CHAPTER 7 PART 2|
HISTORY OF THE 96th ARMY RESERVE COMMAND AND 96th INFANTRY DIVISION 1918 through 1989
The 96th Infantry Division was organized in October 1918 at Camp Wadsworth, South Carolina, as one of the last three World War I Divisions created before Armistice Day.
The 96th Infantry Division was officially demobilized in January 1919 and reconstituted in the organized reserve in 1921 based in Portland Oregon. With the outbreak of World War II, the 96th Division was ordered into active military service on August 15, 1942 at Camp Adair, Oregon. Major General James (Smiling Jim) L. Bradley was chosen to command the unit, a post he held until the end of the war. At the ceremony, he stated thesis that he was to reiterate time and time again. "We of the 96th Division have a clearly defined task. It is to become a well-trained combat division in the shortest possible time. We must keep our eyes; we must keep our thoughts on that goal. Any time spent on efforts which do not lead to the goal is time wasted – and we have no time to waste." "This is the kind of a division we are going to be: well trained, tough physically and mentally, ready and eager to fight, not for our personal glory, but for the honor of the division and the service of our country." As to the nature of the job that lay ahead and the alternatives that faced his men, he spoke with typical bluntness, "We kill or get killed."
By July 1944, the men of the 96th Division were ready to do battle with the enemy. Men of the division made their last visits to the homes they were leaving behind. Every man was given a furlough, and they all know why. It was also during this time that the division was transferred to Camp Beale in the Sacramento Valley of Northern California. Personnel of all units worked 24-hour shifts on the massive job of packing and crating the supplies of the entire division for shipment overseas. This was normally a three-week operation that was completed in nine days. By July 18, the division transferred to Camp Stoneman, California, gateway to the war for untold thousands of Americans. A blanket of secrecy fell upon the division that would last until they landed on Leyte in the Philippines three months later. No man could leave camp, mail censorship began, every long distance call was monitored, and finally, two days before sailing, armed guards saw to it no 96th Division man entered the telephone building. During this time, the 96th performed its last home-front service of the war. The occasion was the Port Chicago ammunition explosion, one of the worst domestic disasters of the war. Every doctor in the division was rushed to the scene, which were only a few miles away. Hundreds of soldiers responded to calls for blood donors. In addition, one regiment of the 96th was alerted for police duty. On September 1, 1944, the 96th Division set sail for Oahu, in the Hawaiian Islands to the island of Maui for a rehearsal of what was to come. Practice landings were necessary in order to meld Army and Navy groups – strangers to one another – into an experienced team that could land thousands of troops and hundreds of tons of supplies across a hostile beach in the proper order of tactical importance. It was better to iron out the kinks before an actual combat landing, rather than during an actual combat landing. The story was quickly spread throughout the division that they were preparing to assault the island of Yap, an island about a thousand miles east of the Philippines, or so they were told. The division was scheduled to set sail from Pear Harbor on September 15 but on the 14th, mysterious events began to happen
. First, Lt. Col. Adrian Lindsey, the G-2, was pulled off the passenger list at the last moment. Then, Maj. Gen. James Bradley, the division commander, was suddenly called to Pacific Fleet headquarters for an urgent conference. The next morning a two-star sedan was waiting to take them to another conference. By the time the ship had sailed, the rumor mills were grinding at a furious pace. Bradley waited only until the ship had drooped her pilot before summoning his staff to advise them that their destination was not Yap, but Leyte in the Central Philippines. On October 20, 1944,dawn broke with the quiet beauty, which marks the tropics at their best. The sky was clear and bright and the sea was calm and blue. The huge convoy made its way without incident into Leyte Gulf in the Philippines ready to invade the inland of Leyte. Simultaneously, the naval bombardment began and the preliminary softening up reached its climax at about 0915 hours. Tanks of the 96th Division approached the beach in their landing craft ready to spearhead the assault. Crouched low in their vehicles, feeling the tension quique to a first exposure to enemy fire, the men were astonished to find themselves across the beaches on solid ground without seeing a single enemy soldier. Catmon Hill was the stronghold of the Japanese forces. From atop this hill, the enemy could see every move made by the
