Remembering Nimrod Frazer: soldier, author, businessman, philanthropist, friend
Nimrod Thompson (Rod) Frazer, a decorated Korean War Veteran, honorary chairman of the Alabama World War I Centennial Committee, died on March 7th, 2023, in his native city of Montgomery.
I was fortunate to meet Rod in 1995 on a trip to the Near East organized by the Albright Institute in Jerusalem. I was at the time curator of Near Eastern Art at the Emory University Carlos Museum. After this trip, both Rod and I became trustees of the Albright Institute, the Jerusalem branch of the Oriental Institute started in 1919 in Chicago. Its first scholars traveled as the American Scientific Mission to the Near East in 1919 and 1920 in the aftermath of WWI.
Nimrod Frazer (center left) and Monique Seefried in 1995 during a trip to Palmyra, Syria. The ruins of the medieval Palmyra castle are in the background behind Seefried.
William Johnson Frazer, father of Nimrod Frazer, in his WWI uniform in 1918.
During that trip, Rod kept talking about the alcoholism of his father which had caused his parents to separate when Rod was 7 years old and his brother 12. After traveling through Jordan and Syria, we arrived in Palmyra, from where we could see a fortified medieval castle overlooking the ruins. While I was talking about the Crusades and the French King Philippe II (Philippe Auguste), Rod told me: “my father loved the French, he fought in WWI and earned a Purple Heart.” My immediate reaction was to tell him: “and how can you reproach him for having been an alcoholic? Do you know what it meant to fight in WWI?”
This would start his journey to learn more about WWI. He commissioned several WWI memorials in France and Alabama and wrote two books about Americans and Alabamians serving in France during the Great War. It would lead me to assist him in his quest, and to my appointment by the Speaker of the House to the US WWI Centennial Commission.
Rod Frazer’s creed was Family, Service and Country and only when he had honored his father with a WWI memorial in France did he find peace and reconciliation with the memory of the man whose alcoholism fractured the family.
Donation of Rainbow Memorial to the City of Fère-en-Tardenois on November 10, 2012
After moving in with his maternal grandfather in Montgomery when he was six, he became self-sufficient at age 14, working on a farm and attending High School. While there, he enlisted in the Alabama National Guard and hung out with WWII veterans which gave him a sense of adventure and kept him out of trouble.
He volunteered for Korea and served there for ten months as a tank platoon leader. Along with Republic of Korea soldiers, his US tank unit was part of holding the Main Line of Resistance. Such was their determination that today Hill 755 remains a northern dent and outpost into the demilitarized zone between North & South Korea. Rod was awarded the Silver Star for Gallantry in Action and his battalion was awarded the US and Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citations.
He took advantage of the GI Bill to study at Columbia University and earn an MBA at Harvard University.
Strongly influenced by Scott Fitzgerald, whose wife Zelda came from Montgomery, and the story of the Great Gatsby, Frazer became a bond dealer upon starting his business career. He remains best known in the business world for his rescue of American Savings of Florida (F.S.B.) in Miami and Enstar (ESGR) in Montgomery.
With a personality larger-than-life, Frazer always captured people’s attention. A wonderful storyteller, with a knack for economic tales and war stories, he never failed to fascinate his audience, young or old. Throughout his business and personal travels around the world, he always gave the image of an America where everyone could realize their dreams.
Inauguration of Rainbow Soldier in Montgomery in front of Union Station on August 28, 2017
He adored his mother, the late Margaret Cloud Thompson, an active DAR member, who hammered into him the importance of education. Nicknamed Chinkie, she was a beautiful and independent woman, a flapper in her days who, after two failed marriages, went to work in Saudi Arabia, Germany and Greece for the United States Air Force until her early seventies.
She was extremely ambitious for her two sons, and both matched her expectations. The eldest Bill, with a Ph.D. in Economics from Columbia University, became a university professor, and Rod, a successful businessman. It was his mother who gave Rod a love for the Middle East and a curiosity about the world which led him on his many journeys.
His books focused on military matters. Send the Alabamians, WWI Fighters in the Rainbow Division, written to honor the service of Alabamians in France in WWI, became a classic and best seller of The University of Alabama Press. It was translated in French and published under the title Les Boys d’Alabama, la Rainbow Division et la Première Guerre Mondiale by the Editions du CNRS.
He later wrote The Best World War I Story I Know, on the Point of the Argonne. This book describes the fight in the Argonne by the 35th, 1st and 42nd U.S. divisions to capture the Côte de Châtillon on the Hindenburg Line between September 26 and October 16, 1918.
During the WWI centennial, and until Covid struck, he gave more than 100 talks in Alabama, the United States as well as France. Like President Roosevelt, he knew that “People die but books never die.”
Towards the end of his life, when reflecting on his greatest legacies and the ones he was most proud of, he would speak not only of his service in Korea and his two books on WWI but also of the bronze statues he commissioned: The Rainbow Soldier to honor his father and fellow soldiers in France and in Montgomery, a further sculpture of Daedalus commissioned to honor his mother and the American fliers in WWI, and finally the bronze memorial, Return from the Argonne.
Inauguration of the Return from the Argonne in Montgomery
He enjoyed immensely his friendship with James Butler, the British sculptor, member of the Royal Academy, whom he commissioned to produce the four beautiful bronze memorials. Most of all, he cherished the creative process of the Rainbow Division Memorial (the Rainbow soldier) that he funded through the Croix Rouge Farm Memorial Foundation before giving it to the French town of Fère-en-Tardenois in 2012.
The larger than life size bronze statue, represents an American soldier carrying his dead comrade in a gesture reminiscent of a Pietà. It stands alone on a French battlefield where many Alabamians died on the bloodiest day in Alabama history next to Gettysburg.
On April 6, 2017, a second bronze casting of James Butler’s statue of Daedalus (the mythical figure created by God with the power to fly) was inaugurated at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery to commemorate the American flyers who fought during WWI.
Return from the Argonne in front of Union Station in Montgomery; the Rainbow Soldier is seen in the distance
On August 28, 2017, a second casting of the Rainbow Soldier was dedicated in Montgomery on the 100th anniversary of the day when the Alabamians soldiers from the 167th Infantry Regiment in the 42nd (Rainbow) Division had departed from Montgomery for training at Camp Mills and combat in France.
His final commission was the Return from the Argonne in honor of all Alabamian soldiers who fought in the Meuse Argonne campaign. It was dedicated on November 11, 2021. Both the Rainbow Soldier and Return from the Argonne were given to the City of Montgomery and are located in front of Union Station.
James Butler died on March 26, 2022, and Nimrod Frazer a year later, on March 6, 2023. Their contribution to the memory of the Americans who fought in WWI will never be forgotten. We owe them so much.
Daedalus at Maxwell Air Force Base with General André Lanata, Chief of Staff of the French Air Force, on April 7, 2017