Written By Sam Roettgen
Rieger Armory is a Missouri National Guard Armory in Kirksville, Missouri. It was established in 1948 and is named after Kirksville native, James Rieger. Rieger served in World War I where he became a Lieutenant Colonel and was twice decorated.
According to documents found at the Kirksville Museum and Historical Society, James Rieger began life in Kirksville Missouri as a lawyer. In 1900 he enlisted in the Missouri National Guard and earned the rank of Major. He was described as a very religious man and an ideal soldier. During training camp he formed a Sunday school program of 300 members.
Before war broke out in Europe, Rieger served on the Mexican border as a Major with the 4th Missouri National Guard Regiment. When war was declared on Germany, Rieger’s regiment was merged with the 3rd Kansas Regiment and became the 139th U.S. Infantry, who went to France in May 1918.
While in Europe, the 139th U.S. Infantry was a major player in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. While fighting in the Argonne Forest Rieger’s battalion captured Vauquois Hill and the small village Bois de Rossignal, during which Rieger reportedly took on eight Germans at once. They went further in their fight against the Germans than any other American unit in the battle. They were stopped in front of Charpentry by heavy artillery fire.
During the battle Rieger avoided being wounded despite the fact that his clothes were shot full of holes. The 139th Infantry was the victim of a gas attack that Rieger also survived and was awarded the Purple Heart. The rest of the 139th were not so lucky as Rieger lost 65 percent of the men under his command.
When the fighting concluded Rieger was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. “He placed himself in front of all his men, and thus started them forward, led them to the attack with such speed and dash that a large number of the enemy were cut off and captured,” John J Pershing said in the citation that accompanied Rieger’s medal.
After Rieger returned from Europe he resumed his life as a lawyer in Kirksville. He became a prominent figure in the community and eventually the local armory was named after him.
The Armory system came from the use of militias in early America. Each community across the country had their own militias that could be mobilized in case of an emergency or natural disaster. Militias became a major player in the Civil War and shortly after when they received congressional funding.
Many people see the word Armory and assume that means a place for storing weapons and ammo. This is not the case. Most armories are places for local National Guard units to meet, drill and be mobilized from.
The Armory has been a fixture of social life in Kirksville for decades. “They used to have dances there back in the 60’s,” said an employee at the Kirksville Museum and Historical society. “In those days it was really the only place you could rent out.”
The Rieger Armory in Kirksville is used by the National Guard and Truman State Reserve Officers Training Corps to meet and store supplies. There are many National Guard Armories across Missouri and across the country. Some armories in the local area include those in Quincy, Macon and Moberly to name a few. This is so they can be mobilized and have a short response time.
“It wouldn’t make sense for the whole Missouri National Guard to be in Jefferson City,” Justin Hirniak, Scholarship and Enrollment Officer for Truman State ROTC, said. “The response time could be upwards of four to five hours.”
The Missouri National Guard and Truman State University’s ROTC have a working relationship. “We have an understanding with the National Guard,” Hirniak said. “They will let us use their facilities in times of inclement weather or other circumstances. So, it ends up being and overall positive outcome for us.”