The 126th Cavalry Regiment is a United States military unit that was initially formed as an Infantry Regiment, then was converted into an armoured role, and then was converted to a Light Cavalry Reconnaissance Unit, with subordinate units stationed in Cadillac, Wyoming, Dowagiac, and Manistee.
The four companies formed the core of the Third Michigan that joined the Civil War on June 13, 1861. The regimental commander at the time was Colonel Daniel McConnell. The Third Michigan fought in twelve campaigns before it was mustered out in June 1864. Besides five Grand Rapids companies, the Third included companies from Boston and Lyons in Ionia County, Lansing, Muskegon, and Georgetown. Two soldiers in the Third earned the Medal of Honor.
In Grand Rapids, the earliest of the new, independent companies was the Valley City Zouaves, organized first in 1866 and reorganized on March 14, 1873. However, this company did not remain in existence for long and was never actually mustered into state service.
Several years after the end of the Civil War, the Grand Rapids Guard company was organized by veterans of the Third and other regiments. The company was mustered into state service in 1872 as part of the Michigan State Troops. It was called out to aid authorities during a riot at the Muskegon County jail in 1873 and to quell a disturbance at Greenville during the Flat River labor dispute in 1874. That year the Grand Rapids Guard became Company B 2nd Infantry Regiment when the regiment was organized at Grand Rapids. Over the course of the next 24 years through various reorganizations the 2nd Infantry included companies from Coldwater, Kalamazoo, Flint, Bay City, East Saginaw, Port Huron, Marquette, Niles, Ionia, Manistee, Big Rapids, Three Rivers, and Grand Haven.
The Michigan State Troops were redesignated as the Michigan National Guard on December 31, 1894, in response to a growing use of that designation across the country. It was first applied to the New York state militia in 1824 as a compliment to General Lafayette, who had been visiting the United States at that time. Lafayette had commanded the Garde Nationale in Paris around 1789.
In 1898, the 2nd Infantry was mobilized for the war with Spain as one of five Michigan regiments. It was redesignated the 32nd Volunteer Infantry Regiment and included twelve battalions: four from Grand Rapids, four from Detroit, and one each from Coldwater, Grand Haven, Kalamazoo and Battle Creek. The 32nd rendezvoused at Island Lake and was sent to Tampa, Florida with Colonel William T. McGurrin in command. It was just about to embark for Cuba when hostilities ceased and the 32nd returned home.
Back at home, the regiment resumed its 2nd Infantry designation and moved into a new armory. This was the first time since 1855 that all four Grand Rapids companies were located in one armory. The remaining companies were located at Coldwater, Kalamazoo, Big Rapids, Lansing, Manistee, Muskegon and Battle Creek. Owing to poor showings in annual inspections, the Manistee company was dropped for Grand Haven and a new company was organized at Manistee. The Battle Creek company also was disbanded and Adrian joined the regiment. The Lansing company was eventually redesignated as artillery, and an Ionia company joined the 2nd.
The Clark Building armory in Grand Rapids was thought to be one of the finest armories in the state. Its furnishings and equipment had a value estimated at $11,000. The drill hall was rather large, and the armory included ample equipment rooms, assembly rooms, billiard rooms, reading rooms, officers’ rooms, an indoor target range eighty feet in length, a cafe, club rooms, elegantly furnished parlors, and a library.
In 1903, Congress passed the Dick Act, which had a huge impact on the Second Michigan and all other militia units in the United States. The bill and its amendments in effect served to nationalize the militia and reduce its status as a state volunteer force. Under terms of the act, the organized militia was uniformly redesignated as the National Guard and organized along army lines, with provisions for federal weapons and equipment. Twenty-four training sessions per year plus a summer encampment were now required for all units. Federal instruction and inspection were authorized and provisions made which elevated the status of Guard officers to equality with their federal counterparts.
