Opelika exhibit honors World War I soldiers

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OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) - On July 26, 1918, more than 500 soldiers died at the Battle of Croix Rouge Farm in France. Of those that lost their lives, 162 were from Alabama.

“It was the bloodiest (battle) in Alabama history since Gettysburg,” said Nimrod Frazer, author of “Send the Alabamians: World War I Fighters in the Rainbow Division“, which chronicles the history of the 167th Alabama Infantry Regiment. “This is a real Opelika story.”

On Memorial Day, the Museum of East Alabama in downtown Opelika opened its newest exhibit honoring the 167th, which features Frazer’s work.

Late Opelika resident Yetta Samford, the Opelika Rotary Club and the Opelika Kiwanis Club purchased 600 copies of “Send the Alabamians” as a donation to the museum.

“Every dollar we bring in will be (invested in) the museum. .There are a lot of local people in that book. Dallas Smith was one of the main heroes of (Croix Rouge Farm), and he’s from here,” said museum board member Bert Harris. “That got us thinking about other things. …We have quite a few World War I artifacts.”

The exhibit boasts a World War I soldier’s uniform that belonged to Dr. Byron Bruce, museum director Glenn Buxton said.

“He was the dominant doctor,” Bruce said. “During World War I, he took out the appendix of Dwight D. Eisenhower when he was still a lieutenant.”

The exhibit also features period articles from The Opelika Daily News and a number of other artifacts that Buxton said were “related to local people that fought in World War I.”

Frazer said Opelika has an “extremely rich” World War I history. The I Company, of Opelika, joined soldiers from across the country to form the 42nd Rainbow Division in 1917. Then-colonel Douglas McArthur described the 26 National Guard units within the division as “stretching across America like a rainbow,” according to the city of Opelika’s Public Relations Director Jan Gunter.

Frazer, whose father earned a Purple Heart at Croix Rouge Farm, spent seven years researching and writing “Send the Alabamians”.

“It’s the first major piece of writing about that regiment since 1919,” he said. “It’s totally authentic.”

The book chronicles the entire history of the 167th, starting in 1916 and detailing the regiment’s battles throughout France, including the Rainbow Division’s 1918 defense of Paris and the push into Cote de Chatillon in October of 1918.

“Opelika was a very, very big player in that battle,” Frazer said. “After that, the war was pretty much over.”

Visitors can purchase “Send the Alabamians” online or in-store for a $35 donation, which includes a year-long membership to the museum. Museum members can get a copy for a $25 donation.

Frazer will speak at the Opelika Rotary Club’s June 3 meeting and will hold a book signing that evening from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the Museum of East Alabama.

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