Thursday, January 24, 2013

To find art, look to the soldiers of the 34th ID

Conventionally speaking, art is found in museums or galleries, normally quiet places frequented by people who have an interest in these things—and attend voluntarily. Rarely is it found in the fog of battle amongst the cacophony, the bloodshed and the trauma that is part and parcel of combat. But this is exactly the case since with one of the most decorated divisions in the United States Army—the 34th Infantry Division, or the “Red Bulls.”

Even those who have never served in the military are likely aware of the shoulder patches worn by soldiers. Every soldier has, on his or her left sleeve, their designated unit patch. Each unit patch is unique in its own right and signifies much more than a unit designation; it is a symbol of solidarity—and pride.

For over 20 years I too wore a shoulder patch and wore it proudly. For the soldiers who served in combat another patch—rarely the same one—is authorized for wear on the right sleeve. This is a permanent award intended to be worn as long as the uniform is, as opposed to the left sleeve insignia that changes dependent on the unit. I say with pride that my wife and son wear a right shoulder patch, attesting to their service in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now back to the Red Bulls.

The 34th Infantry Division, Army National Guard, made up of soldiers from Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and the Dakotas was organized in 1917 for World War I and reported to Camp Cody, New Mexico for training. Needing a unit designation insignia a contest was created to design a division patch.

Private First Class Marvin Cone, Cedar Rapids native and close friend of Grant Wood, was serving at Camp Cody in 1917 as a member of the 34th ID and entered the contest. He designed an insignia based on the shape of a Mexican water flask (Olla) with a bovine’s skull at the center, a symbol of the numerous herds of cattle seen by the soldiers around Camp Cody. Cone’s submission won the contest and became the official unit insignia of the 34th Infantry Division, consequently worn by thousands of soldiers heading to war.

Originally nicknamed the “Sandstorm Division” because of the constant presence of sand in the uniforms while in the New Mexican desert, the unit arrived too late in Europe to see any action. All that changed in World War II when the division was activated once more in support of world war.

The 34th ID was the first U.S. division shipped overseas and arrived in North Africa on Nov. 8, 1942. The division moved across the Sahara engaging German troops and eventually prevailing in May 1943. It was then deployed to Italy where fighting continued until the end of the war. The division is credited with serving more consecutive days in combat—517—than any other division in the European Theater. It was in Europe where it gained the “Red Bull” designation as German soldiers in Italy referred to the American soldiers who wore the patch as “Red Devils” or Red Bulls” ( .

The division was deactivated after the war but soon reactivated as a National Guard division with soldiers primarily from Iowa and Minnesota. It still exists today. In the past decade, the division has served the country during the War on Terror and has the distinction (once again) of being the longest-serving National Guard unit in Iraq, deploying in March of 2006 and serving for 22 months, 16 in country.

Today, Cone’s design is proudly worn by 11,000-plus soldiers serving in the 34th. For many it is authorized for wear on both the left and right sleeve as the unit served and fought in a combat zone. This number does not include the thousands of former soldiers who wore the patch, serving with distinction in the division from World War I onward.

Marvin Cone and Grant Wood, besides being boyhood friends, remained lifelong colleagues, as they studied in France together and later formed the Stone City Art Colony in 1932. Cone, an artist in his own right, has works displayed in various locations across the United States, as well as at Coe College in Cedar Rapids where he served as art department head until 1960. He died in 1965 and is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Cedar Rapids.

Art is timeless and enduring. As Wood’s art forever lives in galleries and museums, Cone’s endures on the shoulders of proud soldiers and veterans sent off to serve their country, for almost a century, often in harm’s way.

Upcoming events

There has been an addition to the Grant Wood Birthday Soup Smorgasbord on Feb. 9 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the KD Center in Eldon as the Indian Hills Community College Chamber Singers will be performing. As with any performance by the superb vocalists from IHCC, the performance will be one not to miss.

Brian Chambers
Media Coordinator
American Gothic House Center

The American Gothic House Center strives to become financially independent through gift shop revenue, sponsorships, and by establishing an endowment fund. Funds raised in this campaign will be used to match the Iowa Cultural Trust Endowment Challenge Grant and will become endowment funds to support the Center's annual operations. As a subscriber to the weekly newsletter, you have already shown support for the American Gothic House Center. I invite you to strengthen your role in the valuable experience we provide the community by making a contribution to our fund drive. Click here to give your tax deductible gift, or head to our website for more information. Thank you to all who have donated so far!
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