On September 3, 1912, in response to a request from officials at the state prison in Jackson, the governor directed that Companies C and M, Second Infantry from Kalamazoo, join companies of the First Infantry in aiding civil authorities in quelling the riot and protecting the institution from outside attack or interference with the discipline of the convicts. Within two hours of receiving the order, both companies were ready to leave the armory. The entire regiment saw service in the great copper strike in the Upper Peninsula during the summer of 1913, serving in copper country from July 24 to the first of November. During the regiment’s stay, there was no loss of life and negligible property damage for any of citizen.
Shortly thereafter, the regiment departed for El Paso, Texas, arriving at Camp Cotton on July 12, located a mere three hundred yards from the Mexican border. Upon its arrival, regular army inspectors took note of the excellent condition of the regiment and the short amount of time it took to get settled into camp. The next four weeks were spent in intensive training. During this time, details were organized to guard important points in the vicinity of El Paso. On August 15, the regiment took over the entire outpost along the Rio Grande River and the boundary line in New Mexico. This consisted of a line stretching from Fort Hancock, fifty miles southeast of El Paso, to Los Cruses, New Mexico, for a total of forty-seven miles in length. While the Grand Rapids battalion was on the border, construction work on the new Michigan Street armory was completed.
On Saturday, January 13, 1917, the final inspection of the regiment had been conducted. The regiment struck camp on Thursday and returned to Fort Wayne, Michigan, where it was mustered out of service on February 15, reverting to its National Guard status as provided by new Federal laws adopted by Congress back in June of 1916.
Under the command of Colonel Joseph Westnedge, the 32nd became the 126th Infantry Regiment. The new regiment included the following companies: A-Coldwater, B-Adrian, C-Kalamazoo, D-Ionia, E-Ann Arbor, F-Jackson, G-Detroit, H-Detroit, I-Big Rapids/Muskegon, K-Grand Rapids, L-Grand Haven/Muskegon, and M-Grand Rapids. In addition, the regimental headquarters, machine gun company, supply company, sanitary detachment and band were all from Grand Rapids.
The regiment left the United States on 19 February 1918 bound for France. When it first arrived it was used for replacements and supply duty. Soon, the regiment, along with the 32nd Division, was sent into battle. When the war was over on November 11, the 126th had seen service in four major campaigns and earned the French Croix de Guerre. The 126th returned in May 1919 but without its dearly beloved Colonel Westnedge who had died that previous fall from the effects of mustard gas. PFC Joseph William Guyton, the first American killed on German-held territory in WWI, was posthumously awarded the French Croix de guerre.
Following the war, Colonel Earl R. Stewart reorganized the 126th with units coming from many of the same towns as those of the pre-war 32nd. The only actions the unit participated in between the World Wars were the 1936 Second Army maneuvers across Allegan County and the 1937 Flint Sit-Down Strike.
During the summer of 1941, the regiment participated in the Third and Fourth Army maneuvers—nicknamed the Louisiana Maneuvers—which provided the army high command a good look at the preparedness of the regiment. The first test, which was held in the vicinity of Camp Beauregard, was conducted from June 16 through the 27 and included the Thirty-second Division as well as the Thirty-seventh from Ohio. From August 16-30, the maneuvers expanded to include the Thirty-fourth and Thirty-eighth divisions. During September, the largest maneuvers were held with the Seventh Corps of the Second Army, opposing the Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth corps of the Third Army. The Grand Rapids Guard was part of the Fifth Corps. It was the largest maneuver of its kind in the history of the army and included some one hundred thousand men.
On April 18, 1942, the 126th boarded the S.S. Lurline, a luxury liner that had been converted to transport duty, and four days later sailed for the South Pacific. The regiment crossed the equator on April 30, and the international date line on the seventh of May, reaching Adelaide, Australia, seven days later. There, the 126th unloaded and moved to Camp Sandy Creek some eighteen miles outside the city.
In August 1942, the 126th moved nine hundred miles to Brisbane and was billeted at Camp Cable. The camp was named in honor of Corporal Gerald Cable, the first U.S. soldier killed by the Japanese during World War II. Cable, a member of Service Company, 126th Infantry, along with approximately twenty other men, were onboard a ship transporting trucks and other equipment from Brisbane to Adelaide when a torpedo hit the ship in the stern.
