BRAVERY IN BRONZE: The Re-Dedication of The Rainbow Viaduct
On May 28, 2012, commencing at 12:30 p.m., you are cordially invited to the re-dedication of The Rainbow Viaduct to honor a span of heroes from the 167th Alabama Infantry who have served this country since 1917. The Rainbow Viaduct is located at 21st Street South in Birmingham, Alabama.
Why the 167th you might ask? Because, as the invitation states, on July 26, 1918, at the Battle of Croix Rouge Farm during WWI, a regiment of Alabama soldiers advanced across an open field into the teeth of determined German resistance. With no artillery to soften up the position, the regiment had to rely on one of the most basic of weapons. The battle was one of the rare instances when a bayonet charge successfully pushed the enemy from an entrenched position. Later that day, the Germans would retaliate with a gas attack in a futile attempt to dislodge the regiment from the key position.
As part of the famed Rainbow Division, the 167th lost 162 dead and over 1000 wounded at Croix Rouge Farm. Yet for the 167th, Croix Rouge Farm was just an early entry on a long list of battles to come. After the war, the regiment was honored for their service with a Birmingham bridge being named after their division–the Rainbow Viaduct. The years have taken their toll on the structure and the regiment’s role in history.
I’m proud to say that a friend of mine, Susan Todt, who currently serves as Treasurer of the Shelby County GOP, took on the task and has worked diligently to see that the memorial was restored. The dedication of new bronze eagles will serve to honor the Rainbow Viaduct and the men it represents. The event will also feature today’s 167th Infantry Regiment as they prepare for deployment to Afghanistan. Honored Speakers include Congressman Spencer Bachus and Lt. Colonel, Larry Norred, Jr. – Battalion Commander, 1-167th Infantry.
No doubt many are familiar with the “Rainbow” division, but let me provide a little history for those who aren’t. From CroixRougeFarm:
Formation of the “Rainbow” division was authorized on August 1, 1917, less than two months after creation of the AEF’s first operational division, the 1st US Infantry Division, “the Big Red One.” That unit had been formed by the amalgamation of regular army units. Secretary of War Baker asked that the new unit have the best trained men possible and that it represent all parts of the country. Major Douglas MacArthur, who worked for Secretary Baker, suggested amalgamating elements of the National Guard as had been done with regular army soldiers. Accomplished quickly, the War Department cherry picked Guard units that had received training on the Mexican Border. They came from 26 states and the District of Columbia. Assembly at Camp Mills, Long Island began on August 30, 1917 and was completed on September 13. Given the number 42, it was named the “Rainbow” Division when MacArthur described it as stretching like a rainbow across the United States.
The battle I mentioned above is said in the “Rainbow’s history to have been the toughest of its battles and was influential in establishing the place of the United States at the peace table. The (Alabama) 167th and the (Iowa) 168th shared equal honors for their parts in the win.”
More about the 167th from AlabamaHistory:
Alabama National Guard units, which had served in a military effort in Mexico against Francisco “Pancho” Villa’s rebellion from October 1916 to April 1917, returned just in time to be mobilized for the European war. Initially, Alabama units protected public utilities and infrastructure, but in August they were mustered into federal service. The First and Second Alabama Infantry entered the Army’s Thirty-first Infantry Division, whereas the Fourth Alabama became the 167th Regiment of the Forty-second (Rainbow) Division. The 167th fought in the 1918 Aisne-Marne Offensive, and the Thirty-first remained at Camp Wheeler in Georgia.
In addition to providing 5,000 National Guardsmen and 7,000 other volunteers, Alabama contributed approximately 74,000 white and black draftees, called “selectmen,” to the Army. Most black troops were assigned to labor battalions, but two black units that trained in Alabama, Maryland’s First Separate Negro Company and Ohio’s Ninth Battalion of Infantry Colored, saw action with the Ninety-third Division under French command. More than 2,500 Alabamians were killed fighting in the fields of France.
When was the last time you saw a crowd like those in the pictures to honor those returning from duty?
You can read more about the Rainbow Division, Alabama’s 167th and WWI at CroixRougeFarmHistory.
There’s also an interesting story that turned up in my Google search on the 167th from the Mobile Register about their more recent service in the middle East and some of the typical bureaucratic bull they’ve had to put up with regarding a patch worn on their uniforms. This gem came from the end of the article:
You might expect “weekend warriors” of the National Reserve and Guard to be assigned to support roles over here. But most of the Alabama Guard units I have visited over the past couple of years have never been far from the fight.
As Lt. Col. Scott Gedling, commander of Mobile’s 711th Signal Battalion when it was deployed here, memorably put it back in 2004:
“The Army knows that when Alabama boys get shot at, they’re going to shoot back.”
If you can’t attend a memorial or parade on Monday, I urge you to take a moment to think about the sacrifices American men and women, and their families, have made over the years. Members of my family have served in most, if not all, wars since the Civil War, and for that service I am not only grateful, but immensely proud.
Let us pray that God will bless the American Soldier every day, but on this Memorial Day, especially the 167th!