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Courage Without Fear

Becky Vargo • Feb 9, 2018 at 1:00 PM

Young men from the Tri-Cities area were part of the 32nd Army Division, more commonly known as the Red Arrow Division, which served an integral part in the battles that led to the end of World War I. 

This group of men from Michigan and Wisconsin are part of the Courage Without Fear exhibit on display now through Nov. 25 in the mezzanine gallery at the Tri-Cities Historical Museum, 200 Washington Ave. in downtown Grand Haven. 

“The boys from Company F that trained at the Grand Haven Armory were part of that,” said exhibit facilitator Mike VerHulst.

Company F of Grand Haven eventually combined with Company G of Muskegon to form Company L, VerHulst said in explaining the “L” banner exhibited in one of the cases.

The local men and their Red Arrow Division arrived in France in February 1918. That was fairly late in the war, VerHulst explained. But the fresh troops and their aggressive attitude made a huge contribution to different offensives, finally pushing the Germans on the run and the end of the war in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in October 1918. 

The 32nd Division’s nickname was “The Terribles,” because they were so aggressive in battle, VerHulst said.

The exhibit, laid out in chronological order, includes a picture of the local soldiers in front of the old county courthouse in Grand Haven, a full uniform from the Red Arrow Division, rifles from the period and a German machine gun made for an airplane.

Every soldier had a French phrase book, a mess kit and a gas mask. VerHulst said the museum has local accounts noting that alarms went off every 20 minutes alerting soldiers to put on their gas masks.

Liberty Bond posters were a big part of raising money for the war, and several examples of those are on display in the exhibit, including one designed by the late Winsor McKay, a cartoonist and former Spring Lake resident.

VerHulst said the exhibit also focuses on what led up to the war.

While a lot of people think the sinking of the RMS Lusitania was the start of America’s part in the war, it was actually the Zimmerman telegram in 1917, VerHulst said. And that was three years into the war.

In a telegram intercepted by the British, Germany offered Mexico parts of the United States — Texas, Arizona and New Mexico — in exchange for its support in the war. The message so enraged Americans that war was declared on Germany.

The U.S. had only 100,000 men in its standing army at that time, but the draft, training and mobilization ramped up big time after the declaration, VerHulst said.

Several events are planned at the museum in conjunction with the exhibit.

On Feb. 28, Grand Valley State University professor James Smither will conduct a free lecture on “The War That Should Not Have Happened.” The lecture begins at 7 p.m.

On March 8, Don Hoogenstyn Jr. will lecture on “Music and War: 1917.” This also starts at 7 p.m.

Events will continue through Nov. 11. For a complete list, go to www.tri-citiesmuseum.org.

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