American forces. Its capture was essential the beachhead was to be secured. Part of the campaign required two regiments to go through swamps that were often hip deep and malaria infested. Two days after the landing, General Douglas MacArthur visited Major General James Bradley, the division commander, at his command post on the island. When Bradley showed him the map of where his troops were. MacArthur exclaimed, "That's impossible!" No man can get through any of those swamps." Bradley simply answered, "Nevertheless, they are there." November 1944 found the 96th Division engaged in battle with the enemy at Dagami heights on the island of Leyte in the Philippines. Japanese fortifications were the strongest the division was to encounter in this campaign. The terrain favored the enemy with a series of ridges separated by deep gorges usually covered with dense tropical growth that made ambushes easy. In one instance, troops encountered a Japanese headquarters that took several hours to reduce. Bazookas and grenades bounced off the concrete sides. PFC Frank Hartzer and PFC Charles Greenback sneaked up to the fortifications, poured gasoline into the vents and set them of fire. The enemy troops ran out into the open to escape the flames, enabling riflemen to pick them off. Later, these same groups built a road variously know as "Little Burma Road" or "Donkey Trail". The latter term was named after horses and mules that were used to carry supplies. At one point, the road followed a narrow hogback ridge. It was there that the pack train bringing up Thanksgiving turkeys to the troops slipped in the mud and tumbled down into an inaccessible gorge. The battle of Leyte in the Philippines was going strong in the hills of the tiny island, but the main portion was under American control, or was it? On the night of November 26, 1944, several enemy transport planes crash-landed in the surf near XXIV Corps headquarters. Two landed safely and about 30 of the passengers escaped only to be captured of killed a few days later. Documents taken from their bodies indicated a major airborne assault against the airfield was in the making. Elements of the 96th Division were called to defend the airfield. On December 4, the enemy began infiltrating friendly lines in large numbers. On the night of the 6th, they struck. The Japanese became confused during the battle. PVT Ova Kelley noticed this fact and decided to cash in on it. Until then, Kelley had been chiefly known for his faithful attention to this pet carabao, "Satan", who used to carry loads of ammunition for the company. The rain the night before caused many rifles and carbines to jam. Kelly sprang to his feet, ignoring enemy fire, and charged towards the enemy position using one rifle after another by firing one until it became clogged, then discarding and picking up another. The other men in the company, electrified by Kelly's action, followed. Kelley was directly responsible for cracking the enemy line of defense as well as saving his company from a potentially fatal situation. It is part of the tragic fate of war that he was killed before his job was finished. He never knew he was awarded the nations' highest honor, the Medal of Honor. By January 1945, the fighting was all but finished on the island of Leyte in the Philippines. It was then the forgotten men of the 96th arrived – the Base Echelon. The Deadeye Dispatch described their arrival in what some night call an appropriate manner. "I have seen landing in Africa. Sicily and Normandy, but never have I seen an invasion carried out with such skill and daring. Today I can report that the island of Leyte is safely under the control of Major Finnegan and his base echelon less than 12 hours after the initial landing." "The strategy was simple. Completely disregarding the conventional synchronized air attack, the base echelon was not even preceded by an underwater demolition team. For the operation Major Finnegan masterfully divided his forces into two groups, the forward base echelon and "rear" base echelon." "On every hand, men of the chair-borne infantry were oiling their typewriters for instantaneous use. A few were unfamiliarly handling dangerous weapons they were not trained to use. Strangely, there was no sign of enemy action as the brave men heavily laden with mimeograph machines, adding machines, and typewriters, as well as packs containing pajamas, pillow, toilet water, bath salts, and other personal items so dear to the hearts of base echelon, lowered themselves into the pitching and rolling LCVP's." On the other end of the island, the last bit of enemy resistance was smashed in the vicinity of Samar. Lt. Calvin Stevens commanded the soldiers assigned to this mission. With artillery and naval support, the Japanese were completely overwhelmed. This was the last skirmish the 96th encountered in the Philippines. The division killed some 7,700 enemy soldiers and, under fantastically difficult conditions, accomplished every mission assigned them. The cost was 514 dead, 4 missing and 1289 wounded. Another 2,500 were victims of illness or injury.
