WORLD WAR II
In July, 1940, a skeleton force of officers and enlisted men were ordered to Ford Ord, California, to reactivate the 7th Infantry Division under the eagle eye of Major General Joseph W. Stilwell.
Initially the Division in 1940 consisted of two infantry regiments destined to remain in the 7th--the 17th and 32nd; and one that was not, the 53rd. In the ranks of the regiments there were comparatively few regulars. For the most part the Division was manned by selective service soldiers, recently inducted in the nation's first peacetime draft.
Stilwell took the Division up to Oregon for the Fourth Army maneuvers. Then, after its return to Ord from maneuvers the 7th got a new commander, Major General C. H. White, as Stilwell became the commander of the III Corps, senior tactical command of the Coast. The 7th, continuing to work hard under its new commander, practiced boat loading at the Monterey Wharf, and stormed the beaches along the Salinas River.
Just as most of the selective service soldiers could start looking forward to the end of their tour of duty, the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor and we were officially involved in the Second World War. The west coast of the U. S. had a bad case of the jitters over rumors of the enemy's approach. At one point, Stilwell called White, and sent the 7th Reconnaissance Troop down Highway No.1 on the alert after a naval report stated that the Japanese Fleet was ten miles off Monterey--but this was only a false alarm, and the 7th Recon soon went back on more routine duties.
In the days that followed this initial scare, wild stories were rampant. The main battle fleet of the Japanese was 164 miles off 'Frisco: general alert all units . . . Suspicious signaling was seen: put the Japanese colony under arrest . . . Enemy paratroopers have landed: a division artillery sergeant swore he was fired on driving back to Ord one night. Eventually sanity was restored, but the 7th was mighty happy to be pulled off guard duty and sent to Camp San Luis Obispo to resume training as a combat division.
Word came that the Division's designation was being changed to 7th Motorized Division. The 7th was jubilant. They weren't going to walk to war the way their daddies had. Their next assignment was a rugged training session on the Mojave Desert; the soldiers of the 7th put two and two together and figured that being both motorized and desert-trained could mean only one thing: they were going to chase General Rommel out of North Africa.
Consequently, the Division returned to Camp San Luis Obispo confident that they were about to pack their bags and head for an cast coast port en route to Africa. It was something of a jolt, therefore, when the motorized equipment was taken away from them and they were ordered to embark upon an arduous program of amphibious training under the watchful eyes of grim-faced Marines from the Fleet Marine Force.
The 53d Infantry had, by this time, been replaced by the 159th Infantry, a local National Guard outfit also called the "Fifth California." Although it had seen very little campaigning in. its 62-year existence, the 159th traced its lineage to several colorful California militia companies--the Oakland Guards, San Jose Zouaves, Hewston Guard, and the Oakland Light Cavalry Company, among others. The Guardsmen joined the Hourglass Division shortly before Peal Harbor, but remained in the 7th for only a single campaign--the battle for Attu m the Aleutians.
In 1942 a Japanese assault force had been dispatched to seize Dutch Harbor, the U. S. outpost in the Aleutians. They got cold feet, however, and decided to settle for Kiska and Attu at the western end of the chain of islands we bad obtained from Russia in 1867. It was clear that the Japanese hoped to use the islands as a springboard for an attack against Alaska. The job of getting these islands back was given to the 7th Division. The Hourglass soldiers found it hard to believe that they were headed for arctic terrain after their desert training.
The first elements to land moved up on to Attu's "Red Beach" on May 11, 1943. They probed about for several hours and were able to consolidate beach positions before the Japanese learned they were there and started to bring defensive fire to bear. Then they had to fight a brutal campaign which was not concluded until the defeat of the Japanese at Chiehagof Harbor.
The 7th Recon Troop went ashore first, moving in resolutely despite a pea-soup fog which reduced visibility to zero. The principal landings were carried out by elements of the 17th Infantry Regiment under the command of Colonel Edward P. Earle, who was killed in the battle. The 17th was neither properly equipped nor clothed for a northern campaign, for in those days we knew practically nothing about waging extensive winter warfare. Nevertheless, the 17th Infantry soldiers carried on, and for this action won a Distinguished Unit Citation.
Company B scaled a sheer cliff in the face of Japanese gunfire to attack positions which were holding up an important advance against a ridge between the valleys of Holtz Bay. Company F's attack in the pass between the valleys was magnificent. The Gl's used rifles, bayonets, and hand grenades to drive the enemy out of a series of trenches near the vital Cold Mountain. Company E charged the enemy entrenched in the Saran Valley-Massacre Valley Pass, and buried the Japs out by the sheer fury of their assault. Companies I and K, though depleted by battle losses, conducted the attack on the upper plateau of Attu which led to the capture of Chichagof Harbor, where the fighting was at its fiercest.
All efforts to dislodge the enemy from his defense positions in the snow-covered mountain passes leading to Chichagof failed. On May 26 a new attempt was made by a reinforced battalion of the 32d, which was successful at first, then stalled as the intensity of the enemy's defensive fires drove the Gl's to cover. Then Private Jose P. Martinez, a Company K BARman from Taos, New Mexico, started to charge the enemy trench lines. A few hardy soldiers ventured to follow him. Martinez completed the climb, and firing his BAR and throwing hand grenades he knocked out part of the enemy strong point. The main pass was still 150 feet above him, and the way was barred by enemy fire from both flanks and from tiers of snow trenches to his front. But Martinez was confident; he rallied the men who had come with him, and once more started the climb, blazing a path with fire from his BAR. As he reached the final trench and started to clean it out, he was hit and mortally wounded. But a few minutes later the infantrymen swarmed over the Pass. Its capture was the end of organized Japanese resistance on Attu, although the enemy had enough strength in reserve to mount a night Banzai attack in the Clevesy Pass on the last day of the month of May.
With Attu under control the Division turned its attention to the next target: Kiska, westernmost of the Rat Islands.
Meanwhile, the 159th Infantry had taken over on Attu, and it was decided that this regiment should stay there. The 184th Infantry, another California National Guard outfit, then at Fort Ord, was alerted to get ready to join the Division when the campaign in the Aleutians ended. This was sooner than anyone expected. The Japanese on Kiska, possibly as a result of what happened on Attu, decided not to fight after all. 'The Hourglass soldiers invaded Kiska to find not a single enemy soldier there.
The Division assembled in its ships and prepared to leave the arctic behind it. Speculation was rife as to where they were going. The diehards still insisted that the 7th was going to fight in North Africa, and predicted that they would probably head for San Francisco first. But the next shoreline they saw was that of the island of Oahu in the Hawaiians.
The Division embarked there on a four-month training program, under a new commander, Major General C. H. Corlett, and worked hard to perfect the latest amphibious techniques. It took part in a week-long dry run against the island of Maui, then returned to Oahu for a brief respite at Schofield Barracks. On January 22nd the convoy left Pearl Harbor en route to Kwajalein, where it was going to seize the first Japanese-owned territory in the Pacific.
The first Americans to set foot on Japanese-owned soil were members of the 7th Recon Troop led by Captain Paul Il. Gritta. Gritta first led his men in a pre-dawn assault against several of the smaller islands around Kwajalein. When they returned to the converted destroyer which was serving as their troop transport, they had killed 106 Japanese, and had taken three prisoners. Their losses were two killed, 22 wounded. Here, as at Attu, the 7th Recon was mentioned in the General Orders, and awarded another DUC.
Another force, the 2d Battalion, 17th Infantry, under Lieutenant Colonel Ed Smith seized Carlson Island, which General Corlett wanted so that his Division Artillery could fire from it in support of the fight on Kwajalein. Smith's Battalion found itself under fire from the Japanese batteries on Kwajalein, but stuck to its task and cleared the way for the artillery to land and set up shop.
Kwajalein has been described as the "most nearly perfect" amphibious operation ever undertaken. The Division accomplished its missions in fine style, quickly subduing the entire atoll of 47 small islands, while the Marines captured nearby Roi and Namur. In one outstanding action, Tech Sergeant Graydon Kickul of Company L, 184th Infantry, destroyed a whole line of reinforced pillboxes by dropping grenades through the slits and then shooting the Japs down when they tried to escape.
The island of Kwajalein was secured by 9 PM of D-plus-3, and the Division, pausing to count its bruises, found it had suffered 176 killed in battle, and 767 wounded. By the morning of February 7 practically all of the Division, except for units assigned temporarily as a garrison force, was on its way back to the Hawaiian Islands to rest up and train for another campaign.
Its next D-Day was at Leyte, third largest of the Philippine Islands.
The 7th landed on Leyte at 10 AM on October 20, 1944. It met moderate resistance on the beachhead, and pushed deliberately toward the l)ulag airstrip. Here it met heavy fire which succeeded in stalling its drive. The 184th Infantry seized the Dulag airstrip on October 21. The 32d Infantry, under the command of Colonel John M. Finn, pushed inland on the Division's right, despite heavy fire from Atmon Hill. The 17th Infantry, in the center, drove forward on the Dulag-Burauen Road and within two days had captured the San Pablo airstrip, Burauen, and Bayug. At Buri airstrip, where the Japs had good camouflaged pillbox defenses, the 32d ran into trouble; but by October 27th it had taken its objective. The 17th, meanwhile, had taken an enemy strong point south of the town of Dagami, and was driving for the town itself.
In the van of the attack toward Dagami was the 2nd Battalion, 17th Infantry,. They jumped off at 0730 with Company F on the left, and Company G on the right. Company E was in reserve, and the heavy weapons outfit, Company H, was to follow.
Company F's assault platoon ran into a withering fire from pillboxes, trenches, and enemy spider holes so well camouflaged that they couldn't be detected at 20 yards. Accurately-placed Japanese machine gun and rifle fire quickly thinned the attackers' ranks. Private First Class Leonard C. Brostrom, a lead scout, was shot three times as he pushed through a bamboo thicket. He saw an enemy pillbox and knew it would have to be taken out if his company were to advance. Brostrom attacked the pillbox, which made him the target of all rifle fire in that area.
He dashed to the rear of the pillbox and threw his grenades through an opening. Six enemy soldiers charged him, their bayonets glinting wickedly. Brostrom fired. One Jap dropped, the others pulled back. Brostrom was hit again by gunfire and knocked to the ground. In pain, weak, and bleeding badly he nevertheless managed to regain his feet and once again assaulted the pillbox.
As he collapsed the enemy soldiers started running from the fortification, to be killed by Staff Sergeant Paul Doty and PFC's Howard J. Evans and Eldridge V. Sorenson, who had caught up with Brostrom by this time. Another soldier of this platoon, PFC Bill Schmid, meanwhile had gotten a slug in his arm, but had nonetheless attacked another pillbox which he finished off with grenades.
By 1:15 AM Company F had advanced only a few miles, and had suffered 22 casualties.
Company G, too, was having its troubles, but Lieutenant Bill Schade, the company commander, kept his men moving along. They had gone 35 yards into a grove when they hit resistance of the same sort that had stalled Company F. Their advance was held up by a heavily fortified enemy position, and Schade sent a platoon to outflank the enemy. Out in the advance of his platoon was Private First Class John F. Thorson, from Armstrong, Iowa. He came upon an enemy fire trench occupied by Japanese riflemen, and attacked them quickly, firing his BAR from the hip. He was within six yards of the trench when he was hit and seriously wounded. As the rest of the platoon caught up with him, an enemy grenade landed in their midst. In a final supreme effort, Thorson rolled over and smothered the explosion with his body.
By l0 AM on October 29 Colonel Frank Pachler was able to report that the seizure of Dagami was a fait accompli.
Following the capture of Dagami, the Division punched at Shoestring Ridge. By November 23, two battalions were on Shoestring where the fighting was ferocious. At one point, the Japs slammed an artillery barrage on the U. S. position--three 75's and a vicious little 70-mm. mountain gun. When the barrage lifted the Japs started streaming in for the kill. Their company was forced to pull off the ridge, and PFC's John Canady of Miami, Florida, Casimir Grabowski of South River, New Jersey, and William Gullctt of Farrington, Kentucky, stayed behind and held the enemy off with grenades, rifles, and bayonets. The Japs kept coming at them in groups of four. Canady and his associates nailed seven groups before they finally rejoined their outfit. The Japs held this part of the ridge until the next day, when the Gl's drove them off.
The Japanese attack on Shoestring cost Finn's men dearly. Company E suffered all of its officers wounded; NCO's were running the company. Thirty men from Companies E, C,, and H, all that remained, banded together. Tech Sergeant Marvin H. Raabe took charge and organized them to meet the next attack, which came one hour after the first assault. Raabe's men drove them off, and when a few lingered they were pushed out at the point of a bayonet. Through a long night that followed Raabe and his men continued to hold the ridge despite persistent enemy attempts to infiltrate.
On November 28 Finn's weary warriors were relieved on Shoestring by the 184th Infantry. The Californians were hardly in the positions vacated by Finn's command when fifty diehard Japanese launched an attack. Ten minutes later all of the enemy troops were dead, and Shoestring Ridge was secured. Its defenders later learned they had held their ground against the forays of two full enemy regiments.
Sixth Army ordered the 7th Division to assemble in the Baybay-Damulaan area on the west coast of the war-torn island; this was accomplished by the end of November. From Baybay the Division marched north over extremely rugged terrain until it made contact with the 77th Division at Ipil on December 10. Three days later General Arnold uncorked an attack against the Japanese 26th Division which was holding up the westward movement of the U. S. 11th Airborne Division. The Division's lusty attack took the pressure off the paratroopers.
Leyte was considered "secure" by Christmas--although this was a joke to the infantrymen who two months later were still flushing out Japs. The 7th Division did its share of mopping-up; then it marched down to Tacloban where troopships were waiting to carry it to a beachhead close to the heart of the Japanese home islands--Okinawa.
A new field command, the Tenth Army, had been formed in the Pacific under the command of Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckncr, Jr. Buckner was to seize the Ryukyus---the island chain directly south of Japan itself--and to do the job he was given six battle-tried divisions. He and his staff proceeded to draw up their battle plans, and, as usual, the 7th Division was put in the van of the assault.
The attack against Okinawa was launched on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945. Nobody suspected at the time that it was to be the last beachhead, indeed the last campaign, of World War II. The sprinting 7th moved inland fast, seized the Kadena airfield many hours ahead of scholule, and on the second day of the operation stormed across the remainder of the 14-mile-wide island to teach its east coast. Thus Okinawa was split at the waist. Buckner sent one corps into the north, another to the south. The 7th, assigned to XXIV Corps, pivoted at the east coast and started on the drive south. Soon it experienced the heaviest Japanese artillery fire of the Pacific war, absorbing more than 40,000 rounds of high explosive in two weeks.
A formidable task force carves out a beachhead, about 350 miles from the Japanese mainland. Landing craft of all kinds blacken the sea out to the horizon, where stand the battlewagons, cruisers and destroyers. Okinawa, April 13, 1945. National Archives Photo
It had to take the Pinnacle, a Japanese watchtower rising 3o feet above a 45o-foot saw-toothed ridge. The 184th Infantry took the heights by storm after a bitter struggle.
The Division then pushed ahead, taking Tomb Hill and Ouki town. The 32d Infantry was on the Division's left on the Nakagusuku Wan (later Buckncr Bay); the 184th Infantry under Colonel Roy A. Greene was on the right. Colonel Frank Pachler's 17th Infantry soldiers were in close support. Finn's 32nd Soldiers met a strong Japanese force on Skyline Ridge, which became the scene of bitter conflict. One platoon found itself under attack by a hundred spear-wielding Japanese. Later, when the Gl's examined the enemy dead, they found the spears were ahout six feet long with a sharpened ten-inch point. In his official report a company commander remarked, "Their appearance suggests that they would be effective if the soldiers using them could get close enough to the enemy."
The Division drove down to the hill mass dominated by Hill 178; again the Japanese threw down what seemed to be an impenetrable curtain of fire. Then the 7th soldiers on the front line were suddenly joined by a mammoth 155-mm howitzer, a gun normally fired from far to the rear. A bulldozer had scooped out the gun's firing position, and the big piece was set into the hole so that its muzzle was almost level with the ground. Then it went into action, and pounded away at the enemy-held ridge.
This technique proved so successful that two more 155's were brought into play at the front. Despite the counterbattery fire which ensued, none of the 7th's big guns were hit. Watching the peak of the enemy's hill being lowered some 25 feet, an infantry sergeant said, "Them guns talk the kind of language I like to hear."
After five days of gruelling fighting the 184th secured Hill 178 and the surrounding terrain. The Hourglass rumbled slowly forward to fight another twelve-day battle at Kochi Ridge, an important approach to the Shuri defenses. Kochi Ridge was finally taken by the 17th Infantry, and the Hourglass Division was sent into reserve after 39 days of continuous combat in which it had suffered more casualties than in the entire 110-day campaign on Lcyte.
The war in the Pacific was gathering momentum at an astounding rate. The army was back in Manila and fighting for the rest of Luzon. Superforts based in the Marianas were blasting Japan from the air on an around-the-clock schedule. The brand new battleship USS Missouri bombarded Japan's coast with her giant guns and the British Pacific Fleet arrived to join Admiral Chester W. Nimitz's forces. On Okinawa the 96th Infantry Division captured Conical Hill, the Marines drove into Naha and Shuri, and the Hourglass Division, back in the lines, advanced to important positions in the southern Ozato Mura hills, where the enemy resistance was the heaviest.
Again on the extreme left flank of Tenth Army, the 7th pushed ahead slowly by day and fought off night attacks by enemy swimmcrs seeking to penetrate the U. S. lines on the east coast. Soon the 184th Infantry was on the coastal plain near Shikya town. On the Division's left, the infantry drove across rain-soaked ricepaddies to take the Ghinen peninsula and seize Sashiki and a number of nearby hills. It took O Shima, near the Minatoga cove, in a driving rain; then moved further south to Hanagusuku town, and to Hill 95, where it threw back a series of counterattacks.
The stubborn Japanese resistance continued, even though the Hourglass won the Yaeju-Dake escarpment in a daring surprise attack in the rain. The weather seesned to be on the enemy's side, and the Division's advance was slowed to a crawl. Some days it didn't even advance 300 yards from the previous night's position.
The end, however, was clearly in sight. On June 18th the Tenth Army smashcd the enemy's lines and started barreling through in earnest. The 7th finished the day's fighting less than a thousand yards north of the key village of Mabuni. The official end of the campaign finally came on June 21, after 82 days of rugged fighting.
In assessing the Division's accomplishments in the Okinawa campaign, the staff reckoned that the Hourglass men had killed betwecn 25,000 and 28,000 Japanese soldiers, and had taken 4,584 prisoners--more than half of them soldiers of the Japanese regular army, including more than a hundred officers up to the rank of major. The Division suffered 1,116 killed, and nearly 6,000 wounded, to make the total of its World War II casualties 8,135.
Several days after the end of the war with Japan, the 7th was on the high seas once again. Instead of heading for another combat beachhead, however, the Hourglass soldiers were on their way to take part in the occupation of Korea. Here, on September 8, 1945, the Division embarked upon its stay in the Hermit Kingdom. The Russians had entered the war against Japan late in the summer of 1945; they were scheduled to take the surrender of the Japanese forces in the northern part of Korea. Since the U. S. troops would be approaching from the southern part of the peninsula, it was decided at a high level that a temporary line of demarcation was needed to avoid confusion when the two armies met. It was decided that neither side should cross the 38th Parallel. There was no way of foreseeing the grief and tragedy which this arbitrary division of Korea was to yield.
Hardly was it settled in Korea than the Division lost 7,500 men who were eligible for return to the States. It also lost General Archie Arnold, who became Military Governor of Korea. A succession of new division conmranders followed, starting with Major General Andrew D. Bruce, who had led the 77th Infantry Division on Leyte and Okinawa. In another important change in the Division's structure the battlewise 184th Infantry was cut loose from the 7th, in which it had served for 30 months, to be returned to the control of the California National Guard. Assigned in its place, the ninth and last infantry regiment to become associated with the Division was an outfit near and dear to every regular army man's heart, the 31st Infantry Regiment.
The 3lst is not one of the very old regiments--like the 32d Infantry it dates back only to July, 1916--but its background is replete with stories of its adventures during its overseas peacetime garrisons in "the old army"--meaning before the Second World War. From April 9, 1942, until January 19, 1946, however, when it was reconstituted in Korea and assigned to replace the 184th Infantry, it existed on paper only--for it is the regiment which was forced to surrender to the Japanese after waging a magnificent holding action on Batann.
On occupation duty in Korea from 1946 to 1948, the men of the 17th, 31st, and 32d Infantry Regiments rotated on the outpost positions along the 38th Parallel. In the fall of 1948, the Korean elections took place, and true to its commitments, the U. S. removed its occupation forces from the country. When the Hourglass Division sailed for Japan in December of 1948, its commander was the last Military Governor of Korea, Major Gencral William Frishe Dean, who would return to Korea later. In Japan the Division's zone of occupation included nearly half of the total land area of its fonner enemy. Elements of the Division were garrisoned on Honshu and on Hokkaido, the northernmost island.
Posted by Anthony Young
Mar 28 2001 09:33:26:000AM