This summer, I was walking up Fifth Avenue past 66th Street and happened to gaze up at one of those bronze memorial statues scattered throughout the city. It was mostly backlit and hard to see and so at first my eye only caught a glimpse of one area which stopped me- the anguished facial expression of a charging soldier- the third soldier from the right. I looked longer at all the characters and the movement and realized that this statue is quite horrifying- in a way that makes me want to research it further so I can better appreciate what it is represents. So…
This bronze statue, The 107th Infrantry Memorial, memorializes foot soldiers from the 107th Infrantry, a New York National Guard Regiment of volunteers which, during World War 1 suffered 1,918 casualties including 580 killed. The statue’s designer, Karl Illava, (1896-1954) served in the 107th, himself, as a sergeant.
The 107th Infantry Regiment has an interesting New York history. The 107th was actually known as the 7th Infantry Regiment until World War 1 when it was strengthened by transfers from other New York regiments. Since the Civil War the 7th Infantry Regiment had sometimes been referred to as the Silk Stocking Regiment because a large proportion of its members were young men from elite Manhattan society including members of the Vanderbilt and Roosevelt families.
Charles Clinton, a veteran of the 7th Regiment, designed what we now call the Park Avenue Armory, from which the 7th then operated after the building’s official dedication in 1880. The Armory functioned as both a military headquarters and a social club. The reception and company rooms were designed by prominent contemporary artists such as Louis Comfort Tiffany and Stanford White.
The 107th Infantry Regiment shipped to France in May of 1918 and was gradually rotated into the front line in relief of various British divisions. In September, the 107th participated in a successful assault on the Hindenberg Line, Germany’s elaborate line of defense in Northeast France. Four of the regiment’s members were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their actions during this offensive including Sergeant Alan Louis Eggers, who had been a student at Cornell before the war. Corporal Thomas E. O’Shea died during the battle but was awarded the medal posthumously. The 107th returned to New York in March of 1919 where they would soon march in the victory parade.
So, this statue, The 107th Infrantry Memorial, depicts seven of these New York soldiers engaged in battle against the Germans. The soldier on the right carries two Mills Bombs (hand grenades) and supports a wounded soldier. I find very powerful the soldier toward the left holding another who is clearly mortally wounded. And the face of the soldier, third from the right, whose open mouth I first noticed, is hard to look at for the powerful emotion and horror it evokes in me.
Author, Stephen L. Harris has written a book “Duty, Honor, Privilege: New York’s Silk Stocking Regiment and the Breaking of the Hindenberg Line” (Potomac Books 2001) about the 107th during WW1 which I am almost finished reading and then I will share some much juicier information!
P.S. The memorial sits on a large stepped pedestal designed by architects, Rogers & Haneman who designed the Neo-romanesque Ravenna Court building which still stands at 37th Avenue in the historic district of Jackson Heights.