition to the $10,000 reward from NYPD Crime Stoppers. Adams urged the public to speak out against such acts and emphasized the need to honor those who fought for democracy and the freedoms enjoyed by Americans today.

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Acts Of Defacement

The protests on the city’s Upper East Side Monday evening saw hundreds of demonstrators marching from Hunter College to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, attempting to disrupt the Met Gala. As protesters moved south, they came upon the 107th Infantry memorial and defaced it with spray-painted phrases like “Gaza,” “Free Palestine,” and “Let Gaza Live” in bold red and black colors. Anti-Israel stickers were also plastered across the monument’s base, and protesters draped Palestinian flags over the bronzed soldiers depicted in the statue. Nearby, another statue commemorating Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman was similarly desecrated.

The 107th Infantry monument, sculpted by Karl Illava, stands near Central Park’s 67th Street entrance and portrays seven U.S. Army soldiers charging through the Hindenburg Line, a pivotal World War I battle in 1918. The soldiers’ lifelike poses illustrate the chaos and determination of war, capturing them in the heat of battle as they break through Germany’s last defensive line.

The stickers were removed, and cleanup crews swiftly eliminated the spray paint. However, the damage left an indelible mark on veterans, their families, and city officials. The mayor expressed frustration over the deliberate nature of the acts and the symbolism behind the statue’s defacement.

Emotional Reactions

Mayor Adams condemned the vandals, calling them “cowards,” and announced his reward initiative during a news conference at the memorial. “I will not stand by while people desecrate memorials for those who fought for democracy and human rights,” he stated. Adams emphasized the importance of remaining vocal against such acts and underscored his love for America and its symbols of freedom. He reiterated how the rights being demanded by protesters were ironically protected by those commemorated by the statue.

Veterans groups were equally incensed and saddened. Joseph Chenelly, AMVETS’ national executive director, stated, “These despicable acts of vandalism by ignorant individuals are maddening, to say the least.” He also noted that the vandals “hopefully… are simply unaware of the sacrifices made by the ‘doughboys’ of World War I.” Chenelly emphasized how the contributions of over 4 million Americans in World War I helped tip the balance in favor of the Allied Forces, ultimately securing freedoms, including the right to protest.

Faith Runner, granddaughter of sculptor Karl Illava, was heartbroken by the monument’s defacement, calling the vandals “idiots” who “just don’t understand history.” She emphasized that her grandfather deliberately sculpted the statue to evoke the harsh realities of war. He despised war and wanted the public to understand the immense sacrifices made by these American soldiers, whom he captured so poignantly in bronze. Runner also noted how grateful her grandfather was to receive the commission, as most artists were struggling during the Great Depression.

Duane Sarmiento, the Veterans of Foreign Wars commander-in-chief, called the vandals’ actions “inexcusable and infuriating” given that the U.S. soldiers commemorated by the statue fought and died for the rights of all to be free. He and other veterans were baffled by how a peaceful protest could justify the desecration of a monument dedicated to those who sacrificed their lives for freedom.

Official Response

NYPD Crime Stoppers has set up a hotline for tips and plastered wanted posters around the memorial. Deputy Commissioner of Operations Kaz Daughtry emphasized that the NYPD is investigating this “heinous crime” and will “leave no stone unturned until the perpetrators are brought to justice.” Daughtry’s statement reinforced that defacing memorials, which honor the sacrifices of the fallen, would not be tolerated.

The protesters, frustrated in their attempts to disrupt the Met Gala, marched with flares and engaged in further acts of disorder, resulting in 27 arrests for offenses such as disorderly conduct. As investigations continue, Adams and the NYPD are urging anyone with information to contact the Crime Stoppers hotline or submit tips online or through social media.

Beyond this incident, New York City has seen a surge in pro-Palestinian protests across college campuses in recent weeks. The ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict has sparked fervent demonstrations nationwide, with hundreds of arrests made as protesters attempt to make their voices heard. While free speech and peaceful protests are integral to American democracy, the vandalism of public monuments remains a contentious and divisive issue.

Legacy of the Monument

The 107th Infantry statue, also known as the “107th United States Infantry Memorial,” has stood as a testament to bravery and sacrifice since it was dedicated in 1927. Illava, a sergeant in the Seventh Regiment himself, brought his personal experiences to life through the depiction of the seven soldiers. The monument serves as a solemn reminder of the 116,000 American lives lost during the Great War and honors the indomitable spirit of those who served.

The statue’s location near the former Seventh Regiment Armory reflects the historical connection between New York City and the infantrymen it commemorates. For decades, it has been a focal point for remembrance services and a symbol of gratitude for veterans.

The defacement of the 107th Infantry monument has stirred emotions and rallied the city to respond. While the culprits remain at large, city officials, veterans, and the public have united in condemnation of the act, underscoring the enduring significance of monuments that honor those who served and sacrificed for freedom.

Mayor Adams and veterans’ groups call for education, reflection, and accountability as law enforcement intensifies its investigation. They hope that those responsible will ultimately understand and respect the legacy of the “doughboys” who paved the way for the rights and freedoms Americans enjoy today.