Downtown was up and moving not long after first light Wednesday morning.

Bleary eyed commuters, perhaps hopeful of ducking out early, poured into the city center before 7 a.m. Motorists exiting at Peters Creek Parkway were too busy fidgeting with phones or coffee to notice the panhandler shading himself under an umbrella.

Farther in, near the parking decks and surface lots, construction workers were hopping on job sites. A factory installed car radio provided a soundtrack for the bustle; a record number of North Carolinians are expected to drive somewhere this Fourth of July weekend.

One corner of downtown, at Third and Liberty streets hard by the old Forsyth County Courthouse, was momentarily still.

An ode to the past — an overlooked and mostly forgotten memorial dedicated to local men killed in World War I — sits there amid the rush to build the city’s future.

In remembrance

It’s a simple memorial, a slender flagpole resting atop a solid granite base. A brass plaque, perhaps 18 inches wide by 2 feet deep, is screwed into its face. Sixty-nine names are engraved upon it in alphabetical order from Clinton A. Anderson to John Willis Young.

1917 1918/ IN GRATEFUL REMEMBRANCE OF/ THE FORSYTH COUNTY MEN/ WHO MADE THE SUPREME SACRIFICE/ IN THE WORLD WAR

Erected May 30, 1921, by the Women’s Club of Winston-Salem and the Clyde Bolling Post No.55 of the American Legion, the memorial is a fitting, understated tribute to local boys who died in the war to end all wars.

The first of those was Clyde Bolling, namesake of the Legion post. He was born in Waughtown in 1897, and according to newspaper accounts, joined the Army before the United States entered the war. He served in Mexico among other places before being shipped to France.

Bolling was killed May 11, 1918. He was a messenger serving with the First Infantry when a bomb tossed from the cockpit of a German plane exploded near his motorcycle. He was just 20 years old.

He was buried in France, but his remains were repatriated in 1921 and buried in Salem Cemetery. His mother saved the flag used to cover his casket, and it was donated to the Legion post in 1944 after her death in anticipation of it being used similarly for a local killed in World War II.

“It is expected that the first body of a World War II soldier will arrive here sometime after the first of the year (1945) and the Legion at that time will offer the flag to the next of kin of the soldier for use on his casket during the traditional military service,” a Winston-Salem Journal story reads.

Think about that today as you watch a hot-dog eating contest or a fireworks display. That’s the true price of freedom.

Misplaced dissent

Like a lot of people, I’d never given the World War I memorial much thought. I barely even knew it was there.

That changed with the storm of division and protest over another memorial, one dedicated to the Confederate dead a block farther north at the old Courthouse.

A tiny undercurrent of dissent voiced by a lone supporter of the Confederate statue drew me to it: If the city takes down the Civil War memorial, then it ought to take down that flagpole and plaque.

“They can’t treat one differently than the other,” he’d said.

It was difficult to follow the logic then or now.

The Confederate monument was put up next to the courthouse in 1905 — 50 years after the end of the Civil War. Credible, fact-based research shows that similar monuments sprang up across the South during the Jim Crow era to remind black people to mind their place.

World War I — the war to end all wars — was very different. And the memorial to local dead went up two years after its end while the memories of their sacrifices were still fresh.

That memorial, beyond a lone dissenter likely playing the role of a misguided devil’s advocate, hardly divides a community. Most of us don’t even know it’s there.

Today it stands behind fresh, well-tended landscaping built by developers who converted the old county courthouse into housing. The bronze plaque has turned green through the years but otherwise has stood the test of time.

New construction, updates and overhauls are underway in many of the buildings surrounding the forgotten memorial. Change doesn’t have to touch everything.

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ssexton@wsjournal.com 336-727-7481 @scottsextonwsj

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