Word for word, Michele Sandridge remembers what her maternal grandfather told her just before he died in 1969 at the Veterans Administration hospital in Brecksville.
And those words come back to Sandridge whenever she walks past the Summit County Courthouse, where the decades-old doughboy statue — now renovated and glistening in the sun — stands near the main entrance, its raised right arm clutching a grenade.
Her grandfather, 81-year-old Edward Forshaw of Cuyahoga Falls, was himself a doughboy who fought with the U.S. Army in Europe during World War I.
“In one of our last conversations,” Sandridge said, “when I was still in high school, he told me to remember that veterans are the first ones to stand up and serve, and they’re usually the last ones that are remembered.
“And he told me never to forget them.”
Summit County officials, who held meetings last summer to discuss plans for restoring the doughboy — first unveiled on Armistice Day in 1934 by the Gold Star Mothers of Summit County — say Sandridge and Vietnam War veteran Bruce Kilian of Akron were front and center on the project.
Kilian, 64, who was a Huey helicopter pilot in the Army and fought in Southeast Asia in 1972 and 1973, recalled how touched Sandridge was when officials committed the money to preserve the doughboy’s life for decades to come.
“When I first talked to her about it,” Kilian said, “tears almost welled up in her eyes. She said, ‘You know what? That would mean a lot to me and my family.’
“As the years go by, you forget the sacrifices that these World War I guys made. That was a tough one,” Kilian said, “and now I’m looking at my own generation. We are all in our 60s now — the Vietnam veterans.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, but it’s easy to forget the past.”
Kilian, commander of Fairlawn VFW Post 349, said the county’s director of administrative services, Craig Stanley, and Laura Dunlop, an Army Korean War veteran from Akron and a member of the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame, also deserve much credit for the doughboy’s fine state.
Sandridge, a 24-year member of Akron’s American Legion Auxiliary Unit 19 and president of Ohio District 14 units in Summit and Portage counties, said both of her grandfathers would have been proud of the statue.
Her paternal grandfather, Carl Sandridge, who was 82 when he died in 1979, also was a World War I doughboy.
“They were both God-fearing. They were both just good American men,” she said.
Sandridge, Kilian and others associated with the doughboy project credited Thomarios Construction and its chief executive, Paul Thomarios, for the work in restoring the luster of the statue.
County officials said the project went up for bid, and that the $5,000 winning bid by Thomarios — a national giant in the aircraft restoration field with acclaimed work on a Saturn V moon rocket and a Project Mercury capsule that first carried a U.S. astronaut into space flight — undoubtedly cost much more.
Thomarios said the statue, which had been deteriorating and peeling badly, had to be removed from its base carefully, specially cleaned, coated with a bronze statuary material and finished with an eco-friendly clear sealant.
“I think it looks great,” Kilian said, “and I’ve seen the statue in all its stages.”
It should make all veterans proud, he said, because it stands as a memorial to “the real heroes: the guys who didn’t come back.”
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at email@example.com.