The nation’s oldest living recipient of the Medal of Honor died during the weekend.
Nicholas Oresko, an Army master sergeant and World War II veteran died Friday of complications from surgery in Cresskill, N.J., according to media reports. He was 96.
Oresko received the nation’s highest military honor for his actions on Jan. 23, 1945, during the Battle of the Bulge near Tettingen, Germany, while with C Company, 302nd Infantry Regiment, 94th Infantry Division. On that day, Oresko singlehandedly defeated a German bunker by lobbing a grenade and charging it after the explosion to eliminate the remaining enemy. Oresko was seriously wounded in the hip by machine-gun fire from a second bunker. Despite his injuries, Oresko led a charge to the second bunker, eventually charging it on his own and successfully eliminating its threats.
In all, Oresko was credited with killing 12 Germans, preventing a delay in the enemy assault and making it possible for Company C to obtain its objective with minimum casualties.
President Harry Truman decorated Oresko with the medal in October 1945 at the White House.
Oresko was born Jan. 18, 1917, in Bayonne, N.J. He joined the Army in March 1942. He became the oldest living recipient of the Medal of Honor after the death of Pfc. Barney F. Hajiro in January 2011.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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, 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.
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.
The veterans of World War II “gave something of themselves to protect each and every one of us, to do what needed to be done — the dirty work of war,” said the Army’s top enlisted Soldier.
“And it is dirty work,” he continued. “It’s tough, it’s demanding. You’ve got to reach inside of yourself and find that place where you’re going to go beyond what you believe is possible as a Soldier and as a human being.”
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III was speaking at the Victory in Europe Day event at the World War II Memorial, May 8, in Washington, D.C. He also represented the Army during a joint wreath-laying ceremony, and with special wreath to honor the survivors and victims of the Holocaust.
Chandler drew comparisons and contrasts between World War II-era veterans and those serving today.
At the start of World War II, thousands of young people chose to go to the recruiting stations to answer the nation’s call, he said. After 9/11, many similarly volunteered.
When World War II Soldiers demobilized, “they went back to civilian life and did great things for our nation, which we see today,” Chandler said. Likewise as the Army draws down, “I hope you’ll welcome our young men and women back into our communities, because they’ve got a lot to offer as well.”
As Soldiers transition to civilian life, they will receive transition assistance and Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, which are similar to what veterans received following World War II, Chandler said, thanking World War II veterans for showing the way ahead in honoring service.
When Chandler’s wife, Jeanne, visited World War II-era spouses, they were amazed at the contrast between serving during World War II and today, he said. During World War II, Soldiers went off to war and then returned to their homes and families when it was over. Today, however, Soldiers “rotate in and out of theater on an almost annual basis.”
Chandler described a staff sergeant he met recently who’s been in the Army 12 years — six of which he spent deployed. The staff sergeant is currently in Afghanistan.
Besides being far from home, wartime service has other negative effects besides the possibility of being killed or wounded, he said.
Unfortunately, veterans of World War II and Korea didn’t receive help for their post-traumatic stress, he said. “It wasn’t talked about then.”
Jeanne’s uncle, who fought in the Pacific theater, is “even today affected by the combat, the casualties and the life or death situations he was put in,” Chandler said.
Today, the Army and the other services are investing a lot of research into studying and treating post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD, he said. “I think it’s a great thing.”
He encouraged veterans of every war who are suffering from PTSD to seek help.
World War II still relevant
Chandler said Soldiers today are still learning from veterans of “the greatest generation.”
World War II is not forgotten by today’s Soldiers, as it still has relevance, he said.
Throughout the Army, Soldiers in small groups and classrooms pour over the battles and tactics of World War II to learn what worked and what didn’t work, “so we don’t make the same mistakes,” he said.
Another takeaway from World War II is the importance of the National Guard and Reserve. During World War II, Chandler said, the reserve component “performed superbly” after they were mobilized. Today’s reserve component, after 12 years of war, has done just as well, he said. The active and reserve components working together make a formidable team.
Chandler said Soldiers today are able to learn from those who came before them.
“One of the most valuable lessons we can learn from the World War II veterans and other members of greatest generation, is sacrifice,” he said, adding that today’s Soldiers have sacrificed much.
“We also need to honor those volunteers who’ve chosen to go into harm’s way, those young men and women 18 and 19 years of age who said, ‘If not me, who?’ and ‘This we’ll defend.’ They are today’s amazing individuals, and they are the next greatest generation for our nation to honor as we do here today,” Chandler said.
Chandler said that the day will eventually come when there won’t be any more World War II veterans alive to honor, so Americans must always remember their sacrifices and the “many blessings we have today because of what they’ve done.”
“One day this war in Afghanistan will also end,” he continued. “And I challenge each of us to think: Will we remember those veterans of today’s conflict, as we honored those veterans who fought in Europe and the Pacific theaters? Will there be the same amount of energy and courage to say thank you for so few who have given so much?”
Adding to Chandler’s remark was another speaker at the event, retired Army Lt. Gen. Claude “Mick” Kicklighter, chairman of the Friends of the National World War II Memorial.
“It’s been said that any nation that forgets its veterans ceases to be a great nation,” Kicklighter said. “This memorial says in a very special way that the American people and this nation will never forget our veterans, their families and especially those veterans who gave all their tomorrows. And when you’re 18 or 19, all your tomorrows is a very high price to pay so that we can live in this strong, free and beautiful America.”
For nearly 100 years, the Sunshine Division has protected California and the nation
By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
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.
“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
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
Jose Calugas Sr., born in the Philippines when it was a territory of the United States, joined the Philippine Scouts of the U.S. Army in 1930. Trained as an artilleryman, he was serving as a mess sergeant in B Battery, 88th Field Artillery, as U.S. troops were withdrawing from the Bataan Peninsula in January 1942.
While preparing a meal, he realized that one of the batteries’ guns had fallen silent. Discovering that Japanese shelling had killed or wounded its entire crew, Calugas dashed across more than a half-mile of shell-swept terrain to the gun’s position, where he organized a volunteer squad of 16 to return it to action. After combating an hours-long onslaught of Japanese artillery fire, Calugas returned to his kitchen duty.
Though he was recommended for the Medal of Honor, he had not been awarded it by the time American troops in the Philippines surrendered to the Japanese in April 1942. Calugas, along with 15,000 American and 60,000 Filipino prisoners of war, were forcibly marched to POW camps — the infamous Bataan Death March in which thousands died under brutal mistreatment by Japanese troops.
Calugas remained imprisoned until January 1943 when he was released to work at a rice mill. There, he secretly set up a guerrilla spy network until the Philippines were liberated in 1945, when he finally was presented with the Medal of Honor by Gen. of the Army George Marshall. He was the only Filipino to receive the award for actions during World War II.
After receiving the award, he was offered U.S. citizenship and accepted a direct commission. He retired as a captain in 1957 and died in Tacoma, Wash., in 1998 at the age of 90.
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