Few of those who were to land on Okinawa had ever heard of this obscure island before they assaulted its beaches. A careful look at the map, however, made it quite clear it held the key to victory. On February 8, the 96th received orders to be part of that operation. Two days later the division was relieved of all tactical responsibility for the Philippines. Six weeks remained before the assault date and into that period had to be jammed training necessary for the success of the operation, what rest was possible and the long and complicated process of loading the ships. Particular attention was paid to training the men in tank-infantry coordination and flame thrower and demolitions work. Joint exercises were held by the artillery and amphibious tank units to correct deficiencies noted on Leyte. Schools were held for transport quartermasters, air observers and beach reconnaissance parties. Men pored over maps and literature about Okinawa, played endless card games, cleaned their weapons with scrupulous care, went to church, and wrote letters home. While on board ship, Army and Navy personnel teamed up to put out ships' papers, most of them bursting with raucous humor – the American fighting man's greatest asset in moments of peril. On March 25, 1945, the invasion fleet carrying the assault infantry of the 96th Division weighted anchor from Leyte Gulf and set sail for their next destination – Okinawa. The trip was uneventful. Lowering skies mercifully shielded the convoy during the entire voyage. Aboard ship, there was the quiet, hardly noticeable tension, which always marks an invasion-bound fleet. By day there was little of the dramatic as the soldiers of the 96th moved to ward their second meeting with destiny. At night, on the blackout decks, the awful majesty of war made it felt with the impact of a sledgehammer. As the darkened convoy knifed silently through the night, it was as though an unseen hand pulled a master switch – there was no turning back. On Easter Sunday, the strange and terrible battle got under way. Promptly at 0830 hours, four assault battalions swarmed ashore and quickly scaled the ten-foot seawall. Directly behind them were the amphibious tanks and land tanks. Naval bombardment blasted holes in the seawall, enabling the large machines of war to passthrough. By 1600, the beachhead was secure. In their hurry to withdraw from the area to more defendable terrain, the Japanese neglected to blow up the bridges behind them which made river crossing much easier than anticipated. Kakazu Ridge was the western flank of a ridgeline that ran across most of the island that bore the same name. It was here in April 1945 that the 96th Division encountered tremendous Japanese resistance and resulted in the award of the Medal of Honor to PFC Edward Moskala. Kakazu Island is part of the chain of islands leading from Okinawa to the Japanese mainland. In appearance, the ridge was not a particularly formidable barrier; however, a deep gorge that separated it from the American forces could only be scaled with great difficulty, which gave the enemy forces a tremendous defensive position. Several of the initial attacks on the ridge caused many enemy casualties but were not successful in capturing the objective. During one of these initial attacks, Moskala's unit was pinned down be the enemy. The courageous young soldier killed 30 enemy troops and single-handedly wiped out two machine gun nests while covering the withdrawal of his unit. Moskala
gave him life in defense of his country and gave his comrades the opportunity to continue the fight and achieve final victory. Such is the tradition and dedication of the members of the 96th Division. No one who was with the 96th on "Victory in Europe Day" (VE Day; May 8, 1945) can ever forget the miserable weather. Roads on Okinawa were ankles deep in mud with long tired lines of infantry trudging silently forward towards the war that still had to be won. There were no bands or fanfare in that parade! On May 11, the 10th Army threw a four-division attack at the Japanese. The 96th was ordered to take the high ground, which guarded Shuri from the north and east; then to seize Conical Hill, the eastern anchor of the Shuri line, one of Okinawa's main defensive positions. Capt. Seymore W. Terry, a 26 year old native of Arkansas who had been an executive in a Little Rock dairy, personally wiped out enemy positions blocking his company's advance toward Shuri by arming himself with satchel charges, dodging machine gun fire, and depositing the charges in caves occupied by the enemy who were using them as fortifications. Terry's three one-man assaults against these fortifications destroyed 5 pillboxes, several machine guns and 35 enemy soldiers. Terry was killed in action two days later. For this indomitable fighting spirit, brilliant leadership and unwavering courage, Terry was awarded the Medal of Honor. Brigadier General Claudius M. Easley, a man with an established reputation as an Army rifle coach and sharpshooter, was eventually named Asst. Division Commander. The superior marksmanship of the 96th developed under the supervision of General Easley earned for the unit the nickname of "deadeyes." Participating in the Pacific campaign, the 96th seized Leyte's Catmon Hill and broke the key position at Tebontabon. The division encountered heavy fighting on Okinawa's Cactus Ridge, Kakazu Ridge, Conical Hill and Yoni Hill. They were also instrumental in breaking through the Shuri Line. The day before the official end of the campaign. Brigadier General Easley was killed in action.
On a Sunday morning in June 1945, in the rubble of the village of Medeera, Okinawa, a regiment of the 96th Division rang down the curtain on the last great land battle of World War II. That final skirmish was the culmination of eight blazing months of combat which had seen an unknown, unsung, and untested organization of citizen-soldiers emerge as a fighting force of lethal effectiveness and proud repute. The 96th Division distinguished itself with five Medal of Honor recipients during this time. Three awards were posthumous. TSGT Beuford T. Anderson and PFC Clarance Craft personally received their awards from President Harry S. Truman. The families of Capt. Seymore Terry, PFC Edward Moskala and PVT Ova Kelley were honored with similar ceremonies. It was during those hectic days just before and after the Japanese surrender that the weary veterans of the 96th were moved to the rear to take a well-deserved rest and eventually tumble back into the familiar routine of the Army known as "sweating it out". While the whole world was seethed in history-making activities, soldiers of the 96th sweated out everything from occupation in Korea, Japan and China to any number of false rumors about sailing back home.
