Four Questions for Brian Faltinson
"Know the heroism and sacrifice of those who served in World War One"
By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, U.S. World War One Centennial Commission
Captain Brian Faltinson is a Public Affairs Officer with the Wisconsin National Guard. He is part of an innovative centennial effort to celebrate their World War I history, when they fought in France as the 'Red Arrow' Division. In essence, the Wisconsin Guard has drawn together the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, the Wisconsin National Guard Museum and the Wisconsin Historical Society to find and share the photos, letters, memoirs, artifacts and stories left behind by the Soldiers of the 32nd 'Red Arrow' Division. Captain Faltinson shared some insights with us regarding the project, and why it's important.
Tell us about the National Guard in Wisconsin, and their World War One history.
About 5,000 members of the Wisconsin National Guard served in Texas during the Mexican Border Crisis and many turned right around and redeployed to Camp MacArthur, Texas, for World War One training. There, 15,000 Wisconsin National Guardsmen from units in 72 Wisconsin cities joined with the Michigan National Guard to form the 32nd Division. The division entered combat in Alsace in May 1918 and would later fight in the Aisne-Marne, Oise-Aisne and Meuse-Argonne campaigns. It spent only ten days in a rest area once it entered combat. The French awarded a battle citation to the division for its ferocity in combat near Soissons during the Second Battle of the Marne. The division nickname of “Les Terribles” was formalized by the French in that citation – making the 32nd the only American division to earn a nom-de-guerre from a foreign nation. The division pierced every single German line it encountered and, as a result, its shoulder sleeve insignia is that of a red arrow punching through a German battle line. This success in battle was earned at great cost; the division suffered nearly 15,000 casualties of which over 2,600 were killed in action.
Your effort to promote that history, Dawn of the Red Arrow is remarkable. Tell us about what you are doing to find & tell that story, in terms of research, social media posting, etc.
The overarching project theme is to have the division’s Soldiers tell their own story. We are partnered with the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, the Wisconsin National Guard Museum and the Wisconsin Historical Society to find and share the photos, letters, memoirs, artifacts and stories left behind by the Soldiers of the 32nd Division. Additional research will also occur at the National Archives where the division’s operational records and 2.5 hours of U.S. Army Signal Corps film of the division are located. Setting the stage and connecting these stories are a series of interviews with history professors at Marquette University, Ripon College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We will tell these stories as they happened 100 years ago, which means this project will last through June 6, 1919 when the Wisconsin members of the division marched in a welcome home parade in Milwaukee.
We will be using the Dawn of the Red Arrow website and Facebook page, as well as other social media, to tell the division's story through photos, video clips, blog posts and other interesting snippets we find. Some items will be thematic or concentrate on a specific person, place or event, while others will track “on this day 100 years ago”. We want to use these modern media platforms to bring the black-and-white images and words on aged pieces of paper to life so people can connect with these Soldiers.
The culminating product will be a one-hour film that tells the story of the 32nd Division from its service near the Mexican Border to its return to Wisconsin after World War One.
What surprises or unique turns of history have you uncovered through your research into the Red Arrow division?
The history of the division as a whole is well-established; however, what is proven most fascinating and powerful is looking through collections of materials on individual Soldiers and learning their stories. These stories include a previous audio interview with a Ho-Chunk Tribe Native American who joined the Wisconsin National Guard while enrolled in the Federal government’s Indian School in Tomah, Wisconsin. Individual letters by others detail day-to-day Soldier life and a book by a company commander captures through vivid detail the battle history of Company C, 127th Infantry Regiment. Perhaps the most emotionally powerful collection we have run across features 1st Lieut. Bruce W. Clarke, an infantry platoon leader. The collection started with an almost perfect, crystal clear ID card photo of Clarke, followed by some mundane platoon leader administrative notes and then a message book he used in France to send dispatches to his commander – copies of some of those messages remain legible. The collection’s final photograph is a 1931 image of his mother dressed in black grieving at his grave at the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery.
Another important aspect is how this story would be virtually impossible to tell with our limited staff and resources without the tremendous power of today’s technology. Exceedingly informative primary sources are available digitally, saving valuable research time. Professional-level video production can happen on a high-powered laptop with the right software. Social media platforms instantly make our stories available to virtually anyone interested in seeing them. And finally, a member of our project team works with AutoCAD in his civilian job and he was able to overlay the division’s battle maps on today’s Google or Bing aerial imagery and one can see the exact piece of ground today where the division’s regiments and companies fought.
Why do this? Why are these stories important for you to tell?
The National Guard then, as it remains today, is a vital part of our national defense. The Army, as it was constructed in early 1917, could not have fought in World War One without the National Guard. World War One also marked the birth of the Wisconsin National Guard as we know it today. The state is home of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team – the descendant unit of the 32nd Division and Soldiers wearing the Red Arrow patch have deployed repeated in defense of this nation since 2001. Much like their World War One predecessors, our Soldiers today live in every community in Wisconsin, drill in armories throughout our state and have answered the call of their nation in its time of need. They continue the legacy of those first Red Arrow Soldiers and it is important that our Service members today and all of the State of Wisconsin know the heroism and sacrifice of those who served in World War One.