Posts Tagged 'First World War'

Their Stories are Fascinating and Powerful: Remembering Wisconsin’s Red Arrow Division in the First World War

By Capt. Brian J. Faltinson

This post comes from MA alum, Iraq war veteran, and public historian Brian J. Faltinson, who describes the ongoing commemoration of the centennial of one of the most famous military units to originate in Wisconsin, the “Red Arrow” Division that formed during the First World War. Downtown’s Red Arrow County Park is named in honor of the men who served.

I remember in fifth grade checking out a book on each world war from the school library so I could pass the time on a long drive to my grandparents’ farm in Watertown, South Dakota. I do not precisely remember why, but I found the book on the Great War to be the more fascinating of the two.  Today, I am fortunate as a historian and public affairs officer with the Wisconsin National Guard to share the stories of some of Wisconsin’s World War I soldiers.

The Wisconsin National Guard for the next two years is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 32nd “Red Arrow” Division and honoring its service in World War I with d of the raa project we call Dawn of the Red Arrow. (The image to the left is of Facebook masthead of the Dawn of the Red Arrow (Wisconsin National Guard Image).  We consider the organization of the 32nd Division to be the beginning of the modern Wisconsin National Guard and most of our units trace their origins to that division.  Given that the U.S. Army ranked behind Portugal when it went to war with Germany, the National Guard was a vital part of building an army capable of fighting on the Western Front.  In September 1917, 15,000 Wisconsin National Guardsmen from units in 72 Wisconsin cities joined with the Michigan National Guard at Camp MacArthur, Texas, to form the 32nd Division.  The division entered combat in May 1918 in Alsace and would later fight in the Aisne-Marne, Oise-Aisne and Meuse-Argonne campaigns.  The French awarded the division a battle citation for its ferocity in combat near Soissons and formalized “Les Terribles” as the division’s nickname – making the 32nd the only American division to earn a nom de guerre from a foreign nation. The division pierced every single German line it encountered and, as a result, its unit insignia is that of a red arrow punching through a German battle line. This success in battle was earned at great cost; the division suffered over 13,000 casualties of which over 2,600 were killed in action.

The overarching theme of Dawn of the Red Arrow is to have the division’s soldiers tell their own story. We have partnered with the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, the Wisconsin National Guard Museum and the Wisconsin Historical Society to find and share the photos, letters, memoirs, artifacts and stories left behind by the division’s soldiers.   A recent research trip to the National Archives found the division’s operational records, daily staff journal, official photograph collection and two hours of U.S. Army Signal Corps film that captured the division’s time in France. These records ranged from private’s observation Ruffreport of enemy activity from the trenches to the division’s operations orders for each of its battles.  Connecting all of these stories and creating their proper context so they can be properly understood is a series of video-recorded interviews with Marquette’s Dr. Julius Ruff (pictured here with Brian Faltinson–photo courtesy Wisconsin National Guard) and history professors from Ripon College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We will tell these stories as they happened 100 years ago, which means this project will last through June 6, 1919 when the division’s Wisconsin members marched in a welcome home parade on Milwaukee’s Wisconsin Avenue.

The history of the division as a whole is well-established and our goal is not expand the historiography, but to honor these Soldiers and restore their presence in today’s memory. Their stories are fascinating and powerful.  Cpl. Edward DeNomie, a Ho-Chunk Tribe Native American, provided a veteran’s audio interview to the Wisconsin Veterans Museum and we hear in his own words about how he joined the Wisconsin National Guard while enrolled in the Federal government’s Indian School in Tomah, Wisconsin. Capt. Paul W. Schmidt, who wrote his unit’s history after the war, joined the Wisconsin National Guard in 1898 and led Sheboygan’s Company C, 127th Infantry Regiment in France. Chaplain Capt. Gustave Stearns of Milwaukee wrote vivid letters home to his congregation describing the war. His bravery and compassion on the battlefield with regard to caring for the wounded and dying on both sides earned him a Silver Star and an Iron Cross.  However, the most emotionally powerful collection we have run across features 1st Lt. Bruce W. Clarke, an infantry platoon leader. The collection starts with an almost perfect, crystal clear ID card photo of Clarke, followed by some mundane platoon leader administrative notes and then a message book he used in France to send dispatches to his commander – copies of some of those messages remain legible. The collection’s final photograph is a 1931 image of his mother dressed in black grieving at his grave at the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in France.

