News & Politics

Vandals Attack Wrong Statue of General Lee — Deface World War II Hero, Not Confederate

Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill, second left with cigar, attended a demonstration of United States paratroopers at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, June 24, 1942. From left to right seated; US Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall; Churchill; US Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and Paratroop Commander General William C. Lee. (AP Photo)

Earlier this week, vandals targeted the statue of General William C. Lee, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division in World War II — a unit made famous by the show Band of Brothers. Following a spate of vandalism targeting statues of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, this seems a disgusting case of mistaken identity.

“I think it was a big mistake,” Mark Johnson, the curator of the General William C. Lee Airborne Museum in Dunn, N.C., told ABC 7 News. “Why would you do something like this? It really just irritates people.”

Police told the local outlet that a suspect doused the statue in an unidentified flammable liquid and set it on fire.

https://www.facebook.com/GeneralWilliamCLeeAirborneMuseum/photos/a.256323814406906/2239700419402559/

Johnson said he was familiar with the spate of vandalism directed against Robert E. Lee statues but never suspected a case of mistaken identity would direct people to his museum’s statue.

“Never even thought it would affect us in any way at all,” he said. “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.”

The curator suggested the vandals wanted to make a statement about slavery and racism and were sorely mistaken.

“I was surprised that anybody would do that to this museum statue,” Johnson said. “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 from World War II, so I was hurt and surprised that somebody would actually do this.”

The museum curator also insisted that the World War II general 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.

Johnson contacted a local stone mason to steam clean the statue. “We hope it will clean up, there’s minimal damage to the base, so we hope it will all come out but it will take a lot of work,” he said. He predicted the repairs will cost several hundred dollars.

This is far from the first case of such a mistaken identity. In 2017, vandals targeted a statue of Joan of Arc, the medieval French warrior-saint, spraying the statue with “Tear It Down,” a tag used for Confederate monuments. Also that year, ESPN pulled an Asian-American sportscaster named Robert Lee — because his name is similar to that of Robert E. Lee. Lee was assigned to a separate game, but was withdrawn from announcing at a University of Virginia game because of the white nationalist riots in Charlottesville, Va., that year.

Vandalizing the wrong statues has a long and ignominious history. During the French Revolution, revolutionaries beheaded the statues of kings on Notre Dame Cathedral. The revolutionaries thought the kings were kings of France, symbols of their oppression. However, the kings were the Kings of Israel from the Old Testament.

In their zeal, it seems protesters are likely to make embarrassing mistakes. This becomes no laughing matter when groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center mark schools and military bases on a “hate map” of Confederate monuments.

The Dunn Police Department is investigating the case and is offerng a $1,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest. If you know any information, call 910-892-2222.

Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.