Tag Archives: World War I

2 NCOs to be awarded Medal of Honor for actions during World War I

By PABLO VILLA
NCO Journal

Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson will retire next year after 39 years of service to the New York Army National Guard. His career has produced such notable moments as being part of rescue operations in response to various natural disasters, being part of aid missions after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York City, deploying to Iraq for a year in 2004 and, just last year, being named the command sergeant major of the New York National Guard.

But, he says, his accomplishments throughout those nearly four decades pale in comparison to what Sgt. Henry Johnson did one day in 1918.

“I think about myself and my career — I’ve had a few achievements,” Wilson said. “But just looking at Henry Johnson and all he did in a day — my 39 years doesn’t come close.”

Sgt. Henry Johnson, of the 369th Infantry Regiment, was awarded the French Croix de Guerre avec Palme on Feb. 12, 1919, for bravery during a battle with German soldiers the previous year. (Photo courtesy of Army News Service)
Sgt. Henry Johnson, of the 369th Infantry Regiment, was awarded the French Croix de Guerre avec Palme on Feb. 12, 1919, for bravery during a battle with German soldiers the previous year. (Photo courtesy of Army News Service)

What then-Pvt. Johnson did May 15, 1918, during World War I was immediately deemed worthy of France’s highest award for valor — the Croix de Guerre avec Palme. Nearly a century later, his own country will follow suit, posthumously awarding Johnson, who retired as a sergeant, the Medal of Honor during a ceremony Tuesday at the White House. Wilson will accept the award from President Barack Obama on Johnson’s behalf, as he has no surviving family members.

The nation’s highest honor will also be posthumously awarded to Sgt. William Shemin during the same ceremony.

Johnson, who was African-American, will receive the Medal of Honor for his actions to fight off a German raid party using his Bowie knife. He was on night sentry duty with Pvt. Needham Roberts in an area northwest of Sainte-Menehould, France, between the Tourbe and Aisne rivers. According to information from the White House, the pair came under a surprise attack by a dozen German soldiers.

While under intense fire and despite his own wounds, Johnson kept an injured Roberts from being taken prisoner. He came forward from his position to engage an enemy soldier in hand-to-hand combat. Wielding only a knife and gravely wounded, Johnson continued fighting until the enemy retreated.

Johnson was in France as part of C Company of the 15th New York (Colored) Infantry Regiment, which he joined in June 1917. The all-black National Guard unit would later become the 369th Infantry Regiment — the famed Harlem Hellfighters — part of the 93rd Division, which was ordered to the front lines to fight with the French in 1918. After being awarded the Croix de Guerre in 1919, Johnson died in 1929 without further fanfare. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart in 1996 and the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002. But until now, he had been overlooked for the Medal of Honor.

“It’s a good thing. The injustice that was done back then, it’s been overturned,” Wilson said. “Things have changed. We see now that the valor that he displayed, he should’ve been honored. We’re glad he is honored now. There shouldn’t be a difference who you are. We enlist and, no matter who you are, we fight side by side. You learn to take care of each other. That’s what he did, he took care of his battle buddy.”

Wilson said during his early days living and working in the Albany, N.Y., area, it was difficult not to see reminders of Johnson. Drivers make their way along Henry Johnson Boulevard. Children are dropped off at Henry Johnson Charter School. A granite tribute to Johnson sits on the southeast corner of Washington Park near downtown Albany.

“When I first came to post as the command sergeant major of the state of New York, I had heard about Henry Johnson,” Wilson said. “I had to research him. I did a lot of reading and realized he really was a hero.”

While Wilson thought Johnson was deserving of much higher accolades, he never believed he would be a part of the pomp that came with it. He was aware that efforts by various organizations on Johnson’s behalf to award him the Medal of Honor were ongoing, but when he received a phone call three weeks ago from Maj. Gen. Patrick Murphy, New York’s adjutant general, Wilson said he was shocked. Murphy explained that as the command sergeant major of the New York National Guard, it made sense for Wilson to accept the honor on behalf of the long-deceased Guard Soldier.

“I was blindsided. I wasn’t expecting that,” Wilson said. “I think it’s a big honor. I’m proud, I’m happy, I’m glad that I’m the one who will represent him and will accept this honor from the president.”

Though the medal is significant, Wilson said it is being awarded to a Soldier who did what all Soldiers should be doing.

New York Army National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson will represent Sgt. Henry Johnson, a World War I Soldier, scheduled to receive a posthumous Medal of Honor on Tuesday during a White House ceremony. (Photo by Master Sgt. Corine Lombardo / Army News Service)
New York Army National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson will represent Sgt. Henry Johnson, a World War I Soldier, scheduled to receive a posthumous Medal of Honor on Tuesday during a White House ceremony. (Photo by Master Sgt. Corine Lombardo / Army News Service)

“He had a belief,” Wilson said of Johnson. “He wanted to prove himself. He overcame many things to become a Soldier and he overcame that night (of the attack). He was awarded the French’s highest award and to come back here and get nothing? But he proved himself and there is a reward, whether it’s a medal or whether it’s a sense of belonging. I see that in Henry Johnson with the smile that he gave in pictures that we have. I can imagine if he was here today he’d say, ‘What’s the big fuss about? I went over there and did my duty.’ And that’s the way it should be.”

Wilson adds that despite the time that has transpired since Johnson’s heroism and the many social and technological changes, that today’s NCOs can still learn from his actions.

“Live the Army values,” Wilson said. “Do your job, know your job and take care of others. No matter what you do, it’s all about duty and serving. Never give up.

“At the time, he was a private. When you enlist in the service, you’re a private. But you quickly learn. You learn the positions two, three steps ahead of what you are and you grow up quick. That’s the Army. It’s being able to think on your feet and not give up. He never gave up.”

Shemin takes charge

Shemin was born Oct. 14, 1896, in Bayonne, N.J. He graduated from the New York State Ranger School in 1914, and went on to work as a forester in Bayonne.

Shemin enlisted in the Army on Oct. 2, 1917. Upon completion of basic training at Camp Greene, N.C., he was assigned as a rifleman to G Company, 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, which headed to France after merely 17 days of field training.

Sgt. William Shemin, right, poses with a fellow Soldier in this undated photo. Shemin will be awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of Army News Service)
Sgt. William Shemin, right, poses with a fellow Soldier in this undated photo. Shemin will be awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of Army News Service)

While serving as a rifleman during the Aisne-Marne Offensive from Aug. 7 to 9, 1918, he left the cover of his platoon’s trench and crossed open space, repeatedly exposing himself to heavy machinegun and rifle fire to rescue the wounded.

After officers and senior noncommissioned officers had become casualties, Shemin took command of the platoon until he was wounded by shrapnel and a machinegun bullet, which pierced his helmet and lodged behind his left ear. He was hospitalized for three months and then was placed on light duty as part of the Army occupation in Germany and Belgium.

For his injuries, he received the Purple Heart and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on Dec. 29, 1919.

Shemin was honorably discharged in August 1919, and went on to receive a degree from the New York State College of Forestry at Syracuse University. After graduation, he started a greenhouse and landscaping business in Bronx, N.Y., where he raised three children. He died in 1973.

His eldest daughter, Elsie Shemin-Roth of Webster Grove, Mo., began an effort in the early 2000s to give her father a chance at being awarded the Medal of Honor. Her endeavor was spurred by news that a group of Jewish-American World War II veterans were getting their Army Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross and Air Force Cross citations reviewed for upgrades due to anti-Semitism. Shemin, who is Jewish, performed actions that were worthy of the Medal of Honor, according to a Distinguished Service Cross recommendation in the family’s possession.

Shemin-Roth’s efforts included contacting the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America and a congressman for help. Eventually, they saw the passage of the William Shemin Jewish World War I Veterans Act in 2011, which allowed Shemin’s case to be resubmitted for review. Four years later, Shemin-Roth is to receive the Medal of Honor on her father’s behalf. He is the first member of the storied 4th Infantry Division to receive the nation’s highest honor for actions during World War I.