The stories of these and other individuals are easily shared through the Dawn of the Red Arrow website, Facebook page, as well as other social media.  We tell some of these stories as we find them and others will be regular features.  Some items are thematic or concentrate on a specific person, place or event, while others track “on this day 100 years ago”. We want to use these modern media platforms to bring the black-and-white images and words on aged pieces of paper to life so people can connect with these soldiers.   A demonstration of that potential happened during my week at the National Archives, when Red ArrowI regularly posted research updates.  A post of the earliest known photograph of the Red Arrow insignia, painted on a battle-scarred artillery piece (see image to the left, courtesy of the National Archives) went viral and dramatically expanded our audience.   There are thousands who currently wear that insignia, tens of thousands who once wore it and countless more who know someone who once did.   That image had tremendous meaning to those people.  We use social media to share this raw material of history which we will assemble into our culminating product of a one-hour film that tells the division’s story from its service in Texas during the Mexican Border Crisis to its return to Wisconsin after World War One.  We are targeting the film to premier in October at the Wisconsin Centennial Commission’s World War I Symposium in Madison.

Capt. Brian J. Faltinson graduated from Marquette in 1998 with an M.A. in American History. He has been a member of the Minnesota and Wisconsin National Guard since 1988 and is an Iraq War veteran.  He has been the Wisconsin National Guard’s chief historian since 2007.  In his civilian career, he is a project manager & historian with Heritage Research, Ltd, an environmental and public history consulting firm in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.


Christmas on the Western Front, 1914

 As many of you know, this fall the History Department commemorated the centenary of the beginning of the First World War with a lecture series called “Legacies of the Great War. Watch the lectures online at

It’s fitting, then, that our traditional Christmas-time blog features the centennial of the famous “Christmas Truce” between German and Allied armies in 1914, the war’s first Yuletide. Mostly we’ll let an excellent British website provide most of the information. But first, Julius Ruff, who teaches a course on WWI and was co-organizer of the lecture series, provides a brief introduction (check out the website his class created featuring biographies of many WWI soldiers at  Merry Christmas, everyone.

Amid the carnage of the First World War, a conflict that claimed the lives of some 10,000,000 soldiers, a bizarre event spontaneously occurred on the Western Front in northern France at Christmas, 1914. On Christmas Eve, Allied soldiers noted the appearance of Christmas trees and the singing of Christmas carols in the trenches of the Germsoldiersan forces facing them. In plain defiance of military regulations forbidding fraternization with the enemy, Allied soldiers joined the German response to this most central observance of the Christian faith, and soon left their own lines to meet their enemies in the middle of the “no man’s land” that separated the opposing armies. On that killing field, up and down the front, war suddenly stopped, as the soldiers observed an unofficial truce to exchange Christmas greetings, holiday foods, and tobacco with their nominal enemies. In some sectors, the soldiers even played soccer. This cessation of hostilities endured through Christmas Day, 1914, before officers on both sides re-imposed traditional military regulations. The soldiers repeated one last, diminished celebration of this sort in 1915, before the belligerent forces resumed warfare that would continue uninterrupted until the Armistice of Nov. 11, 1918.

For descriptions, documents, news about centennial commemorations, and much more about the truce, go to “Operation Plum Puddings” at


Legacies of the Great War

One of the responsibilities of History Department is to share their research and the research of others with our students and the larger Marquette and Milwaukee communities. In this post, Julius Ruff introduces a major lecture series for Fall 2014 (sponsored by the department, with major help from other academic units) that will commemorate the centenary of the First World War. All are welcome to attend! Jim Marten, Editor

Legacies of the Great War

WWI Poster

Find out more about the series at our website.

The year 2014 marks the centennial of the outbreak of the First World War, a conflict known as “the Great War” to those who fought in it. In many ways the latter appellation is a more apt characterization of the war which the historian of Germany, Fritz Stern, called “the first calamity of the twentieth century, the calamity from which all the other calamities sprang.” The war decimated a generation of young men, but it also carried away the established social and political order of 1914 and, in its imperfect peace settlement, paved the way for a Communist revolution in Russia, the rise of fascist dictatorships in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, a second world war, and ultimately a Cold War which, recent events in Ukraine suggest, did not end completely with the break-up of the Soviet Union. Beyond Europe, the Middle East continues to be shaken by conflicts whose roots we may trace to the actions of European statesmen during and after the First World War and in Africa and Asia the war in many ways paved the way for the eventual end of western imperial control.