The 126th was organized into a regimental combat team composed of the entire 126th Infantry Regiment, Company A, 107th Medical Battalion, Company A, 114th Engineers, First Platoon, Company D, 107 MD, Section C, Tenth Evacuation Hospital, and a number of other support forces. Colonel Quinn was in command of the combat team. First, Second, and Third battalions were under the command of Lt. Col. Edmund Carrier, Lt. Col. Henry Geerds, and Lt. Col. Clarence Tomlinson, respectively. The regiment was among the first US forces to arrive in Port Moresby in September 1942. In Port Moresby the Regiment constructed the American base camp.
In October 1942 a battalion of regiment was sent across the Owen Stanley Ranges via the Kapa Kapa Trail in an attempt to cut off Japanese forces retreating down the Kokoda Trail. Being unacclimatised the Battalion suffered greatly from exposure to the elements in the mountains. The troops also suffered from malaria, dysentery and their inability to tolerate bully beef rations.
The Battalion took 42 days to cross the mountains. Despite suffering no casualties from enemy action, the battalion reached the north coast after the Australians who had fought the Japanese down the Kokoda Trail. During this action the battalion earned the nickname of 'The Ghost Battalion'. General Eichelbaker noted that the survivors of the Kapa Kapa trail were in a deplorable state. It was many months before any survivors returned to combat.
In March of 1953, US-12 was dedicated as the Red Arrow Memorial Highway. Ceremonies were held along the route and included veterans of the Grand Rapids Guard, which had been part of the Thirty-second Division during both world wars. Although US-12 was later moved when Interstate 94 was built, portions of the Red Arrow Highway still exist between Kalamazoo and New Buffalo
A devastating tornado struck the Hudsonville, Standale, Comstock Park, and northern Grand Rapids areas on April 3, 1956. More than eight hundred members of the regiment were called to state duty to protect lives and property.
On March 15, 1959, the regiment reorganized into two Battle Groups, the First and Second Battle Groups 126th Infantry, with both organizations’ headquarters located at Grand Rapids. This dramatic reorganization in the U.S. Army was in effect the termination of the regimental system, an old tradition in military forces worldwide. This new “pentomic” system created five such battle groups in the Forty-sixth Division. The 126th Infantry, heroic in two world wars, ceased to exist less than forty-two years after its organization.
Recognizing the problems of the “pentomic” divisional alignment in a nuclear era, the U.S. Army reorganized under the new ROAD (Reorganization Objectives Army Division) concept on March 15, 1963. Both First and Second Battle Groups were carved up to reform First, Second, and Third battalions 126th Infantry along with the new Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Second Brigade, Forty-sixth Infantry Division headquartered in Grand Rapids.
On Palm Sunday, April 11, 1965, a series of tornadoes struck the southern part of the Lower Peninsula. The deadly twisters first struck north of Grand Rapids in the Alpine township area. Companies A and C, Third Battalion, 126th Infantry were called into action almost immediately and joined the Kent County Civil Defense Force, as well as other state, county, and city law enforcement agencies. The two companies managed to secure the affected area, prevent looting, and assisted with other disaster response duties.
The new Grand Valley Armory in Wyoming, Michigan was dedicated on May 31, 1965, providing a permanent home to the Second Brigade Headquarters, along with First and Third battalions 126th Infantry, and the Forty-sixth Infantry Division Band.
On November 15, 1965, the most radical reorganization in the history of the National Guard took place on orders of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara creating a Selected Reserve Force (the acronym SRF was commonly referred to as “super-ready force”). The Second Brigade, Forty-sixth Infantry Division, under command of Colonel Robert T. Williams, was designated the headquarters for SRF units in Michigan, with the Third Battalion 126th Infantry designated as West Michigan’s SRF battalion. All Michigan elements of the SRF were additionally assigned to the Thirty-eighth Infantry Division of Indiana, an SRF division in the event of mobilization.
