Courage without Fear: The Story of the Grand Rapids Guard recounts the long history and traditions of one of Michigan’s most decorated military regiments. It begins with the Guard’s inception following its early days as local firefighting companies, through the pre-war militia days, to the battlefields of the Civil War, extending through two world wars, and eventually helping to win the cold war.
Originally organized as four independent militia companies in Grand Rapids, beginning with the Grand Rapids Light Guard on July 12, 1855, the organization grew into the Fifty-first Regiment that formed the nucleus of the Third Michigan Infantry during the Civil War. The Third left Grand Rapids in June of 1861 and fought in twelve major campaigns over the course of the next three years, beginning with the first Bull Run and ending at Cold Harbor.
Several years after the close of the war, the militia reappeared as the Grand Rapids Guard Company that eventually mustered in as Company B of the Second Regiment of Michigan State Troops. The Second was renamed the Thirty-second when it mustered for federal service in the Spanish-American War of 1898 and again for service on the Mexican Border in 1916. One year later, in a sweeping restructuring of the American army, the Guard became known as the 126th Infantry Regiment, and served as part of the famed 32nd “Red Arrow” Division during both world wars.
This book is not a detailed history of the Grand Rapids Guard’s experiences in combat, but rather a story that tells how the Guard evolved from the early volunteer fire companies to an infantry regiment that served in five wars, and eventually becoming an integral part of the total Army force that saw the cold war end with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Scattered along this journey are stories of the struggles the individual companies experienced trying to survive with little or no support from the state or federal governments, as well as the gaiety of militia life expressed through numerous military balls and the other social benefits of membership in the Guard. Courage without Fear concludes with a picture of the Grand Rapids Guard’s changing role in the post-cold war era of international terrorism. Throughout are the brief accounts of real American heroes—commanders, Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, as well as key civic and business leaders who sacrificed their time and sometimes their lives for the cause of freedom.
Courage without Fear is not an original story, but one compiled from hundreds of sources. Using extensive materials from the State Archives, Grand Rapids Public Library, oral accounts, and the archives of local Guard units, LTC David Britten has weaved together an account of the Grand Rapids Guard that goes beyond its well-known war experiences. He has pulled together from many sources a moving picture of the Grand Rapids community over time from the point of view of local militia companies and their various armories. An extensive bibliography, source footnotes, and appendices listing events and the men who played key roles in the history of the Grand Rapids Guard, will no doubt be a value to genealogists as well as local historians.
Lieutenant Colonel Britten has produced a clear and definitive historical portrait of his city’s militia and its evolution. The casual and curious reader is invited to experience these exploits by turning these pages. Found within are acts of bravery, feats of great and inspiring leadership, chronologies of arduous and costly military campaigns and throughout it all the selfless loyalty of Michiganians to the cause of Freedom and prosperity. The serious military historian will know that within these pages is found a thoroughly professional and loving study, one fit to stand the test of time. -- Colonel William R. Ewald, Commander, 46th "Wolverine" Brigade
Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) David Britten is a life-long resident of the Grand Rapids area, having spent most of his years growing up in the southwest suburb of Wyoming. Enlisting in a local unit of the Michigan Army National Guard in December of 1974, he worked for a number of years on the production line at Keebler Company while completing a college degree and serving as a reservist. In 1977, Lt. Col. Britten received a commission as second lieutenant of Infantry upon graduation from the Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. Three years later, he graduated from Grand Valley State Colleges and took a position as a mathematics teacher at Muskegon Catholic Central. It was also during that year that he married the former Penny Hunt, a former classmate at Lee High School. In 1982, Lt. Col. Britten was serving as commander of Company C, 3rd Battalion 126th Infantry, when he accepted an active duty tour as a recruiting officer for the Michigan Army National Guard. Over the next six years, he helped develop a state and national program of continuing education for national guard officers and enlisted personnel desiring to earn a college degree. At one time he served as national chairman for the Army National Guard continuing education system. In 1988, Lt. Col. Britten returned to the 126th Infantry as executive officer at the Grand Valley Armory in Wyoming. It was during this tour of active duty that he took an interest in the history of the 126th and led a number of historical projects, including a community parade and celebration to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the Guard’s mobilization for World War II, designation of the Wyoming portion of 44th Street as 126th Infantry Memorial Boulevard, selection of the 126th as a state historical site, and erection of a permanent memorial to the seven Congressional Medal of Honor recipients who served with the Grand Rapids Guard. It was during this time that Lt. Col. Britten began his work on the book, Courage without Fear. By 1996, having risen in the ranks to executive officer of the 46th Wolverine Brigade, Lt. Col. Britten was ready to retire from active duty and return to the field of education. Having previously received two graduate degrees from Western Michigan University, he was selected to serve as an elementary principal for the Wayland Union Public School District south of Grand Rapids. Six years later, Lt. Col. Britten returned to the Wyoming area as principal for Lee Middle School, the school where he first met his wife, Penny. Lt. Col. Britten has remained active in community and veterans affairs. He was elected to the board of trustees for the Grand Rapids Historical Society and has served three tours as president of the 126th Regimental Association. In addition, Lt. Col. Britten continues to serve on the board of the Greater Armory Association and as honorary assistant adjutant for the 126th Infantry Regiment. He is also an active member of Chapter 2, Disabled American Veterans. Lt. Col. Britten resides in Gaines Township with his wife, Penny. Their son, David II, is a student at Grand Valley State University.