New exhibit highlights Va. Guard service in WWI

A new exhibit highlighting the Virginia National Guard’s service in World War I officially opens May 22, 2017, at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond, Virginia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Cotton Puryear)

RICHMOND, Va. — A new exhibit highlighting the Virginia National Guard’s service in World War I officially opened May 22, 2017, at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond, Virginia. For the National Guard, WWI was significant because it was the first time volunteer state militia units were federalized under U.S. Army structure and deployed overseas for combat operations.

The exhibit was a joint project between Virginia War Memorial and the Virginia National Guard. Virginia War Memorial Curator Jesse Smith, Virginia National Guard Command Historian Al Barnes and Virginia National Guard Curator Sarah Campbell collaborated to determine what historical artifacts would best tell the Virginia National Guard’s story in World War I.

The exhibit features period uniforms worn by 1st Lieutenant Charles F. Krause and 1st Class Private Harvey Lee Hendrickson of the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division and Corporal George Selden Richardson of the 104th Ammunition Train, 29th Division as well as the M1903 Springfield and M1917 rifles and a French M1915 Chauchat machinegun.

View photos of the exhibit on the Va. National Guard Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/pg/VaNationalGuard/photos/?tab=album&album_id=10155316796608560

View photos of the exhibit on Flickr:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/vaguardpao/sets/72157684292902965

Virginia citizens, veterans and leaders joined Virginia National Guard Soldiers for a commemoration ceremony marking the U.S. entry into World War I April 6, 2017, at the Virginia War Memorial Carillon in Richmond, Virginia. The event, hosted by the Virginia World War I and World War II Commemoration Commission included remarks by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, Virginia Deputy Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Jaime Areizaga-Soto, and a keynote address by Dr. Lynn Rainville, Research Professor in the Humanities at Sweet Briar College. Delegate Kirk Cox, chairman of the Commission, served as the master of ceremony.

“The National Guard played a major role in the war and its units were organized into divisions by state, and those divisions made up 40 percent of the combat strength of the American Expeditionary Forces,” Williams explained at the ceremony. “Three of the first five U.S. Army divisions to deploy to France in WWI were from the National Guard.”

Many of the Virginia National Guard’s units will celebrate the 100th anniversary of their official formation this year, to include the 29th Infantry Division and the 116th Infantry Regiment, both among the organizations formed as the United States prepared to enter WWI.

“Those units are still in active service today with the dual mission of defending the homeland and providing combat reserve troops to help fight our nation’s wars,” Williams told the crowd.

During the war, the 29th Infantry Division, saw 21 days of combat and suffered nearly 5,700 casualties while taking 2,148 enemy soldiers prisoner and capturing or destroying approximately 250 artillery pieces and machine guns. At the time, the 29th was comprised of National Guard units from Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington DC and Delaware. The inclusion of units that fought for both the North and South during the Civil War inspired the nickname of the “Blue and Gray” division.

The 116th Infantry Regiment, which served in the 58th Infantry Brigade of the 29th Infantry Division during WWI, earned it’s motto of “Ever Forward” for their reputation of never having given ground in battle. From the 116th came the Virginia National Guard’s first Medal of Honor recipient, Sgt. Earle Gregory, for service at the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, where he remarked “I will get them,” before advancing ahead of the infantry and capturing a machinegun nest, a mountain howitzer and 19 enemy soldiers.

“Guard Soldiers served with courage, honor and distinction and that tradition continues today as the Virginia Guard has mobilized nearly 15,000 Soldiers and Airmen for federal active duty since Sept. 11th to support the global war,” Williams said. “We owe a huge debt of gratitude for the men and women who served in WWI and the families and communities who supported them.”

Additional reporting by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti