US Highway 12 runs nearly the entire width of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, into Illinois. From Detroit to Lake Michigan, it became a main route for travelers heading east and west across the state. It was once considered one of the most important roadways in the state, and spans across six counties. 

So why are parts of this highway not known as US-12, but rather as the Red Arrow Highway?

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US-12 is one of the oldest highways in the state. The original path dates back to the St. Joseph Trail, which was then given a highway designation of 12 when the US Highway system was implemented. It ran straight through from New Buffalo to Detroit through St. Joseph, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Albion, and Jackson. 

In the 1950s, they chose to honor 32nd Infantry, made up of National Guard members from Michigan and Wisconsin, known as the Red Arrow Division. But only Berrien and Van Buren Counties took up the Red Arrow moniker when the proposal went through, which is why the roadway changes to Stadium Drive at the Kalamazoo County line. 

Who are the Red Arrow Division? 

The United States 32nd Infantry Division was formed from Army National Guard units from Wisconsin and Michigan, and fought primarily during World War I and World War II. They had roots as the Iron brigade in the American Civil War, and the division’s ancestral units came to be referred to as the Iron Jaw Division. 

During tough combat in France in World War I, it soon acquired a nickname from the French, “Les Terribles,” or “The Terribles,” referring to its fortitude in advancing over terrain others could not. 

They were the first allied division to pierce the German Hindenburg Line of defense, and the 32nd then adopted its shoulder patch, which gave them their namesake – a line shot through with a red arrow – to signify its tenacity in piercing the enemy line. From then on, they were known as the Red Arrow Division. 

Red Arrow Division
Wikipedia/Red Arrow Divisi9on

Red Arrow Highway 

Today, most people bypass Red Arrow Highway because of I-94, but it is still a very important throughway in west Michigan. It runs from New Buffalo to Mattawan at the Kalamazoo/Van Buren county line. It’s also a discontinuous route with a chunk now closed to traffic in Benton harbor after an expansion project. 

Through the different communities it travels through it takes on different street names, but once you’re back out in the county, it once again returns to honoring one of Michigan’s finest military units. 

It also isn’t the ONLY highway that honors the Red Arrow Unit. There is another in Wisconsin, Route 32, that bears two tiny red arrows on every guide sign along the full 325 mile run across the state. 

HT to WKMI for providing some source material for this article.

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