Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Grand Valley Armory: 50 Years of Service to Community, State and Nation

Fifty years ago this month, the Grand Rapids area Army National Guard units moved from their temporary headquarters in the old Berkey & Gay furniture factory to the new Grand Valley Armory on 44th Street in Wyoming.


Built on 10 acres of land that once was slated to be part of the World War I-era Picric Acid Plant that was never completed, the 63,000 square foot armory became the new home for the following units:

Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Brigade, 46th Infantry Division
Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 126th Infantry
Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 126th Infantry
Company A, 3rd Battalion, 126th Infantry
Company B, 3rd Battalion, 126th Infantry
Company C, 3rd Battalion, 126th Infantry
46th Infantry Division Band

The 126th Infantry traces its lineage back to July 12, 1855 and the Grand Rapids Light Guard. Throughout its history, the 126th and its predecessor units from Grand Rapids and other parts of West Michigan saw action in the Civil War (3rd Michigan Regiment of Volunteer Infantry), War with Spain (32nd Regiment), Mexican Border War (32nd Regiment), and both World Wars (126th Infantry, 32nd "Red Arrow" Division).

The Grand Valley Armory replaced the old Michigan Street Armory (pictured below) occupied in 1916 by the 126th Infantry after it's return from duty along the Mexican Border near El Paso, Texas. That armory was the first in the area built with state funding and was a very popular community center until the Civic Auditorium was built in the 1930s. 



Aerial view of the Michigan Street Armory (top-left corner)

The Michigan Street Armory, which had become overcrowded due larger units and more modern military equipment, sat in the path of the new I-196 expressway and was scheduled to be torn down. The armory was vacated in 1959 but because a new armory had not yet been built, temporary space in the old Berkey & Gay factory on North Monroe became home to the 2nd Brigade and 126th units for several years.


The new Grand Valley Armory would not be formally dedicated until late May of 1965, however, by then the units would be completely settled in. The dedication program, attended by over 5,000 citizens of the Grand Rapids, Wyoming and other West Michigan communities was captured even by The Detroit Free Press that ran this photo and short article:




A number of years later, the Armory would become the site of the City of Wyoming's only official memorial to area veterans until the Veterans Memorial Garden was constructed near Pinery Park.


The military units at the Grand Valley Armory have been reorganized and re-designated a number of times over the past fifty years. Today's 126th Calvary Squadron is the senior organization.

The section of 44th Street that runs through the City of Wyoming was given the honorary designation as 126th Infantry Memorial Boulevard and a State of Michigan Historical Marker was dedicated on the site.

From Courage without Fear: The Story of the Grand Rapids Guard. Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) David G. Britten. Xlibris. November 2004.