The Third Battalion 126th Infantry was ordered to state active duty on August 31, 1966, following four nights of racial violence at Benton Harbor, Michigan. A total force of four hundred officers and men were assembled. The force was reduced the next day to a total of 175, and training was undertaken to prepare for any deployment into the problem area. On Labor Day, the fifth of September, the battalion was stood down as the situation came under control without the use of troops. On July 23, 1967, the Grand Rapids Guard was called to active state duty once again, this time in response to rioting in the city of Detroit where radicals had caused extensive damage from fires set by arsonists and sniper fire, resulting in deaths to both rioters and civilian authorities.
With the loss of the 46th Infantry Division in 1968, the 126th was scaled down to a single Infantry battalion, and the 1st and 2nd battalions’ colors were retired. The reorganization redesignated the Second Brigade as the Forty-sixth Brigade assigned to the Thirty-eighth Infantry “Cyclone” Division, headquartered in Indianapolis. Some elements of the First and Third battalions were reorganized as divisional support elements such as Co. D 113th Engineer Battalion, Co. D (FS) 738th Maintenance Battalion, Second Platoon Thirty-eighth MP Company, Second Truck Platoon Co. B Thirty-eighth Supply and Transportation Battalion, and Brigade Admin Section Thirty-eighth Admin Co.
On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, a respected black civil rights leader, was murdered. To prevent possible outbreaks of violence similar to the previous summer, the Michigan National Guard was ordered to state active duty the next day. Headquarters Forty-sixth Brigade and Third Battalion, 126th Infantry proceeded to Detroit and established round-the-clock patrols to prevent any incidents. The brigade’s separate units remained at the Grand Valley Armory and were reinforced by units from Muskegon and Greenville in the event of outbreaks in other western state cities. These units were released two days later. The Forty-sixth Brigade and Third Battalion moved to Belle Isle for two days before being released from state duty on the tenth of April and returning to their home stations.
On October 13, 1990, fifty years after being mobilized for World War II, the 126th Infantry Regiment, including veterans of many of the “old 126th” and “Red Arrow” units, paraded through the city of Grand Rapids and were honored by many state and local dignitaries. The occasion marked the anniversary of the mobilization of National Guard troops prior to World War II, and the grand old 126th Infantry’s 135th birthday. On June 3, 1991, the city of Wyoming, under Mayor Harold Voorhees, passed a resolution designating Forty-fourth Street as 126th Infantry Memorial Boulevard. Street signs that included the regimental crest were placed along the Wyoming portion of the street. On August 20, 1992, the Michigan Historical Commission placed the 126th Infantry on the State Register of Historic Sites. A marker was commissioned and dedicated in front of the Grand Valley Armory on November 11, 1992, prior to the start of the traditional Grand Rapids Veterans Day parade. The $2,200 was underwritten by the Grand Rapids Guard, Incorporated.
In the spring of 1991, the 126th Infantry learned it might be inactivated along with the rest of the Forty-sixth Infantry Brigade as part of a questionable post–cold war reorganization plan by the Pentagon. A minor reorganization followed and resulted in bringing Alma back into the battalion as Company A Third Battalion 126th Infantry. Units at Grand Haven and Holland consolidated and were redesignated as Det. 1 Co. B and Company B (-). In the late 1990s, the units at Grand Haven and Holland were disbanded. In 1999, the 3rd Battalion 126th Infantry ended 144 years of Infantry tradition when it was reorganized and redesignated as the 1st Battalion 126th Armor.
On August 12, 2005, a permanent memorial to the 126th was dedicated at Camp Grayling, Michigan.
In October 2006 the 1-126 Armor transitioned to the 1-126 Cavalry, consisting of scout, infantry, and headquarters troops. In April 2007 the unit was alerted for service in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The unit was mobilized to Fort Hood, Texas in January 2008 and deployed to Kuwait and Iraq in April 2008. During their deployment they have served as a Security Force (SECFOR) unit, providing convoy security to distribution operations in Kuwait and Iraq.