Arkansas remembers the many veterans who died in war

David O. Dodds monument is the most prominent at the Old State House. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Jack Schnedler)

Saturday's Veterans Day salutes in Little Rock, as elsewhere, focused on the few living World War II vets, as well as the much larger numbers who have served in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and the ongoing struggle against terrorism.

For earlier wars, memories have dimmed. But those long-departed veterans of 19th- and early 20th-century conflicts are honored at a little known cluster of monuments in the eastern shadow of the Old State House, 300 W. Markham St.

Tucked in a small garden, they are seldom noticed by Old State House Museum visitors, even those who pause for front-lawn photographs with the Lady Baxter Cannon or the ornate three-tiered fountain.

But the memorials reflect the value long placed by Arkansans on honoring our veterans -- including the men who served the Confederacy. Veneration for those from relatively recent conflicts is manifest by prominently placed tributes to Korean War vets in MacArthur Park and Vietnam War vets on the state Capitol grounds.

The Old State House garden's central memorial was erected in 1923 to honor 17-year-old David O. Dodd, who'd been hanged in Little Rock as a Confederate spy on Jan. 8, 1864. He was executed after refusing to name the person who'd given him coded papers about Union forces in the capital city.

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas explains that "the idea of a monument for the 'boy martyr' came from a 1913 Little Rock history class in which the students identified Dodd as a figure worthy of commemoration, leading to a dream of building a million-dollar hospital named in his honor."

The advent of World War I "soon made that plan unfeasible, so the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the United Confederate Veterans, aided by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, took the lead in raising funds to create a monument to Dodd."

Made of gray marble and unveiled in 1923, the Dodd tribute features a central shaft with a marble bas-relief carving of the 17-year-old. An inscription asserts that "he preferred death to dishonor." The monument originally sat in front of the Old State House, then was moved to the lawn's southwestern corner, and finally relocated to the garden.

Another of the site's Civil War markers remembers both sides in the sanguinary conflict that kept the nation united:

"In the War Between the States in 1861, Arkansas gave her adhesion to the Southern Confederacy, and 50,000 of her sons took part in the struggle on that side; while a smaller number espoused the northern cause. Today there is no North -- no South -- but one country and one flag."

The garden's newest monument by far was installed in 2015 by the Arkansas Division, United Daughters of the Confederacy. Commemorating the 150th anniversary of the war's end, its brief inscription remembers "our ancestors who fought, 1861-1865."

Arkansas had yet to become a territory, much less a state, when America and Britain fought the War of 1812. But 1922 saw installation of a plaque by the Arkansas chapter of the United States Daughters of 1812 "to the honor and glory of our patriotic sires who gave their services for their country in the war of 1812-1815."

The Mexican-American War Memorial, placed by the state of Arkansas, commemorates "her sons who served in the war with Mexico in 1846-47, and especially in memory of those who fell at Buena Vista and other conflicts of that war." A poem eulogizes the perished: "On Fame's eternal camping ground, their silent tents are spread; and Glory guards with sacred round the bivouac of the dead."

Melancholy likewise infuses the inscription on the Spanish-American War Memorial: "When the call to arms sounded in the War with Spain in 1898, Arkansas sent 2,822 of her sons into the field with marvelous rapidity; and many gave their lives in hospital and camp. Arkansas honors all who served, and especially those who died, as fully as if they had fallen in actual battle."

The garden's World War I memorial carries a brief verse: "The mighty mother turns with tears, the pages of her battle-years, lamenting all her fallen sons."

Its plaque notes that "in the great World War of 1917, Arkansas sent her sons streaming overseas to save the World for Liberty. Proud of their valor and achievements, she rejoices for those who returned unharmed, and mourns for those who fell on the shell-torn sod of Flanders and of France."

Another Great War plaque recognizes the only Arkansas military hero for whom a state park is named. The inscription points out that Herman Davis, of Mississippi County, ranked "fourth on Gen. John J. Pershing's list of 100 heroes of World War I."

Davis is lauded for "extraordinary heroism in action" while serving "as company runner, Oct. 10th, 1918, at Molleville Farm, France. He attacked and destroyed single-handed a machine-gun position which was subjecting his platoon to murderous fire."

Davis was proclaimed as "Arkansas' most distinguished son in action by legislative resolution" on Jan 23, 1923. That honor came 18 days after he'd died of tuberculosis likely induced by a German poison-gas attack in France. He was one of 2,183 Arkansas servicemen who lost their lives due to World War I -- then sometimes called, with unwarranted optimism, "the war to end all wars."

Online details about the monuments at the Old State House can be found on the American Memorials Directory at Click "Location" and scroll to "Arkansas."

photo A plaque honors 2,822 Arkansas soldiers lost in the Spanish-American War. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Jack Schnedler)
photo A poem eulogizes Arkansans who died in the Mexican-American War. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Jack Schnedler)
photo This World War I bench is inscribed "Toujours en avant," meaning "Forever forward." (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Jack Schnedler)
photo All Arkansas troops who died in World War I are saluted with a verse. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Jack Schnedler)
photo The gardens newest monument reflects the Civil Wars 150th anniversary. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Jack Schnedler)
photo The earliest conflict whose veterans are honored is the War of 1812. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Jack Schnedler)
photo A memorial garden for war veterans is located next to the Old State House. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Jack Schnedler)