The James River already was covering it with a thin dusting of silt. But even under the grit and grime, it made its presence known.
“It was under 15 feet of water,” Senior Trooper Andrew Trombley of the Virginia State Police said. “But I could see the shape of it, the pattern.”
On Friday morning, a state police dive team recovered the Doughboy’s bayonet – a piece of local history that had been missing for about a month.
The bronze bayonet, part of the Doughboy statue on Monument Terrace, was snapped off and thrown into the river.
It was the second time in as many years the blade had been broken, but the first time the culprit made off with it. Outraged veterans put together a $3,000 reward for its return.
The Doughboy or “Listening Post” statue is a World War I memorial and beloved local icon. The steadfast bronze soldier has kept watch over many a community event, including the weekly Support Our Troops rally, which is approaching its 12th anniversary.
Friday’s find happened shortly before the weekly rally, and officers were able to present the bayonet to the group in person.
“It was like Christmas morning,” said Steve Bozeman, a two-time Purple Heart recipient and leader in the local veterans community.
Marlene Lauder, whose late husband was a Marine, said Bozeman started whooping and hollering.
“We heard it all over the Terrace,” she said. “He yelled, ‘We got it! We got it!'”
The quick recovery of the bayonet came as a pleasant surprise to many. The news that it had been tossed into the drink was not encouraging. But Friday was the dive team’s first attempt, and it took only about two hours to locate it.
The bayonet was found under the Appalachian Trail footbridge near the Snowden dam on the Amherst-Bedford county line.
The woman charged with taking it, Jessica Nicole McCrickard, helped police narrow down its location. McCrickard, of Amherst, was arrested after a tipster identified her as the Doughboy vandal.
The police said she told them the damage was done accidentally and she disposed of it in the river in a panic. She has been charged with misdemeanor counts of destruction of property and petit larceny.
The tipster who reported her will receive the $3,000 reward now that the bayonet has been recovered.
The bayonet returned from its misadventures with a bent tip and some stripped away patina but Lynchburg Museum Director Doug Harvey said he anticipates it can be repaired.
“That’s not too bad,” he said with surprise as he turned the bayonet over in his hands. “… What a pleasant way to end the week.”
The restoration plans still are under discussion, Harvey said. Officials are debating how to make the memorial more secure.
Funding also will have to be worked out. The Lynchburg Historical Foundation has been raising money to fix memorials and statues around the city.
The foundation’s campaign, Save Outdoor Sculpture! or SOS!, paid to have the Doughboy bayonet repaired last year.
The veterans gathered together Friday said they’d like to see McCrickard take responsibility for the cost and spend time with them at their weekly rally.
“I would just hope she learns a lesson, not only about the destruction of public property, but about the meaning of these memorials, why they’re up there and what people went through to give her the freedoms she has,” Vietnam veteran Jerry Walker said.
David Stokes, president of the local chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America, said the vandalism of the Doughboy was a personal blow to the veteran community.
“That is sacred ground for us,” he said.
The veterans met with the state police divers Friday and thanked them for their work.
The diver who found the bayonet, Trombley, said this was the first time he’s been sent after an object with this kind of emotional significance to a community.
Meeting with the veterans was a great experience, he said.
“It was really nice,” he said. “It showed us what we did here.”
The Lynchburg Police Department said the bayonet would be processed as evidence for the court case and then returned to the museum.
The bayonet was found just before noon Friday. The police went to inform the veterans as soon as they could and arrived just moments before the rally was supposed to end.
“They were in the middle of praying when we pulled up,” Lt. R.D. Carson said. “I guess you could say their prayers had been answered.”