Treasure trove of historic flags found in Virginia War Museum

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Thanks to a sharp-eyed employee at the Virginia War Museum in Newport News, Virginia, another treasure trove of historic flags has been found. While conducting an inventory of a seldom-used storage compartment at the museum, the museum worker quickly realized that the contents of the cabinet contained the World War I Regimental flags for the 111th Field Artillery Regiment and the 116th Infantry Regiments of the 29th Division.

Both of these units were Virginia National Guard units which had served in France. Also discovered were the flags for the 317th and 318th Infantry Regiments of the 80th Division. The 80th had been a National Army division and these two flags represented the two regiments comprised of draftees from Virginia.

In addition to these divisional unit colors were the flags belonging to the 510th and 511th Engineer Service Battalions and the guidon for the 1st Virginia Signal Company. The 510th and 511th were African American units comprised of draftees from Virginia who trained at Camp Lee and then deployed to France and Britain in March 1918. The signal company guidon belonged to a Virginia National Guard unit that later was absorbed into the 29th Division.

The Virginia War Museum director and staff showed the flags to Maj. Gen. Timothy Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, Feb. 13, 2018. It is likely that Williams was the first general to view the 116th’s colors since the early 1940s and possibly since the regiment was reviewed in France on April 4, 1919, by Gen. John J. Pershing and Field Marshal Douglas Haig at Chaumont.

The Virginia War Museum will exhibit the WWI unit flags of the Virginia units Nov. 11, 2018. The flags will be arranged in sequence of unit deployment to France. Also included in the exhibit will be the flag of the 117th Military Police Company, a Virginia National Guard unit raised from the Coast Artillery Corps and assigned to the 42nd “Rainbow” Division. The 117th’s colors have been on display in the War Museum for several years and are unique in that they were made in Germany while the 117th was serving in the occupation there in 1918 and 1919.

The discovery of the other unit flags means that all Virginia units which deployed to be part of the American Expeditionary Forces have now been found except for hospital units raised from the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and the two Coast Artillery Companies that served in the 60th Coast Artillery Corps Regiment.