The Army News Service contributed to this report.

Watch it

• What: Medal of Honor ceremony.

• When, where: 11:15 a.m. EDT Tuesday, White House.

• Of note: The Medal of Honor will be posthumously awarded to Sgt. William Henry Johnson and Sgt. William Shemin for their actions during World War I.

• Live feed: https://www.dvidshub.net/webcast/6491#.VWh740aOmAM

NCOs a vital part of 4th Infantry Division’s storied past

By PABLO VILLA
NCO Journal

The 4th Infantry Division experienced an arduous beginning that belies its 96-year history.

Unlike many other Army units, the division had an abbreviated amount of time to get off the ground. A mere 17 days of outdoor training is all the 4th ID completed before being thrust into its first action in World War I.

And yet, the 4th Infantry Division, headquartered at Fort Carson, Colo., has become one of the Army’s most storied units, putting the first American ground forces boots on the ground in Normandy during World War II, capturing Saddam Hussein during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and, just last year, having two of its members awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan.

Fittingly, the two Soldiers who received the military’s highest honor — Staff Sgt. Ty M. Carter and Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha —were noncommissioned officers. For it is NCOs who have helped guide the 4th Infantry Division from a fledgling group thrust into World War I to a competent team of thousands that embodies the motto, “Steadfast and Loyal.”

“NCOs do more than any other rank,” said Scott Daubert, director of the 4th Infantry Division Museum at Fort Carson. “That is true in the 4th Infantry Division as well.”

Forged in sludge

The 4th Infantry Division was formed Dec. 3, 1917, at Camp Greene, N.C.

What Maj. Gen. George H. Cameron, the first commander, discovered when he arrived at the camp six miles south of Charlotte, N.C., was a group of eager Soldiers and the NCOs leading them who were ready to work, as well as Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division, who were conducting their own preparations at Camp Greene to enter World War I.

But Cameron also found a problem.

Maj. Gen. George H. Cameron, the first commander of the 4th Infantry Division.
Maj. Gen. George H. Cameron, the first commander of the 4th Infantry Division. (Photo courtesy of 4th Infantry Division Museum)

“This area of North Carolina was known to have really bad subsoil,” said Thomas Silvis, a historian at the 4th Infantry Division Museum. “The moisture would collect and stagnate. If you rode wagons or vehicles over the top, it would cut ruts into it and it would turn into a muddy quagmire — if you dropped something, it would immediately just suck right in. If you were to try to walk across it, you’d sink into it up to your ankles, if not up to your knees.”

This soggy mess, coupled with one of the harshest winters the region had seen, made simultaneous training for two units a complicated endeavor as Camp Greene welcomed the start of 1918.

The 3rd Infantry Division, which was scheduled to aid the French and British troops defending France first, was given priority in training and in the amount of draftees joining its ranks. As such, out of the five months it was at Camp Greene, the 4th Infantry Division enjoyed only 17 days of training in the slop.

“When they did get outside, they tried to dig trenches. But the soil could not hold walls, so they couldn’t train outside,” Silvis said. “They were lucky if each infantryman was able to pull off five rounds of his Springfield rifle before they shipped them off.”

The orders to do just that arrived April 15, 1918.

World War I: A brief outing

The 4th Infantry Division engineers were the first to ship to Europe on April 29, and by June 5, the entire division was in France. The 7th and 8th Brigades began intensive training in Samer while the Artillery Brigade trained at Camp de Souge in Bordeaux.

In mid-June, elements of the 4th Infantry Division were attached to the French Army and proved their merit by helping secure the village of Chouy as well as take Hill 172 near the village of Chevillon, where the Germans were heavily entrenched.

The 1st Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division marches through Kaiseresech, Germany, on Dec. 14, 1918.
The 1st Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division marches through Kaiseresech, Germany, on Dec. 14, 1918. (Photo courtesy of 4th Infantry Division Museum)

In July, the 4th Infantry Division was placed under U.S. I Corps control and fought the Germans at the Vesle River and near Verdun as part of the St. Mihiel Offensive. The 4th would end the war fighting alongside the British and French as part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive that began in September.

Throughout its combat operations, the 4th Infantry Division did find one fortuitous aspect about its limited training in North Carolina.

“In the area of France and the weather conditions that they ran into those first few months, it was very lucky they had that soggy situation in North Carolina,” Silvis said. “That’s exactly what they ran into on the battlefields of France. Heavy artillery engagements were chewing up the ground, which was mainly clay mixed with snow or rain all the time. So the limited training that they did get turned out to be a real boon and a benefit because they ended up going through almost the same thing.”

The Armistice ended the war Nov. 11, 1918, 359 days after the 4th Infantry Division was formed. In its brief action, the unit proved its mettle as the only American combat force to serve with both the French and British troops in their respective sectors, as well as with all corps in the American combat sector.

The division conducted occupation duty in Europe until July 31, 1919, when the last detachment sailed for the United States from France. The 4th Infantry Division was inactivated Sept. 21, 1921, at Camp Lewis, Wash.

World War II: The D-Day spearhead

On June 1, 1940, the 4th ID was reactivated at Fort Benning, Ga., as part of the Army buildup in preparation for World War II.

The division was built using a new structure featuring three infantry regiments, each with about 3,000 personnel, all of which trained at Fort Benning until 1943. During its time at Fort Benning, the 4th ID served as an experimental division for the Army, practicing various maneuvers in exercises throughout the country and taking part in amphibious training, not knowing what it was for.

On June 6, 1944, the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe began with landings at five beachheads along the Normandy coast of France. The westernmost flank of the coast was designated Utah Beach, and the 4th Infantry Division was to be the first American division to land in that area. On D-Day, the division accomplished this feat, which earned Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. the Medal of Honor, the first of four such medals that went to the division during World War II.

Soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division move off the Utah beachhead on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division move off the Utah beachhead on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

After the landings, the 4th’s objective was to take the city of Cherbourg to the north, which it did by June 25. Then it headed south to join the battle of the Falaise Gap, where Allied soldiers encircled some 200,000 Germans and started squeezing the gap. An estimated 20,000 to 50,000 of the enemy escaped and would later see Allied forces again at the Battle of the Bulge.

Elements of the division, part of the first group of Allies to reach the city, then moved toward Paris on Aug. 24 with Free French Forces to liberate the Parisian capital.

The milestone moment was a short-lived highlight, as the 4th ID would soon become involved in the Battle of the Bulge and the three-month Battle of Hürtgen Forest — two clashes that were among the most costly of the war.

The bravery of the division was typified by Staff Sgt. Marcario Garcia on Nov. 27, 1944, near Grosshau, Germany.

When the platoon Garcia was leading was pinned down by German machine-gun fire, Garcia single-handedly attacked the nests, eliminating two enemy emplacements and capturing four prisoners, despite being wounded. For his actions, Garcia became the 4th ID’s first NCO to be awarded the Medal of Honor and also the first Mexican immigrant to receive the award.

The 4th Infantry Division ended World War II by crossing the Danube River and making its way to Munich before hostilities in Germany ended May 25, 1945. The division returned to the United States on July 10 and was prepared to deploy to the Pacific before the Japanese surrendered.

With the war over, the division was once again inactivated May 12, 1946, at Camp Butner, N.C.

Reactivation and the Vietnam War

NCOs figured heavily into the 4th Infantry Division’s next assignment.

The division was reactivated as a training division July 15, 1947, at Fort Ord, Calif., where NCOs helped make the post a staging area for units preparing for deployment to Korea. In October 1950, the 4th ID was reorganized as a combat division at Fort Benning before being deployed to Germany in May 1951 to become part of the NATO structure.

In September 1958, the division returned to the United States and was assigned to Fort Lewis, where NCOs once again figured largely into its day-to-day operations, providing basic training to thousands of young draftees. In 1958, the division became part of the Strategic Army Corps and from then to 1965 participated in a plethora of major exercises that ranged from amphibious landings to alpine training. The eventual focus of the training centered on testing the unit’s capabilities in a tropical climate.

“It was a time of preparation,” Silvis said. “NCOs were a large part of this. The training was going to be put to use shortly.”

That opportunity came in January 1966 when the division began preparations for the Vietnam War.

The 4th Engineer Battalion set up its base of operations near Pleiku, a town in Vietnam’s central highlands that summer. The 1st Brigade arrived in October and moved into a new camp south of Pleiku. The 2nd Brigade established its headquarters near the coast at Tuy Hoa in September 1966.

“The reason they were sent over to the coastal region was that the harvest was coming,” Silvis said. “Historically, the [North Vietnamese Army] would come in here, rip that harvest off and ship it up north. So we sent a brigade to help them protect that harvest.”

The Division’s 3rd Brigade was sent further south outside of Saigon and was assigned to the control of the 25th Infantry Division. With the 25th ID’s 3rd Brigade already operating out of the Pleiku area, the decision was made to reflag both organizations in August 1967.

During its time in Vietnam, the 4th Infantry Division primarily engaged NVA units operating in the central highlands as well as eliminating the enemy’s supply and equipment lines.

Members of the 4th Infantry Division move out on dismounted patrol east of Pleiku, Vietnam. (Photo courtesy of 4th Infantry Division Museum)
Members of the 4th Infantry Division move out on dismounted patrol east of Pleiku, Vietnam. (Photo courtesy of 4th Infantry Division Museum)

NCOs helped guide their units during these missions as the tropical terrain created logistical challenges and the combat action consisted of small, company-sized firefights against an elusive enemy that was able to retreat effectively into the rainforest or across the Cambodian border.

For much of November 1967, the 4th Infantry Division was engaged in numerous clashes in the area near the village of Dak To, a key geographical area that was a major branch of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The 4th’s efforts destroyed two NVA regiments’ operational capabilities and neutralized a major NVA offensive.

The Tet Offensive of Jan. 30, 1968, was also speedily put down in the area around Pleiku by the 4th ID. The division closed its time in Vietnam by helping the Army of the Republic of Vietnam move into positions to secure the civilian population centers of the central highlands before leaving beginning in November 1970.

Its time in Vietnam produced 12 Medals of Honor for the 4th Infantry Division; six of those honors went to NCOs. In addition, among the units currently serving with the division, 16 Presidential Unit Citations, 23 Valorous Unit Awards and 20 Meritorious Unit Citations were awarded for actions in Vietnam.

Fort Carson and Fort Hood

Upon returning to the United States, the 4th Infantry Division was assigned to Fort Carson, Colo. It would spend 25 years at the post located at the base of the Rocky Mountains. During its time there, the division’s NCOs honed their leadership skills as they took part in a slew of training exercises and dealt with numerous subordinate unit redesignations, activations and inactivations.

4th Infantry Division Soldiers test some of the Army's new equipment as part of the Force XXI mission at Fort Hood, Texas. (Photo courtesy of 4th Infantry Division Museum)
4th Infantry Division Soldiers test some of the Army’s new equipment as part of the Force XXI mission at Fort Hood, Texas. (Photo courtesy of 4th Infantry Division Museum)

In 1995, after word was handed down regarding the downsizing of the Army, a unique opportunity arose for the 4th Infantry Division in Fort Hood, Texas, where its new headquarters was to be.

“The Army was starting to upgrade from this old technology to computers and the digital world,” Silvis said. “So the Army set up a training schoolhouse down in Fort Hood called Force XXI. It was the upgrade of the Army from old communications and electronics capabilities to the new.”

The 4th Infantry Division was the first unit to go through Force XXI, which along with communication enhancements, included training in new high-tech weaponry supplements  such as satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles, night-vision goggles, long-range reconnaissance systems and more. From 1995 to 2001, the division’s efforts were key to developing compatibility and effectiveness for the new technology as the Army entered the 21st century.

While the 4th Infantry Division was at Fort Hood, it also prepared for the Iraq War.

Global War on Terrorism

The 4th Infantry Division deployed to support Operation Iraqi Freedom in April 2003.

The division roared quickly through Baghdad, Samarra and Tikrit before accomplishing the most notable feat of the war in Iraq.

On Dec. 13, 2003, the division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, commanded by then-Maj. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and joined by Joint Operations Task Force 121, captured Saddam Hussein during a nighttime operation about 10 miles south of Tikrit. His capture was a milestone moment during the war and a symbol of optimism for the Iraqi people.

The division would deploy to Iraq twice more, mainly to take part in security operations.

In May 2009, elements of the 4th ID deployed to Afghanistan, including the 4th Brigade Combat Team, which took part in the Battle of Kamdesh in the mountains in the eastern part of the country.

On Oct. 3, 2009, about 300 insurgents attacked an American outpost defended by 85 International Security Assistance Force soldiers, including those assigned to B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry. A 12-hour firefight ensued, resulting in eight American deaths. But the efforts of two NCOs to save lives and secure the outpost after it was breached were deemed worthy of the nation’s top military honor.

President Barack Obama places the Medal of Honor around the neck of Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha during a ceremony Feb. 11, 2013, at the White House. (Photo courtesy of Army News Service)
President Barack Obama places the Medal of Honor around the neck of Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha during a ceremony Feb. 11, 2013, at the White House. (Photo courtesy of Army News Service)

Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha was awarded the Medal of Honor during a White House ceremony in February 2013. Staff Sgt. Ty M. Carter, a specialist at the time of the battle, was awarded the medal in August.

The pair’s accolades mark the most recent honors awarded to members of the 4th Infantry Division. They also continue the proud tradition of the division, a tradition that Daubert hopes to preserve and celebrate at the 4th Infantry Division Museum at Fort Carson.

Since the division returned to Fort Carson in July 2009 after 14 years at Fort Hood, Daubert has worked tirelessly to improve the facility and turn it into something Soldiers can look to as a symbol of pride.

“Soldiers, and NCOs, aren’t understanding their heritage and history,” Daubert said. “It’s when they’re at the division level when we’re asking them to go out and do horrible, horrible things. They need to be inspired to go do that. They need to feel like they’re a part of something and understand that they’re in a long line of dogfaced Soldiers doing the same things that every dogfaced Soldier has done. If they don’t have places like this, where do they get that from?”

President Barack Obama places the Medal of Honor around the neck of Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter during a ceremony Aug. 26, 2013, at the White House. (Photo by Staff. Sgt. Bernardo Fuller)
President Barack Obama places the Medal of Honor around the neck of Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter during a ceremony Aug. 26, 2013, at the White House. (Photo by Staff. Sgt. Bernardo Fuller)

And as the 4th Infantry Division continues its preparations at Fort Carson for whatever the future holds, Daubert pledges to work just as tediously to ensure its storied past is preserved.

“Every Soldier and NCO that comes in here says, ‘Wow, I did not know?’ about the 4th having the first boots on the ground on D-Day, about us capturing Saddam,” Daubert said. “We want them to know, and to have some pride.”

 

4th Infantry Division current structure

Division Special Troops Battalion (Lightning)

1st Armored Brigade Combat Team (Raiders)

2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team (Warhorse)

3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team (Iron)

4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain Warriors)

Combat Aviation Brigade (Heavy), 4th Infantry Division (Iron Eagle) (Activates April 16, 2014)

  • 1st Battalion (Attack/Reconnaissance)
  • 2nd Battalion (General Support), 4th Aviation Regiment
  • 3rd Battalion (Assault), 4th Aviation Regiment
  • 4th Battalion (Attack/Reconnaissance), 4th Aviation
  • 404th Aviation Support Battalion

The division is supported by the 43rd Sustainment Brigade at Fort Carson.

 

4th Infantry Division March

“Steadfast and loyal,

We’re fit to fight!

The nation’s finest Soldiers,

Keep liberty’s light.

Our Soldiers roar for freedom,

We’re fit for any test.

The mighty 4th Division …

America’s best!”

 

4th Infantry Division patch

4th Infantry Division patch.
4th Infantry Division patch.

The division’s insignia had been adopted by its first commanding general, Maj. Gen. George H. Cameron. The insignia consists of four green ivy leaves on a khaki background. The division derived its numerical designation from the Roman numeral “IV,” hence the nickname, the Ivy division. The division’s motto is “Steadfast and Loyal.”

This Month in NCO History: The Meuse-Argonne Offensive — Oct. 12, 1918

Sgt. Samuel Woodfill was once referred to as “the greatest American Soldier of the World War” by the celebrated Gen. John J. Pershing.

Woodfill earned the high praise for actions during an Allied offensive in Cunel, France, which also resulted in him being awarded the Medal of Honor. The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was fought from Sept. 26, 1918, until the armistice on Nov. 11, 1918. It stretched along the Western Front during World War I and was the largest frontline commitment of Soldiers by the U.S. Army during the war.  Its objective was to push through enemy lines and capture a railroad station in Sedan, France, to cut off a vital German supply route.

On Oct. 12, according to his Medal of Honor citation, Woodfill was leading his company through a dense fog towards the village of Cunel when it came under heavy fire. Then a lieutenant, Woodfill set out ahead of his line with two Soldiers trailing and located a German machine gun nest. Woodfill successfully flanked the nest and eliminated three of its four occupants with his rifle. The fourth occupant charged Woodfill. After a hand-to-hand struggle, Woodfill killed the enemy with his pistol.

The company continued its advance when it came under fire again. Woodfill once again rushed ahead. Despite being hindered by the effects of mustard gas, Woodfill shot several of the enemy while taking three others prisoner. Minutes later, Woodfill rushed a third machine gun pit and killed five men with his rifle before jumping into the pit with his pistol, where he encountered two German soldiers. With his ammunition exhausted, Woodfill grabbed a nearby pickax and killed both.

With the machine guns silenced, Woodfill’s company continued its advance through Cunel under severe fire.

At the end of the war, Woodfill was the most decorated American Solider to have participated. Along with the Medal of Honor, Woodfill was the recipient of the French Croix de Guerre, the Italian Meriot di Guerra, the Montenegrin Cross of Prince Danilo and various other awards. He resigned from the Army upon his return to Fort Thomas in November 1919 but re-enlisted three weeks later. With the Army trimming its force to pre-war levels, Woodfill rejoined the ranks as a sergeant.

Pershing selected Woodfill to join Sgt. Alvin York and Lt. Col. Charles Whittlesey as pallbearers at the burial of the Unknown Soldier at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery on Nov. 11, 1921. He retired as a sergeant in 1922.

Woodfill joined the Army in 1901 and spent time in the Philippines, Alaska, Kentucky and along the U.S.-Mexico border before ending up in Fort Thomas, Ky., in 1917. On Christmas Day of that year, Woodfill married Lorena Wiltshire and the couple purchased a home in Fort Thomas.

After World War I, Woodfill was encouraged to run for U.S. Congress, an effort he rebuffed. Instead, he worked as a carpenter, a watchman and even tried starting an orchard before the nation — and the Medal of Honor recipient — was thrust into global conflict once again. In May 1942, two months after his wife died, Woodfill was commissioned an Army major and spent two years as an instructor in Birmingham, Ala.

In 1944, Woodfill resigned from the Army and moved to a farm in Switzerland County, Indiana. He was found dead there Aug. 13, 1951. Woodfill was originally buried in the Jefferson County Cemetery near Madison, Ind. His remains were moved to Arlington National Cemetery in August 1955.

— Compiled by Pablo Villa

Iron Division maintains the high standards set by Benjamin Franklin

Above: Soldiers of the 28th Infantry Division parade down the Champs-Élysées in Paris on August 29, 1944. The division was the first American division to enter the capital after its liberation. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives)

By MICHAEL L. LEWIS
NCO Journal

From the Revolutionary War to Afghanistan, the NCOs of the 28th Infantry Division have been upholding the high standards of the time-honored corps for centuries. Yet being the U.S. military’s oldest division is only part of what makes the Iron Division one of the Army’s most unique.

A part of the Pennsylvania National Guard, the division has the only Stryker brigade combat team in the National Guard, and almost all the division’s battalions are headquartered in the state, a rarity among Guard divisions. Those facts are just small glimpses into the division’s history of leading by example, said its command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher S. Kepner.

“The vision for 28th Infantry Division Soldiers is that they are fit, resilient and well trained,” Kepner said. “When we look back, we think it is very important that we connect our history to that vision, because the 28th Infantry Division Soldiers have been doing some phenomenal things throughout history.”

 

From Ben Franklin to Pancho Villa

The division’s oldest unit, 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment, was established by Benjamin Franklin in November 1747, nearly three decades before the nation declared independence. Frustrated by inaction by the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly, then dominated by pacifist Quakers, Franklin organized a group of volunteers to defend Philadelphia from French, Native American and privateer attacks. Today, the unit is part of the division’s 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team and is among the very few to have been awarded campaign streamers for combat in the Revolutionary War through Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Sgt. Benjamin H. Crippen's defiance against Confederate troops during the Battle of Gettysburg is depicted on a monument at the battlefield.
Sgt. Benjamin H. Crippen’s defiance against Confederate troops during the Battle of Gettysburg is depicted on a monument at the battlefield in Pennsylvania.

During the Civil War, Pennsylvania volunteers fought in battles from Antietam, Md., to Vicksburg, Miss. But perhaps their fiercest fighting was within their own state at Gettysburg. There, on July 1, 1863, the 143rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, made up of Soldiers from Pennsylvania’s coal country, was the first infantry unit to arrive. When they were forced to flee from Confederate troops during the ensuing battle, their colorbearer, Sgt. Benjamin H. Crippen, was the last to retreat and was said to have continually stopped to shake his fist at the Confederates, daring them to take his flag. When he was shot and killed, the Confederate general reportedly said he was “quite sorry to have seen this gallant Yankee meet his doom.” Crippen’s flag is now displayed at the Pennsylvania State Capitol.

Following the Civil War, Pennsylvania militia units were officially organized in March 1879 as the Division of the National Guard of Pennsylvania with a keystone as its insignia. This makes it the oldest division-sized unit in any of the U.S. armed forces.

The division next saw federal service on the Mexican border in 1916 in response to Pancho Villa’s deadly raid on Columbus, N.M. Redesignated as the 7th Division, the Pennsylvania units were sent to El Paso, Texas; the Big Bend area of Texas; and Nogales, Ariz. But by March 1917, the division’s troops had all been sent back home.

Yet with World War I looming, it wouldn’t be for long. Indeed, some of the units returning from the border had their demobilization orders rescinded en route to Pennsylvania. By August, the division had assembled near Augusta, Ga., for training, and in November, the division had its “28th” numerical designation restored along with its red keystone shoulder patch.

 

‘Iron men’

The division was part of the French-British-American force that held back the formidable German onslaught along the Marne River at Château-Thierry, just 37 miles from Paris, in July 1918. Though most of the 28th’s troops took up positions in the second line of defense south of the river and east of the town, four companies were placed in between French units on the front line. Unfortunately, when the French troops abandoned their position, the Pennsylvanians were not informed. They held their ground until Germans surrounded them. Out of the more than 500 28th ID troops at those locations, just 150 survived.

In this artist's rendition, Soldiers from the 28th Division make their heroic stand against German troops outside the village of Château-Thierry, France, in July 1918. Their valor was commended by Gen. John J. Pershing, who called them "iron men."
In this artist’s rendition, Soldiers from the 28th Division make their heroic stand against German troops outside the village of Château-Thierry, France, in July 1918. Their valor was commended by Gen. John J. Pershing, who called them “iron men.” (Art by Don Troiani)

When told of the Pennsylvanians’ heroic stand, Gen. John J. Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, remarked, “They are iron men,” a moniker that was quickly adopted by the entire division and that is emphasized over other nicknames to this day, Kepner said.

“Some Soldiers still say ‘Keystone Division,’ and it’s hard not to associate with that because that’s the insignia on our shoulders,” he said. “But calling ourselves the ‘Keystone Division’ doesn’t achieve the effect we want of connecting Soldiers with that fit, resilient and well-trained vision of what our Soldiers are and what our Soldiers need to be. ‘Iron Division’ intuitively does that.

“Gen. Pershing named us the ‘Iron Division’ after that battle, where there were small pockets of Iron Division Soldiers who were fighting, often in hand-to-hand combat, for days. You can’t do that if you aren’t fit, resilient and well trained.”

The division would see combat again during World War II when, after a period of training at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., and in Louisiana and Florida, the division set sail for Wales, where they prepared to join in the amphibious invasion of Normandy. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, upon inspecting the division in April 1944, wrote his formal opinion that the Iron Division was “fit, efficient, serious and determined.”

However, the division did not participate in D-Day on June 6. Instead, the 28th ID crossed the English Channel six weeks later and slogged through northern France in the push to drive the Germans out. In the right place at the right time near Versailles in late August, the division was given the honor of being the first American division to parade in Paris after the capital’s liberation on August 29. An iconic photograph of the division’s troops marching down the Champs-Élysées with the Arc de Triomphe in the background even inspired a U.S. stamp issued that year.

 

Eschewing a ‘bloody’ nickname

But the battle for which the 28th ID is most known was yet to come. After moving through Belgium and Luxembourg, the division was ordered to attack the Germans in the Hürtgen Forest southeast of Aachen in November. A dense mass of fir trees and undergrowth atop a series of valleys and ridges, the forest was well-known to the German defenders, but would be a nightmare for the 28th ID’s commanding general, Maj. Gen. Norman Cota.

A mannequin dressed as a World War II-era orderly sergeant sits in a mock barracks room at the 28th Infantry Division’s museum at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa. (Photo by Michael L. Lewis)
A mannequin dressed as a World War II-era orderly sergeant sits in a mock barracks room at the 28th Infantry Division’s museum at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa. (Photo by Michael L. Lewis)

Because of the unfavorable terrain and because 28th ID was the only unit attacking on a 150-mile front, Cota was forced to split the division in three for separate attacks. But the German troops knew the area well and fought so tenaciously, the two sides would measure success on the battlefield in terms of inches won. The resulting stalemate and high cost in lives — nearly 6,200 Iron Division Soldiers were killed in the span of little more than a week — was attributed to Cota. But Kepner said such blame is unfair.

“Gen. Cota was directed with a course of action; he was never allowed to truly command the division,” Kepner said. “And when you talk about splitting your forces, that directive came from his higher [headquarters] — ‘You will attack this way.’ So it opens up a lot of debate about mission command.”

The battle also is where division earned its other oft-mentioned nickname. Upon seeing the red keystone patch, Germans said it resembled a “bloody bucket.” But that moniker is discouraged, Kepner said.

“We don’t like ‘Bloody Bucket’ at all,” he said. “It’s really, in my opinion, a misnomer. It does not do justice to those Soldiers in the Hürtgen Forest. Gen. Patton once said, ‘I am a Soldier. I fight where I’m told, and I win where I fight.’ Well, those Soldiers were damn sure trying to win where they fought after being told where to fight.”

 

Leading the way in Kosovo and Iraq

During the Korean War, the division was sent to Germany to augment American forces there. But the majority of the division would not serve in a federal capacity again until after the Dayton Accords, the 1995 peace agreement that ended the war in Bosnia. In 2002, the division took command of Task Force Eagle as part of the NATO-led Stabilization Force there.

The 28th Infantry Division’s patch is seen on these uniform jackets from the museum’s collection. (Photo by Michael L. Lewis)
The 28th Infantry Division’s patch is seen on these uniform jackets from the museum’s collection. (Photo by Michael L. Lewis)

In 2003, the 28th ID became the first reserve component division to lead the NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo. Kepner, who deployed there as an operations sergeant major, said the mission was well suited to a division of National Guard members.

“Being citizen-Soldiers, what we found when we got into Kosovo was that we brought a lot more diversity in the formation,” he said. “For example, we have police officers, we have electricians, we have all this diversity of these civilian vocations. In our infantry formation, we don’t necessarily have electrician [military occupational specialties], but because we had Soldiers who were electricians in their civilian jobs, we had Soldiers who would see a need and would have good ideas on how to fix some of these infrastructure things.

“I forget who said this quote — that no military service is prepared to do peace and stability operations, but of all the services, the Army is the best prepared,” Kepner said. “But I will tell you that the Guard is even better-prepared to do that piece of stability operations because of our community-based diversity.”

Kepner said that despite the trailblazing nature of the 28th ID’s deployment to Kosovo, making history was not on anybody’s mind.

“We all knew, being the first reserve component rotation in there, that we had to do well,” he said. “But I wouldn’t say it was because it was for posterity’s sake or for historical perspective. We had to do well because we knew that everybody had their eye on us — could the National Guard do this? There hadn’t really been a National Guard deployment taking over something like this since maybe World War II. So we didn’t recognize our involvement as historical, but we did recognize it as setting a precedent for other Reserve and National Guard units.”

In 2009, the division set an additional precedent when it transitioned its 56th Brigade Combat Team into a Stryker brigade, the only one in the reserve component, and deployed it to Iraq. Based at Camp Taji, the brigade followed the division’s 2nd BCT, which deployed to Iraq in 2005. Kepner, who was the Stryker brigade’s command sergeant major in Iraq, said both deployments were a testament to the division’s agility and ability to do whatever it is called to do.

Staff Sgt. Andrew Frengel and other Soldiers and Stryker vehicles of A Troop, 2nd Squadron, 104th Cavalry Regiment, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division, move through the village of Sab al Bour near Taji, Iraq, on July 20, 2009. (Photo by Sgt. Doug Roles)
Staff Sgt. Andrew Frengel and other Soldiers and Stryker vehicles of A Troop, 2nd Squadron, 104th Cavalry Regiment, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division, move through the village of Sab al Bour near Taji, Iraq, on July 20, 2009. (Photo by Sgt. Doug Roles)

“It’s very important that our active-duty leaders understand that the 28th Infantry Division is ready for any mission,” he said. “If there’s one thing that I want them to take away, it’s that we are ready. Our history shows that we are ready, our support of the Global War on Terrorism shows that we are ready, and we are ready to do whatever mission we are given.”

Indeed, the division’s feats in combat are in addition to the work it does as part of the Pennsylvania National Guard — responding to national disasters, civil unrest and during other times at the request of the governor. For the division’s Soldiers today, it is important they realize they are part of the division’s next chapter in history, Kepner said.

“As the command team at the division level, we are being very aggressive in telling the story of the 28th Infantry Division,” he said. “We think it’s important that our Soldiers have something to associate themselves with, that the 28th Infantry Division is more than just a patch on their Soldier.

“It’s really about educating. It’s really about connecting the extraordinary feats of bravery by these Pennsylvanians in our history with what we’ve done in the past 10 years. I also tell the Soldiers that they are a part of writing the next chapter in the future. So to me, it’s about connecting the Soldier to the past, but also the recognition that he or she has the challenge of continuing that.”

 

“Roll On, 28th”

The 28th Infantry Division’s song was written in the fall of 1944 by Sgt. Emil Raab, a 28th ID bandsman who won a contest sponsored by the division’s commanding general, Maj. Gen. Norman Cota, to develop the march and song.

Click to hear the 28th Infantry Division Band perform “Roll On, 28th” →

We’re the 28th men,
And we’re out to fight again
For the good old U.S.A.
We’re the guys who know
Where to strike the blow
And you’ll know just why
After we say:

Roll on, 28th
Roll on, set the pace,
Hold the banners high
And raise the cry,
“We’re off to Victory!”
Let the Keystone shine
Right down the line
For all the world to see.
When we meet the foe
We’ll let them know
We’re Iron Infantry,
So, Roll on, 28th, Roll on!

 

The valor of the 28th ID

Of the three 28th Infantry Division Soldiers who received the Medal of Honor for their actions in World War I and World War II, two were noncommissioned officers:

Sgt. James I. Mestrovitch
Sgt. James I. Mestrovitch

Sgt. James I. Mestrovitch, an ethnic Serb from Montenegro who had emigrated to Pittsburgh, was fighting with C Company, 111th Infantry Regiment, 28th Division, in August 1918 in the hamlet of Fismette, France, when he saw his company commander lying 30 yards in front of the line after his company had withdrawn to a sheltered position behind a stone wall. According to his award citation, “Mestrovitch voluntarily left cover and crawled through heavy machine gun and shell fire to where the officer lay. He took the officer upon his back and crawled to a place of safety, where he administered first aid treatment, his exceptional heroism saving the officer’s life.” Mestrovitch’s award was posthumous, however, as he died of Spanish flu three months later, just a week before the armistice. He is buried in his homeland of Montenegro.

Tech. Sgt. Francis J. Clark was a squad leader with K Company, 109th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division, when two platoons attempted to ford the fog-shrouded Our River on Sept. 12, 1944, on the border with Germany near Kalborn, Luxembourg. When the fog lifted as the second platoon was crossing, German troops decimated the unit, killing both the platoon leader and platoon sergeant. Despite the withering hail of bullets, Clark crawled alone to the stricken troops, led the platoon to safety, then “unhesitatingly returned into the fire-swept area to rescue a wounded Soldier, carrying him to the American line while hostile gunners tried to cut him down,” his award citation reads. Later that day, Clark led his squad and the men of the other platoon in sorties against enemy positions. Their efforts wounded an undetermined number of the enemy, scattered the German patrols and, eventually, “forced the withdrawal of a full company of Germans heavily armed with automatic weapons,” his citation said.

Tech. Sgt. Francis J. Clark
Tech. Sgt. Francis J. Clark

Five days later near Sevenig, Germany, Clark advanced alone against an enemy machine gun, killed the gunner and forced the assistant to flee. When the Germans’ counterattack killed the leadership of two other platoons, Clark took over their command, moved among the men to give encouragement, then continued with even more acts of heroism: “Although wounded on the morning of Sept. 18, he refused to be evacuated and took up a position in a pillbox when night came. Emerging at daybreak, he killed a German soldier setting up a machine gun not more than 5 yards away. When he located another enemy gun, he moved up unobserved and killed two Germans with rifle fire. Later that day he voluntarily braved small-arms fire to take food and water to members of an isolated platoon.”

Clark received the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman the following year. He died in 1981 and is buried in Salem, N.Y.

40th ID: The history of the ‘Sunshine’ Division

For nearly 100 years, the Sunshine Division has protected California and the nation

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

They may not have a song or a famous motto, but the 40th Infantry Division has a full, important history of protecting the citizens of California and the nation. It’s a history the division’s NCOs have worked to keep alive and relevant for almost 100 years.

The 40th ID was created on Sept. 16, 1917, from National Guard units from California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. Based at Camp Kearney in San Diego, Calif., the division was created after the United States joined World War I. Its well-known nickname and patch were created soon after, Sgt. Major Daniel Sebby said in a short history of the division he wrote for the California State Military Museum in Sacramento, Calif. Sebby is the museum’s curator.

Sgt. Jason Stevens, an agribusiness development horticulturist with the 40th ID, gathers a soil sample in November 2009 from a field in Marawara, Afghanistan. His group met with local farmers about their crop output in the area and gathered soil samples to learn how crop production might be increased in the area. (Photo by Tech Sgt. Brian Boisvert)
Sgt. Jason Stevens, an agribusiness development horticulturist with the 40th ID, gathers a soil sample in November 2009 from a field in Marawara, Afghanistan. His group met with local farmers about their crop output in the area and gathered soil samples to learn how crop production might be increased in the area. (Photo by Tech Sgt. Brian Boisvert)

“It was soon decided that the new division’s nickname would be the ‘Sunshine Division,’ since its patch was a sun on a field of blue,” Sebby wrote. “The division was one of the best-prepared for the great mobilization since a majority of the units had just been released from active duty on the Mexican border.”

Later, during the Korean War, Brig. Gen. Joseph Cleland changed the patch to a multicolored diamond sewn on laterally, calling it a ‘Ball of Fire,’ but an outcry from division veterans led to Cleland being admonished and the original patch’s return. Sgt. Major Javier Becerra, the G1 sergeant major at California’s Joint Force Headquarters in Sacramento, said 40th Infantry Division Soldiers quickly gain pride in their patch and their history.

“In the division, there are a lot of really proud Soldiers who really wear the patch with pride,” Becerra said. “We joke about the patch, but it’s all I’ve known.”

 

World War I

Though many Soldiers and NCOs from the 40th Division fought in World War I, they didn’t fight as part of the division, Sebby said.

“When the division arrived in France in August 1918, the Germans had just completed a series of offensives that started on March 21 and ended on July 15,” Sebby wrote. “These offensives were designed to destroy the American Expeditionary Force before it could be fully constituted. They almost succeeded. It was decided that the new divisions would be used as depot divisions, supplying fresh troops to the more experienced combat divisions. By the end of the war, the 40th Division provided more than 27,000 replacements to the 26th, 28th, 32nd, 77th, 80th, 81st, 82nd and 89th Divisions.”

By the end of World War I, 2,587 members of the 40th Division had been killed in action and 11,596 wounded. Another 103 died of their wounds at the Camp Kearney post hospital. On April 20, 1919, the division stood down. The division sprung back to life on June 18, 1926, with its headquarters first in Berkeley, Calif., before moving to Los Angeles in 1937.

 

World War II

Soldiers from the 40th ID arrive at Malaybalay, Mindanao, Phillippines, May 26, 1945. (Photo courtesy of the California State Military History Museum)
Soldiers from the 40th ID arrive at Malaybalay, Mindanao, Phillippines, May 26, 1945. (Photo courtesy of the California State Military History Museum)

By the day after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, elements of the 40th Division were sent to various strategic locations in Southern California to defend against what many thought would be an imminent attack.

Retired Master Sgt. Duane Whaley, 88, joined the 40th Division in 1940 and still lives in Southern California. He remembers the time well.

“We got the mission to guard the whole West Coast,” Whaley said. “My regiment, the 184th, guarded from the Mexican border all the way up to Oceanside (Calif.). We kept expecting an invasion from Japan.”

Though the attack never came, members of the 40th Division were tasked with rounding up civilians of Japanese descent living in California to relocate them to internment camps. In the book, The Fighting Fortieth in War and Peace, James D. Delk wrote about the division’s role.

“Japanese-Americans were moved into relocation camps starting in early February,” Delk wrote. “The 40th Division was tasked with moving these unfortunate civilians and for guarding their possessions. They were forced to quickly liquidate their homes, or arrange for non-Japanese friends to act as caretakers.”

In December 1942, the division moved to Guadalcanal in the South Pacific for training and combat patrolling, Delk said.

“By the middle of January (1943), the movement of the division from Oahu, Hawaii, had been completed,” Delk wrote. “Troops were ordered to always wear their helmets — not to protect themselves from the enemy, but from the very real danger of coconuts falling on their heads. There were coconuts everywhere, planted primarily by the Proctor & Gamble Co., and the heavy coconuts falling 60 or 70 feet could be deadly.”

Whaley said the training and patrols were some of the most difficult in his National Guard career.

Soldiers from the 40th ID arrive at Malaybalay, Mindanao, Phillippines, May 26, 1945. (Photo courtesy of the California State Military History Museum)
Soldiers from the 40th ID arrive at Malaybalay, Mindanao, Phillippines, May 26, 1945. (Photo courtesy of the California State Military History Museum)

“We started doing patrol work all through the jungles of Guadalcanal, looking for a spare Japanese someplace maybe left behind,” Whaley said. “Worst jungle I’ve seen in my life. Mosquitoes were so thick we had to wear a net over our helmets. That’s where I got malaria.”

By December 1944, the Soldiers of the 40th Infantry Division were preparing to depart toward the Philippines for their first major battles of the war, Delk wrote. On Dec. 1, 1944, Maj. Gen. Rapp Brush sent the following message to the Soldiers of the 40th Division:

“We are now entering the most important period in our lives and in the history of our division. The operation in which we are about to participate constitutes the culmination of three long years of war in the Pacific. I am sure that every member of the division is proud that we have been selected to participate in the spearhead attack on this vital objective.

“Through long periods of rigorous training we have molded and hardened ourselves into a highly efficient combat team. Those periods are now behind us. We are about to receive the real test. I feel that we are fully prepared to meet this test and bring the operation to a speedy and successful conclusion. I have the utmost confidence in you.

“Good luck and God bless you. THIS IS IT!”

Indeed, it was. The division attacked the Japanese at Luzon, Panay and Negros in the Philippines. By March 1, 1945, the enemy had been successfully driven into the mountains, Delk wrote.

“The division was proud of their first real combat,” he wrote. “After the bloody fighting for several weeks, the division was disappointed they were not selected to take Manila. Many Soldiers were convinced that ‘the brass’ didn’t want a National Guard regiment to take Manila, and sent in the Army’s 5th Cavalry (Regiment).”

Japanese staff studies captured in the battles showed how much respect they had for the 40th Division, Delk wrote.

“In the words of the Japanese staff officers, ‘The American ability to organize and deliver hard-driving assaults and their alertness in meeting our night raids was astonishing,’” he wrote. “They were particularly impressed with the division’s mortars, considering them to be the division’s most effective weapon.”

At the end of the fighting, the division was credited with killing or capturing 6,145 Japanese on Luzon, and with killing or capturing 4,732 Japanese on Panay and Negros. In the course of all its fighting during World War II, the 40th Division had 715 killed in action, plus five missing.

 

Korean War

Soldiers from the 40th Infantry Division fight during the Korean War. (Photo courtesy of the California State Military History Museum)
Soldiers from the 40th Infantry Division fight during the Korean War. (Photo courtesy of the California State Military History Museum)

Peace did not last long after the end of World War II. On June 25, 1950, the North Korean People’s Army invaded the southern Republic of Korea. A month later, the 40th Infantry Division was told to begin mobilizing for Korea. The division was first sent for training at Camp Cooke, Calif. In March 1951, the division’s Soldiers were sent to the Japanese island of Honshu. There they defended the north part of the island while continuing their preparation.

In January 1952, the members of the 40th Division were sent to Pusan, South Korea, to begin relieving the 24th Division on the front lines.

“When the troops arrived in Korea, they were immediately put into the front line,” Delk wrote. “As troops passed the war-weary veterans returning from the front lines, anxiety and apprehension were heightened. The veterans of the 24th Division looked physically tired and emotionally beat. As they pulled off the line into reserve, many of them whispered to 40th Soldiers as they passed, wishing them luck and a safe trip home next year.”

Arriving in January — in the middle of winter — didn’t help matters.

“As advertised, the troops found the sub-zero weather bitterly cold,” Delk wrote. “Many Soldiers would recall this period in Korea as the coldest time of their lives. Artillerymen had to be careful. When they swabbed the bore of their howitzers, water would drip and freeze, which formed a miniature ice rink below the breech. That made it extremely slippery and dangerous when servicing the weapon.”

The battles continued through 1952 and into 1953. By April 1953, the 40th Division was at the Ihyon-Ni-Kalbakkumi sector, nicknamed the “Punch Bowl” because of the natural features in the area. Later, the 40th Division replaced the 45th Infantry Division in the Heartbreak Ridge-Sandbag Castle area before a truce was declared on July 27, 1953.

Three 40th ID Soldiers were awarded Medals of Honor for actions in Korea. (Photo courtesy of the California State Military History Museum)
Three 40th ID Soldiers were awarded Medals of Honor for actions in Korea. (Photo courtesy of the California State Military History Museum)

The fighting in the Punch Bowl was so important to the Soldiers of the 40th Division, a silver punch bowl handmade during the era remains on display at the division’s headquarters at Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base in Long Beach, Calif.

“Maj. Gen. Ridgley Gaither had contracted with a Tokyo silversmith to craft a special punch bowl modeled on the Punch Bowl where the division had fought and suffered so many casualties, …” Delk wrote. “The artisan was given a relief map and told what was desired. He then crafted a replica of the ‘Punch Bowl,’ which was delivered with a ladle to the division several months later.”

During 342 days of combat in Korea, the 40th Division had 376 men killed in combat, 1,457 wounded in action and three Medals of Honor awarded.

On July 1, 1954, the day after demobilizing from Korea, the 40th Infantry Division became the 40th Armored Division. The 40th Infantry Division came back to life in January 1974.

 

Peacetime duties

In addition to their wartime duties, the Soldiers and NCOs of the 40th Infantry Division have what is likely the record for most activity during peacetime of any National Guard division.

“The 40th Division has always been headquartered in the most disaster-prone state in the nation,” Delk wrote. “There have been many disastrous earthquakes. … There have been innumerable forest fires and floods. And there have been the many riots in prisons, at the docks and in the cities, including the most destructive rioting in our nation’s history. The 40th Division was involved in all of them.”

One of the earliest examples of this was the riot at Folsom State Prison in 1927.

“In November of that year, prisoners at the Folsom State Prison seized control of the main buildings and took several of the staff as hostages,” Sebby wrote. “The warden was unable to control the situation and asked the governor [to send] the National Guard. Telephone calls and announcements over the radio were made. Theaters stopped their shows to announce, ‘All National Guardsmen report to your armory.’ The entire 184th Infantry Regiment and supporting troops … assembled and moved to Folsom. When the action was over, 11 inmates were dead and 11 wounded.”

Sgt. Maj. Javier Becerra, right, poses with a Los Angeles business owner after the 40th Infantry Division secured the streets after the riots in 1992 that started after the Rodney King verdict. (Photo courtesy of Sgt. Maj. Javier Becerra)
Sgt. Maj. Javier Becerra, right, poses with a Los Angeles business owner after the 40th Infantry Division secured the streets after the riots in 1992 that started after the Rodney King verdict. (Photo courtesy of Sgt. Maj. Javier Becerra)

In April 1992, the division was called to protect the people of California during the riots that erupted after four Los Angeles police officers were found not guilty in the beating of Rodney King. The violence in Los Angeles got so out of control that the division was federalized and reinforced by the 49th Military Police Brigade and 7th Light Infantry Division from Fort Ord, Calif., and the 1st Marine Division from Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Becerra was part of that mission and said what he remembered most was how grateful the residents were to have the Soldiers there keeping the area safe.

“All the lights were out when we pulled in,” Becerra said. “All the people thought we were going to kill them. But the minute the division got involved and was on the ground, everything ceased. I witnessed it; I was there. Everything ceased. There was no more violence.

“When we were on the streets, I remember people coming up to us and giving us food. People gave us keys to their stores in case we needed anything at night,” he said. “Of course we didn’t accept, but just the thought. They said they hadn’t had the feeling of peace on the streets where they could walk at night. When we left, people were literally in tears in the street.

“Wherever we went, we were welcomed,” Becerra said.

