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End of an era: Red Arrow club finishes 95-year-run

July 13, 2019
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The 32nd Division Red Arrow Club of Southern Wisconsin had several hundred members in 1948. Today, after a 95-year run, the group with a storied history is disbanding. Gary Mawhinney, a longtime club member, in 2016, in Janesville, Wis. (Anthony Wahl/The Janesville Gazette via AP)

JANESVILLE, Wis. (AP) — For almost 30 years, Charles Williams served as an officer with the 32nd Division Red Arrow Club of Southern Wisconsin.

The Edgerton man was so proud to wear the iconic Red Arrow patch during his National Guard service with Company G, 128 Infantry, 32nd Division.

Then he was eager to carry on friendships formed during his service.

He joined the homegrown Red Arrow club and became its secretary/treasurer and newsletter editor.

For decades, anyone who wore the Red Arrow patch honorably was welcome to be part of the group, whose creed was to foster the spirit of comradeship that made the 32nd Division so enduring.

But times change, and soldiers age.

“We’re in our 70s and 80s,” said Gary Mawhinney of Janesville, another longtime club member. “Time moves on, and it’s time to say goodbye.”

The club is to retire its flag with the historic red arrow on Saturday at Janesville VFW Post 1621.

Ceremonies for Red Arrow club members to honor the official end of the 95-year-old group are named after the insignia of the 32nd Division.

Williams said the group will continue to do memorial wreaths at the funerals of Red Arrow members.

After the club disbands, members have the option of joining the 32nd Division Red Arrow Veteran Association or The Red Arrow Old Timers Club of Fort McCoy, if they are not already members.

The regional Red Arrow club began in Janesville in 1924 for World War I veterans who served with the 32nd Division.

The Army created the division with Wisconsin and Michigan National Guard troops in 1917.

The fierce fighting group earned its trademark Red Arrow shoulder patch — a red arrow through a horizontal line — after piercing every enemy line it faced in World War I.

The group was so battle hardened that the French called the division “Les Terribles,” meaning “The Terrible Ones,” because of its indomitable spirit.

During the 1930s, the Janesville National Guard armory was home base for the 32nd Tank Company, a unit of Wisconsin’s 32nd Infantry Division.

Eventually, the division was reorganized and equipped with light tanks. In November 1940, the unit melded with three other Midwestern National Guard units and was redesignated Company A of the 192nd Tank Battalion.

When the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941, members of Company A became the first of more than 300,000 state residents to go into battle.

The company gallantly defended the Bataan Peninsula on Western Luzon in the Philippines for a harrowing four months. But after suffering from a severe shortage of supplies and air cover, it surrendered on April 9, 1942.

Under the searing jungle sun, Janesville prisoners of war took part in the infamous Bataan Death March.

At the end of World War II, the 32nd Division was involved in 654 days of combat, more than any other American division.

Almost two decades later, a Cold War conflict flared between the Soviet Union and the United States over the divided German city of Berlin.

Williams was part of a call-up and stationed in Nuremberg when the 32nd Division was activated in the 1961 Berlin Crisis.

In late 1967, the Department of Defense reorganized Wisconsin’s historic division into the smaller 32nd Separate Brigade, which inherited the proud military heritage of the division.

Mawhinney was in the Wisconsin National Guard from 1964 to 1984.

When he hit 60, he joined the Red Arrow club for “camaraderie and fun,” Mawhinney told The Janesville Gazette.

But club membership kept dwindling.

In 1948, the group had more than 600 members, probably all World War I and World War II vets.

“I’m sure they had their beers and could talk to each other about their war experiences,” Mawhinney said.

Today, Williams estimates membership at around 115.

He has mixed feelings about the end of the Red Arrow club and so many years of business and social events.

“I will miss the camaraderie . . .” he said, “and all the friendships.”

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Information from: The Janesville Gazette, http://www.gazetteextra.com

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