MILWAUKEE — “Welcome the Thirty-second Division! Welcome, Les Terribles! Welcome our own! Make the city yours today; help us to show you the gladness your coming back has brought us.”
Those words opened the Milwaukee Journal’s front-page message to Wisconsin’s 32nd “Red Arrow” Division Soldiers who marched through downtown Milwaukee June 5, 1919 to commemorate their role in helping the Allies win World War I. Thousands lined the streets, dressed in patriotic garb and many wearing red poppies, to cheer for their Soldiers. Approximately 10,000 attended the Red Arrow Ball at the downtown auditorium later that night.
Church bells tolled for five minutes before the parade began, to honor those members of the 32nd Division who died during the war. Then, promptly at 11 a.m., Maj. Gen. William Haan — who commanded the 32nd Division throughout France, and who determined that the division’s symbol would be a red arrow piercing a line — led the 4,000-man parade on horseback.
Haan gave journalists at the Milwaukee Press Club insight into the origin of the Red Arrow emblem.
“A cross of some kind found considerable favor,” Haan said, “but when the French report became known, the arrow idea at once became popular.”
That French report refers to the Battle of Juvigny, when a French general is reported to have said of the 32nd Division, “They went forward like an arrow.”
“However, it was felt that the cross ought not be abandoned altogether,” Haan continued. “So I said, ‘Let’s put a bar across the arrow to represent the boshe [German] line that was pierced, and then you have your cross at the same time.’”
Haan also explained the French general officer’s compliment about his division.
“Here’s the secret of the success of the division,” Haan told the assembled press. “The 64th Brigade, which fought the first battle of the 32nd, established a pace for the rest of the division that they had to go like hell to keep up.”
The 64th Brigade, composed of Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers in the 127th and 128th Infantry Regiments, breached the enemy position north of Chateau-Thierry that had confounded the U.S. Third Division.
“The 64th Brigade, therefore, was the pioneer of the division in real battle,” Haan said, “and the Wisconsin boys showed themselves every inch fighters.
“The pace that was set by the division, these splendid Wisconsin boys, was kept up through all the many battles that the division took part in,” Haan continued, “and in a large measure I lay the success of the division to the fact that the first battle was pulled off in clock-like regularity.”
Brig. Gen. Edwin Winans, who commanded the 64th Brigade, told the press how he turned down an opportunity to leave the 64th and command a different unit. He said he never regretted that decision.
“They finished where they started,” Winans said, “in the front line trenches.”
The 32nd Division was created July 18, 1917, but the 15,000 Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers and 8,000 Michigan National Guard Soldiers who would fill its ranks did not arrive at Camp MacArthur, Texas until September. They trained until December, and departed Camp MacArthur in January for Hoboken, New Jersey en route to France.
There, the division found itself assigned as a replacement division, and from February until April 1919, those Soldiers not already transferred to other front-line units found themselves building warehouses and supply rail lines. Haan succeeded in convincing Gen. John Pershing, commander of American forces in Europe, that the 32nd would better serve the cause as a combat division, and replaced its losses with Soldiers from the 41st Division. By May 18 the 32nd was in the trenches in Alsace, Germany. Six days later the division suffered its first combat casualty in France, Pvt. Joseph Guyton.
The 32nd remained at Alsace until July 19, and a week later arrived at Chateau-Thierry as part of the 38th French Corps. Their prowess on the battlefield earned them their nom de guerre, “Les Terribles,” and prompted French Gen. Charles Mangin to specifically request the 32nd to serve as part of his French 10th Army shock troops — the only instance during the war that a French commander specified what American division he wanted to assist him.
By late September the 32nd Division was part of the American First Army, led by Pershing. During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the 32nd Division succeeded in piercing the Kriemhilde Stellung on Oct. 14, 1918 — the strongest portion of the formidable German position known as the Hindenburg Line. It was back in the front lines on Nov. 11, 1918 when the Armistice went into effect.
The 32nd Division marched to Germany after the fighting ended as one of three divisions to perform occupation duty east of the Rhine River, finally returning to the United States in May 1919.
“We shall remember how we feared for you and how we gloried in you,” the Milwaukee Journal message to the troops continued. “We shall try to show you it was no passing love we felt for the men we knew you were, the men you proved yourselves.”
Additional information about the 32nd Division in World War I can be found at the Dawn of the Red Arrow website (https://dma.wi.gov/DMA/dotra-home) and Facebook page. A documentary about the 32nd Division premiered May 14 at the Milwaukee War Memorial, and additional screenings will be held across the state through Veterans Day. An e-book about the 32nd Division in World War I can be seen at https://issuu.com/ateasewing/docs/dawn_of_the_redarrow