A war memorial poised outside an old-fashioned North Carolina home honoring the founder of the U.S. Army Airborne has been the subject of vandalism, likely because he shares a last name with controversial Confederate General Robert E Lee.
The marble statue of U.S. Army Gen. William C. Lee was doused with flammable liquid and set on fire around 10 p.m. last Thursday, leaving parts of it ashy and scorched. It’s the latest, albeit most unlikely, piece to become roiled in the nationwide debate regarding the removal of Confederate War memorials.
Marc Johnson, Curator of the General William C. Lee Airborne Museum in Dunn, was shocked to see the statue defaced.
“This is a hometown grown boy here that turned out to be an international hero of World War II so to come and try to destroy his statue is just an insult to everybody,” he told WNCN.
“I was surprised that anybody would do that to this museum statue. This is not a Civil War museum and this is not Robert E. Lee. This is General William C. Lee from United States Army Airborne form World War II, so I was hurt and surprised that somebody would actually do this.”
Aside from sharing a last name, the two men have nothing in common, Johnson said, emphasizing that William Lee was not a racist.
“When he was in World War II he’s considered the father of the airborne which there were plenty of black paratroopers, a very diverse outfit,” he said.
While it’s not clear whether the vandals actually mistook the World War II general for Robert E. Lee is unclear, the city of Dunn is located within the Raleigh-Durham area — where some of the most tense debates regarding the removal of Confederate memorials have unfolded in the last few years.
Protesters in August 2017 toppled a bronze statue depicting a Confederate soldier out side a Durham courthouse. The following year, activists and students pulled down a monument at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill called Silent Sam, which paid homage to UNC graduates who died fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War.
Firefighters were able to put out the flames on the WW II memorial, but the damage has left a lot of local residents frustrated. Many of them have pointed out how it is an act of disrespect directed at a man who fought for his country.
“Spineless cowards who deface monuments like this have no respect for how our community was founded and no clue about sacrifice honor or duty…” one woman, who identified herself as a former medic with the 82nd Airborne division, wrote in response to a Facebook post describing the incident.
Johnson told WNCN the fact that the statue is made from marble makes it tricky to clean and fix, but he’s reached out to a local stone mason for some help. He suspects the repair will cost him several hundred dollars.
Authorities are investigating the vandalism and the Dunn Police Department is offering $1,000 reward for any information leading up to an arrest.
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