Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Nimrod Frazer—WWI Commemorative and Historical Contributor Extraordinaire

By Editor/Publisher Michael Hanlon 

Shown above is Nimrod (Rod) Frazer of Montgomery, Alabama, at his 2017 award ceremony for the French Legion of Honor. Sadly, Mr.  Fraser,  who may have accomplished more to remember and honor his nation's sacrifices in the First World War during the recent Centennial commemoration than any private citizen, passed away on 7 March at age 93. 

The presentation shown above was for his efforts  at keeping alive the memory of the French and American soldiers who fought and died in World War I. The award specified his commissioning of the Memorial to the U.S. 42nd Rainbow Division at Croix Rouge Farm north of the Marne River. That monument, though, is just one of his numerous contributions to the remembrance of the First World War.  

Inspired by his father's service in the 42nd Rainbow Division and his own combat service during the Korean War during which he earned the Silver Star, and encouraged by like-minded friends, especially WWI Centennial Commissioner Monique Seefried, Frazer spent over a decade fully committed to honoring his dad's fellow Doughboys, America's aviators, and the contributions of his home state during the war. To appreciate his achievements, let me paraphrase the famous plaque at St. Paul's Cathedral, "If you seek his monument—look at these accomplishments."

New World War I Memorials

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Daedalus,  Artist James Butler with his Rainbow Division Sculpture, and Return from the Argonne

Rod Frazer sponsored and championed the design, financing, and installation of four new World War I memorials.  Today, just north of Château-Thierry at a former battlefield known as Croix Rouge Farm, you will find a bronze sculpture depicting a Rainbow Division soldier carrying one his mates who fell in the nearby action. It has become the principal monument honoring the division in France and a key stop for all Americans visiting the World War I battlefields. It was designed by the artist personally selected by Frazer, James Butler of Britain's Royal Academy.  This location, also chosen by him, was the site where the division's 167th Infantry, its Alabama regiment, saw heavy action.  In 2017, he donated a second casting of the statue to the city of Montgomery, AL, from which the unit departed for the battlefield 100 years earlier.

The same year, he donated a second casting of Daedalus, also by Butler, to the U.S. Air Force at Maxwell, AFB. to honor America's aviators of the war.  The original, in London, honors Britain's naval aviators. In an interview at the time of the dedication, he explained why he added Daedalus to his list of projects.  "When I saw the Daedalus in London years ago, I just knew it belonged at [Alabama's] Maxwell Air Force base," said Frazer. "I didn't have the money then, but I knew I wanted it to be part of the centennial for World War I, to celebrate combat fliers for our United States Army Air Service, flyers who risked their lives."

His fourth memorial, although similar to the others in subject matter, had its own unique inspiration and origins.  Over 2,500 Alabamians died fighting in France and almost half of their families chose to have their sons buried there near where they fell.  The others, though, were brought home over the course of several years and buried in their home state. Growing up, Rod Frazer's father told him of all the funerals he attended over that period.  The bulk of them had fallen in America's biggest battle, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.  "Argonne," with sad connotations affixed, was a name young Rod would never forget.  As part of his contributions to the Centennial of the war, he decided a monument specific to Alabama's sacrifices was needed.  He turned, once again, to James Butler to design an appropriate monument.

Today, at Montgomery's Union Station adjacent to the second Rainbow Memorial, sits Return from the Argonne.  It honors the fallen soldiers of Alabama from all units and services.  The bronze depicts  the body of a fatally wounded American soldier that has been sent back to his home for burial.  The body is covered by a torn shelter half, and part of the face is revealed.  One leg has been wounded. The memorial, the final of the four for which Nimrod Frazer was primarily responsible, was dedicated on 11 November 2021.

Military Historian

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It's a little hard to believe, but during the period Rod Frazer was bringing these four monuments to fruition, he seems to have had time to become a crackerjack historian.  His two books are both related to the efforts of the Alabama National Guard 167th Regiment, which was a component of the 42nd Rainbow Division. Both are notable for the quality of the research, readability, and maps and photos.  I've read a lot of military history over the years, and these are of professional quality.

Send in the Alabamians is a detailed "unit history" of the regiment from before the war when they were dispersed in separate armories across the state, through their  deployment to France and return home. The boys saw lots of action with the Rainbow Division being among the three or four most "blooded" formations of the AEF.  Before the action at Croix Rouge Farm, the boys helped repel the last German offensive of the war and subsequently fought in the two largest American operations of the conflict at St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne. Read our full review HERE.

The Best World War I Story I Know: On the Point in the Argonne, on the other hand is a riveting tale of combat.  The strongest defenses the American First Army faced in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive were in the heights around the village of Romange.  To break through here would mean Pershing's First Army had effectively opened the road to Sedan, the strategic objective of the entire campaign.  Arguably the most difficult section of these heights,  a densely-wooded hill backing the Hindenburg Line defenses known as the  Côte De Châtillon had to be taken.  The mission was given to the 167th Alabama Infantry, the 168th Iowa Infantry, and the 151st Machine Gun Battalion from Georgia, under the the tactical command of Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur.  In his clear style, Frazer captures the stresses of the preparations and the intensity of the fighting, as well as the spirit and courage of both the American attackers and the desperate German defenders.  See my full review of the work HERE.

For His Service in Korea and Later, As a Caretaker
of Our Nation's Heritage, Nimrod T. Frazer Deserves
Our Appreciation and Lasting Memory

1 comment:

  1. Monique Seefried, Ph.D.March 26, 2023 at 4:43 PM

    What a moving and powerful tribute to a great American. As a friend and colleague of Rod for nearly 30 years, I knew how paramount service to his country was for him. He demonstrated it in his youth through his service in Korea, in his professional life through his commitment to job creation and membership on multiple community boards, and, in the last part of his life, in honoring Americans who served in WWI. When he wanted to honor his father, I helped him purchased the land where his father was wounded before introducing him to the sculptor Jim Butler. They both shared the same admiration for the British sculptor Charles Sargeant Jagger and his Royal Artillery Memorial in London. This started an enduring friendship and an exceptional legacy. I am so grateful to Mike Hanlon for having written this wonderful recognition of Rod Frazer lasting contribution to his country and to fellow Alabamians and Americans in WWI. An avid reader of Roads to the Great War, he would have been so touched by this testimonial. He deserves it. With much gratitude.