Remembering the fallen of WW1

Published 2:08 pm Friday, August 3, 2018

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It has been a century since WW I—once known as “the war to end all wars” came to an end. The ultimate sacrifice made by some of Butler County’s own young soldiers has not been forgotten. And on Thursday, July 26, these gallant young men were honored with the dedication of a new Butler County WWI Memorial located on the front of the Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce Depot. The new plaque marks the centennial of WWI and is the second memorial to the soldiers of that war in Greenville, the first being located on the grounds of the Butler County Courthouse.

“I am proud to have the such a meaningful memorial displayed on the front of the Chamber of Commerce building,” said Tracy Salter, executive director of the GACOC.

“With the train depot’s history, the location was only fitting for the memorial, as this was one of the last glimpses of Butler County they enjoyed before these brave men left for war.”

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Descendants of the 19 Butler County men killed in battle assembled under a patriotic-striped tent on the Depot grounds, along with city, county and state dignitaries and members of  the Butler County Historical and Genealogical Society and the Fort Dale Chapter of the DAR. DAR state officials, Nancy Williams, Tammy Clemons and Nancy Folk, also participated in the program.

The day’s keynote speaker, Nimrod “Rod” Frazer, the son of a WWI veteran from Butler County, said he grew up hearing stories told by his father, Will, of the men of the Alabama 167th Infantry, part of the Rainbow Division, and their experiences serving overseas such a long, long way from home. Later, Frazer would pen a book, “Send the Alabamians,” published in 2014 to excellent reviews.

“I never forgot about those men—because Will Frazer never did let me forget,” Frazer said.

He recounted the time that, having completed four-and-half-months of infantry training on the Mexican border, the local soldiers returned by train to Greenville, where they had a two-and-a-half hour layover before continuing their journey to join the Rainbow Division and head to France.

“Women from all over brought food to the train station. It was a real celebration . . . I am sure that was the last time these fellows got to be together with all their family and friends, right here at this depot.”

Frazer’s father was with 17 of the 19 Butler Countians when they lost their lives fighting for their country.

“The battle at Croix Rouge Farm was the second bloodiest battle in American history; only Gettysburg saw greatest losses of American lives. My father was absolutely devoted to these men and their service to our country . . . and this turnout today speaks volumes about the kind of people we here in Butler County are,” Frazer said.

Georgiana paid the biggest price, losing six of its young men in the war, with Greenville seeing another five casualties. McKenzie, Oakey Streak, Garland, Spring Hill and Pigeon Creek all sent one of more young soldiers who would never return.

For Frazer, there was no idea of doing anything else but dropping out of college in 1950 to serve his country in Korea, where he earned many military honors, including the Silver Star.

“I believed it was the right thing to do and I was supported by both of my parents . . . the government paid for my education at Huntingdon, Columbia and Harvard. It would have been impossible for me to have gotten that educational foundation otherwise.”

The businessman, author, historian and philanthropist says he has simply tried over the years to return a small part of the legacy of valiant Alabamians who served before him, through three commissioned sculptures and in other forms.

Frazer also expressed his gratitude to the Butler County Historical and Genealogical Society for putting together an entire issue of their quarterly dedicated to Butler County’s role in WWI, created a “painstakingly authentic account.” He also extended thanks to the City of Greenville, the DAR and the GACOC’s roles in making the memorial dedication a reality.

“It’s been great to be back home and I thank you,” he said.

Local ministers—the Reverend Mr. Robert Bailey of Saint Elizabeth Catholic Church, Evangelist Carolyn Griffin and the Reverend Dr. Robert Fossett of First Presbyterian Church—all played key roles in the program. Fossett provided the drum roll, Bailey shared the honor roll call with the family members present of each of the slain soldiers standing in recognition, while Griffin gave both the invocation and benediction. Jim McGowin performed “Taps.”

Major Gerald Johnson, USA (ret.), who represented Butler County on the Alabama WWI Centennial Committee, expressed his appreciation to the late Herbert Morton, who spearheaded the committee in its early days, along with Bob and Ellen Glasscock “who got the ball rolling,” the Ft. Dale Chapter of the DAR and all those who served as sponsors.

“Right now, I believe the spirits of those 19 young men are with us, looking down on us. And they are pleased,” said Johnson.

Following the memorial dedication program, guests were invited inside the Depot to enjoy finger foods and refreshing lemonade.

Salter, describing the service as “solemn but truly beautiful,” said she was pleased the Chamber could play some small part in the event.