By Ann Cipperly
Soldiers from Opelika and other Alabamians who bravely served in a decisive role in World War I are being remembered in a special exhibit at the Museum of East Alabama, 121 S. 9th St., and in Nimrod Frazer’s book “Send the Alabamians, WWI Fighters in the Rainbow Division.”
Frazer will present a program on his book at the Rotary Club meeting Tuesday, June 3, and then attend a book signing wine and cheese reception at the museum from 5-6:30 p.m.
Frazer’s book tells the story of the Battle at Croix Rouge Farm, where 162 officers and men from the Alabama regiment of the Rainbow Division, the 167th, died, and more than a thousand Alabamians were wounded.
Major Dallas Smith of Opelika commanded the 3rd Battalion in the battle, which included hand-to-hand fighting. Among the lost were 1st Lt. John Powell, commander of Opelika’s I Company, and four other officers in the Alabama regiment.
Col. Douglas MacArthur wrote, “The 167th Alabama assisted by the left of the 168th Iowa had stormed and captured the Croix Rouge Farm in a manner which for its gallantry I do not believe has been surpassed in military history.”
The museum is requesting photos from local families who had relatives serve in WWI. Glenn Buxton, director of the museum, will scan in photos to post with the exhibit.
A WWI uniform worn by Dr. Byron Bruce is included in the exhibit. Bruce removed the appendix from Lt. Dwight Eisenhower during the war. Also featured is a copy of the “Opelika Daily News” from Oct. 5 1918, with a letter written by Opelikan Sgt. Peter McGraw to his father in Opelika telling about the Battle at Croix Rouge Farm. The letter had run in August of that year and “created such wide comment and praise” that the paper ran it again.
Frazer’s book is receiving a great deal of attention from the media and others. “The media group at Auburn University has inquired as an interest in a documentary for TV,” said Frazer. “A number of people from these parts have visited the monument in France or are planning to go.”
Frazer said he is especially proud of this endorsement from General David H. Petraeus (U.S. Army, Retired): “‘Send the Alabamians, WWI Fighters in the Rainbow Division’ is an exceedingly well-researched, highly detailed account of Alabama’s 167th Infantry Regiment from its mobilization in 1916 for service on the Mexican border through its deployment to France for the final year of (WWI).
“A Korean War combat veteran, Rod Frazer captures particularly impressively the hard, bloody fighting in which the 167th’s soldiers engaged in 1918.
“As Frazer’s account unfolds, the reader is reminded vividly why the men of the 167th were hailed by Alabama newspapers at the time as ‘The Immortals.’ Indeed, after reading this superb history, it is clear that the 167th truly exemplified Alabama’s motto, ‘We dare defend our rights.’
“It is equally clear that Rod Frazer has done them a great service by capturing their impressive history for us.”
The museum received 600 copies of the book to sell with the proceeds going to the museum. The late Yetta Samford, the Opelika Rotary Club and the Opelika Kiwanis Club purchased them.
Books are available for purchase for $35, which includes a one-year museum membership. Current members can purchase the book for $25.