The History Department, with assistance from the Law School, the Gender and Sexuality Resources Center, and the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, is observing the war’s centennial with a symposium, “Legacies of Great War,” that will bring several key scholars to campus to reflect on the war. Each visiting scholar will deliver a major address and participate in a panel discussion with scholars from Marquette and the Milwaukee area.

The symposium opens on September 8, 2014, at 4:00-5:30 PM in Raynor Library’s Beaumier Suite BC, with Professor Julius Ruff of Marquette delivering a lecture on “The Enduring Legacy of the Great War,” which will provide an overview of the war’s consequences.

Professor Leonard V. Smith, the Frederick B. Artz Professor of History at Oberlin College, will deliver the second major program in the symposium as the History Department’s Rev. Henry Casper, S.J., Lecturer. He is the author of Between Mutiny and Obedience: The Case of the Fifth French Infantry Division during World War I (1994), The Embattled Self: French Soldiers’ Testimony of the Great War (2007), and the forthcoming Sovereignty at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919: The “Laboratory over a Vast Cemetery.” He is also the co-author of France and the Great War, 1914-1918. Professor Smith will speak at 4:00-5:30 PM on September 15, in AMU 227 on “The War after the War: Drawing Boundaries at the Paris Peace Conference,” in which he will look particularly at the issues raised in drawing the borders of Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine. On September 16, Professor Smith will join our own Timothy McMahon and Philip Naylor, as well as Richard Friman from Political Science in a panel discussion of the war’s geo-political effects. Held from 9:30-10:45 in AMU 227, the panel will constitute both a meeting of Julius Ruff’s World War I course but also an opportunity for members of the University community to join in discussion of the war’s consequences.

Professor Irene Guenther of the University of Houston will be our third speaker. An historian of Germany, Dr. Guenther is the author of Nazi Chic? Fashioning Women in the Third Reich (2004) and is co-curator of a major art exhibition on the war, “Postcards from the Trenches,” which opened on August 19 in Washington at the Pepco Edison Gallery. She will speak on Oct. 1, at 4:00-5:30 PM, in Raynor Library Beaumier BC Suite on “The Great War in Art.” She will join Marquette’s Sarah Gendron (Foreign Languages), Leah Flack (English), and Peter Staudenmaier (History) in a panel discussion on Oct. 2 at 9:30-10:45 in Beaumier A on “The Cultural Impact of the Great War.” The panel will again be a part of the World War I class, but members of the University community are invited to attend.

Our final speaker will be Professor Martha Hanna of the University of Colorado-Boulder. She is the author of The Mobilization of Intellect: French Scholars and Writers during the Great War (1996) and the winner of the J. Russell Major Prize of the American Historical Association, Your Death Would be Mine: Paul and Marie Pireaud in the Great War (2006). She will present a lecture entitled “Their Hearts Remained at Home: Marriage and the Great War in Britain, France, and Canada” at 4:00-5:30 PM on Oct. 22 in Eckstein Hall. On Oct. 23, Dr. Hanna will join with Kristen Foster and Carla Hay for a panel discussion of “Gender and the Great War” at 9:30-10:45 AM in AMU 157. Members of the University community are invited to join the World War I class.

The final event in our symposium will be a panel discussion on the subject of ”Veterans of the Great War in Historic Context” bringing together John Boly (English), Alissa Condon (History), and Dr. William Lorber, a psychologist at the Zablocki Center who has worked with veterans suffering with PTSD. The panel will meet on Nov. 18 at 9:30-10:45 in Beaumier A and, once again, members of the University community are invited to attend.

is a long-time member of the History Department, where he teaches courses on the histories of France, crime and punishment, and the First World War. He is the author of Violence in Early Modern Europe, 1500-1800 (2001) and Crime, Justice and Public Order in Old Regime France: The Senechaussees of Libourne and Bazas,1696-1789 (1984) and co-author of the textbook Discovering the Western Past: A Look at the Evidence, which has gone through many editions.

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