As part of a joint task force, Master Sgt. Timothy Kennedy of the 40th ID works side by side with soldiers from the Australian army and a U.S. Marine in July 2011 during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2011 at Kokoda Barracks, Queensland, Australia. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Emily Suhr)
As part of a joint task force, Master Sgt. Timothy Kennedy of the 40th ID works side by side with soldiers from the Australian army and a U.S. Marine in July 2011 during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2011 at Kokoda Barracks, Queensland, Australia. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Emily Suhr)

The work continues as NCOs ensure Soldiers of the 40th Infantry Division are ready for whatever hits California next, said Sgt. Maj. Sergio Porras, the operations sergeant major for the 160th Infantry Regiment, 40th Infantry Division.

“The planning that we are doing now is not just for earthquakes, not just for fires, not just for rescue. We’re actually planning a broad spectrum, from terrorist attacks to anytime local governments need support,” Porras said. “One of the things we’ve been mandated to do is talk to our local police department, our first responders, and have that relationship with them, to see what their needs are if something does happen.

“I just came from a two-day conference, and that’s all we did — plan how we’re going to support ourselves first, to support the community, either here in the Southern California area or in Northern California,” Porras said. “Because if something happens in Southern California, the Northern California forces, our sister battalions, will support us and vice versa.”

 

Moving forward

The NCOs of the 40th Infantry Division said they are proud of their history and use it to inspire their service in the present. Sgt. Maj. Angel Rocha, operations sergeant major for the 40th Division, talked about how his 160th Regimental coin reminds him of the past.

“All around [the coin] it has the history, like the Mexican border, World War I, World War II, Korea, … during [Operation] Desert Spring when they went over after 9/11 and [Operation] Iraqi Freedom,” Rocha said. “That’s all around the coin. We’re proud of the history, and we’re taking that and running with it. ‘Old Soldiers never die, they fade away.’ … They fade away because what we take from them is what makes the division keep on going. Their training is still part of the lineage. Hopefully we’ll pass it along.”

Sgt. 1st Class Edward Gonzales, personnel service NCO for the Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion of the 40th Infantry Division, said the history he sees at Los Alamitos each day inspires him.

A silver punch bowl, made to commemorate fighting during the Korean War, sits at the headquarters of the 40th Infantry Division at Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base, Calif. The division’s Medal of Honor winners are also on display. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester)
A silver punch bowl, made to commemorate fighting during the Korean War, sits at the headquarters of the 40th Infantry Division at Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base, Calif. The division’s Medal of Honor winners are also on display. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester)

“The history of the 40th Infantry Division has affected me because I like to know about the men who have gone before me,” Gonzales said. “Here at Los Alamitos at division headquarters, we have a foyer displaying the Medal of Honor recipients during the Korean campaign, lots of pictures on the wall from Soldiers in the Second World War, and that gives me a lot of pride. I came off of active duty from the 82nd [Airborne Division]; when joining this unit, I realized that we had just as much glory and honor as the 82nd had during the Second World War.

“The one big thing that stands out that I don’t think I really appreciated when I was in the 82nd is that the 40th Infantry Division is made up of citizen-Soldiers in the true sense,” Gonzales said. “They have an outside life. They are civilians, and then when they are called upon, they put on the uniform and serve. Having deployed with them a couple of times now, I realize how important that is. In 30 days, you could find yourself overseas somewhere. And to think that we’ve been doing that ever since the First World War, it’s impressive how the members of this division quickly train up and take their part in history.

“I think it’s important that our Soldiers know that they come from a long line,” Gonzales said.

Remembering the difficult battles of the past and how hard Soldiers had it is also a good source of inspiration, Porras said.

“It inspires me because it’s really humbling to know their experience,” Porras said. “These gentlemen have put their lives on the line for us before we even got here, and some of the stories they tell us, they really had it hard. In comparison to what we have today, we’re living the life of luxury. It’s pretty inspirational, and in my battalion, I try to teach my junior NCOs, ‘Hey, this is important, and here are the reasons why. Right now you might not understand it, but if you reach the senior ranks and you’re involved in planning and other things, this is stuff you need to consider.’”

Recent cutbacks in the division had Becerra thinking about more ways to preserve and honor the sacrifice of those who have come before.

“When we get our new troops in, one of the things I have them do is walk down the hall and see some of the division history,” Becerra said. “I want them to know at least a little bit about the division. I think the bottom line is we have to teach our young Soldiers the history, because one day, the division is going to be gone. And all that is going to be left of the 40th Division when they tear down this building is what we remember.” ♦

 

40th ID Timeline

  • April 6, 1917: United States enters World War I.
  • Sept. 16, 1917: The 40th Division is organized at Camp Kearny, Calif.
  • Aug. 31, 1918: All 40th Division troops have been sent to Europe.
  • June 18, 1926: 40th Division headquarters established in Berkeley, Calif.
  • Nov. 24–26, 1927: 40th helps control Folsom Prison riots.
  • March 10, 1933: 40th Division troops respond to Long Beach earthquake.
  • July 5, 1934: 40th Division elements activated for longshoremen’s strike in San Francisco.
  • Dec. 7, 1941: Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. 40th Division immediately provides security for southern California.
  • July 8, 1942: 40th Division starts move to Hawaii, completed in early October 1942.
  • Dec. 20, 1943: 40th Division leaves for Guadalcanal.
  • April 23, 1944: Elements of the 40th Division relieve 1st Marine Divsion on New Britain, Papua New Guinea.
  • Jan. 9, 1945: 40th Division invades Luzon, Philippines.
  • June 15–18, 1945: 40th Division elements return from Negros to Panay.
  • Aug. 14, 1945: Japan accepts unconditional surrender terms.
  • April 7, 1946: 40th Division inactivated at Camp Stoneman, Calif.
  • Oct. 14, 1946: 40th Division reorganized and federally recognized at Los Angeles.
  • Sept. 1, 1950: 40th Division activated for Korea. Advance party departs for Camp Cooke (now Vandenberg Air Force Base).
  • April 10, 1951: 40th Division advance elements arrive in Japan. Division given mission of defending north Honshu while training.
  • Dec. 22, 1951: 40th Division alerted for move to Korea to relieve 24th ID.
  • Jan. 6, 1952: First ship departs Japan for Korea with first  elements of the 40th Division.
  • Jan. 20, 1952: 40th Division’s first loss in the Korean War was Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Kaiser Jr., killed near Kumsong.
  • April 1952: Enemy probes of the division’s lines increase. A total of 3,636 enemy rounds hit in April.
  • May 1952: Fewer contacts initiated by the enemy. A total of 2,722 enemy mortar and artillery rounds hit in May.
  • June 26–28, 1952: 2nd Republic of Korea Division relieves the 40th ID.
  • Oct. 16, 1952: 40th ID ordered to relieve 25th Division in the Paem-Ihyon-Ni sector.
  • April 27, 1953: 40th Division deploys across Ihyon-Ni-Kalbakkumi (Punch Bowl) sector.
  • May 8, 1954: Final review of 40th Division in Republic of Korea.
  • June 30, 1954: 40th ID is released from active federal service and reverts to state control.
  • July 1, 1954: 40th Infantry Division reorganizes and is redesignated as the 40th Armored Division.
  • Jan. 25-27, 1956: 40th AD elements assist during floods in Los Angeles area.
  • Aug. 13–24, 1965: 40th AD employed to control the Watts Riots in Los Angeles.
  • Jan. 13, 1974: 40th ID (Mechanized) is organized and federally recognized with its headquarters in Long Beach, Calif.
  • April 1981: 40th ID headquarters moved to Los Alamitos Joint Forces training base.
  • April–May 1992: 40th ID employed to control Los Angeles riots after the Rodney King verdict.
  • Jan. 17, 1994: After the Northridge earthquake, 40th Division elements establish tent cities and provide security.
  • From Sept. 11, 2001, to present day: Elements of the 40th Infantry Division have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Division’s Soldiers remain on guard and on watch to help after natural disasters or other emergencies in California.