The distinguished division commenced its Army Reserve role in December 1946, commanded by Colonel Ross J. Wilson of Kalispell, Montana. His division headquarters was located at Fort Missoula, Montana, with major units in Great Falls, Montana, Phoenix, Arizona, and Salt Lake City Utah. In August 1948, Colonel LeRoy H. Anderson of Conrad Montana was appointed as the Commander. The headquarters moved to Helena, Montana, and then transferred to Fort Douglas, Utah in 1962. Major General Michael B. Kauffman was named commander, followed by Brigadier General Ray D. Free. The division was deactivated in December 1965. On 22 December 1967, the Department of the Army announced that Salt Lake City, Utah had been chosen as the site for one of the eighteen new nationwide Army Reserve Command (ARCOM) headquarters. The ARCOM would command all Army Reserve units in Utah, Idaho and Montana. In March 1968, the numericals "96" were assigned to the command. Also in March the 259th Quartermaster Battalion, an ARCOM unit in Pleasant Grove, Utah was ordered to active duty. In September, the 259th transferred overseas for duty in the republic of Vietnam and served with distinction, being awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation. It was released from active duty on September 18, 1969. Sterling R. Ryser succeeded Major General Free as ARCOM commander in early 1969. In 1971 with the consolidation of Fourth and Fifty Army areas, the 96th ARCOM's span of command was increased to include North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Colorado. In 1973 the command was again reorganized, gaining the state of New Mexico and losing North and South Dakota. The "One Army Concept." Integration of the Active Army and Reserve Components began in 1974. Since that time, 96th ARCOM units have trained with their Active Army counterparts throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. Franklin McKean was appointed Commanding General in 1975, followed by Larry Morris in 1979. In 1984, the ARCOM was again reorganized, losing New Mexico and regaining North and South Dakota. Richard O. Christiansen was appointed as Commanding General. In 1985, the 96th ARCOM is geographically the largest Army Reserve Command in the United States. The ARCOM consists of 94 units and 9,320 reservist, augmented by 243 full time soldiers and 288 civilian employees. On April 9, 1989 Donald M. Bagley was appointed Commanding General. "Deadeyes" stand proud and ready to perform there required mission.
96th Regional Support Command
The 96th's Heroic Legacy
The 96th Regional Support Command's history originates with the 96th Infantry Division. It was originally organized at Camp Wadsworth, South Carolina on October 20, 1918. It was one of the last three divisions ordered into existence for World War I. The armistice ending that war was signed before the division was committed to action.
The unit was demobilized on January 7, 1919. The division was reconstituted June 24, 1921 in the Organized Reserve at Portland, Oregon as Headquarters, 96th Division and allocated to the Ninth Corps Area.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the 96th Division's place in history became secure. On August 15, 1942, at Camp Adair, Oregon the division was ordered into active duty under the command of Major General James "Smiling Jim" L. Bradley. The division earned special recognition in superior marksmanship and became known as the "Deadeyes," a nickname they still carry today.
The 96th Division was assigned to the XXIV Corps under General Douglas MacArthur. On October 20, 1944, in their first taste of battle, the division assaulted Leyte, an island in the central Philippines. The division was responsible for breaking the Japanese position at Tabontabon, key for the defense of Leyte Valley.
From Catmon Hill to Dagami Heights, the 96th proved its fighting capability. One member of the division were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for gallantry during the campaign.
On Easter Sunday April 1, 1945, the division conducted an amphibious assault on the island of Okinawa. During that campaign, the 96th met fierce enemy resistance. The division also participated in the breakthrough at Shuri, was the capture of Conical Hill, thus breaking
the righ flank of the Japanese defenses for Shuri and the taking of Conical Hill and Yaeju Escarpment. Four more division members were awarded the Medal of Honor.
In June 1945, a regiment of the 96th Division brought down the curtain on the last great land battle of World War II near the village of Medeera, Okinawa.
Landed on Okinawa on April 1, 1945
continued ceasless attacks against heavily defended Japanese positions on
and Tombstone Ridges. Against intense resistance captured Tanabaru and Maeda
Escarpments. In May captured the Dick Hill mas and Conical Hill, breaking the
flank of the main line of Japanese resistance protecting their 32nd Army
Headquarters at Shuri. Moved south and siezed the final line of Japanese
on the Yuza and Yaeju Escarpments. On June 23 a regiment of the 96th Division
brought down the curtain on the last great battle of World War II at the
village of Medeera, Okinawa. Completed mop-up of enemy resistance on June 30,
Further history: In late July 1945 the 96th Division sailed from Okinawa to
Mindoro Island, Philippines to prepare for the invasion of Japan. Returned to
the United States in January 1946 and the "Deadeye" Division was disbanded at
Camp Anza, CA. on February3, 1946.
The 96th Division was deactivated in February 3, 1946, and began its current Army Reserve mission on December 18, 1946, at Fort Missoula, Montana. The 321st Engineer Battalion, one of the original units assigned to the 96th Infantry Division during World War II, remained assigned to the 96th Army Reserve Command (ARCOM) until 1996. It was then reassigned to the 70th Regional Support Command during a downsizing of the Army and a reorganization of the Army Reserve.
In 1967, the division became one of the three Army Reserve Commands in the Sixth U.S. Army area. At that time the 96th ARCOM consisted of Army Reserve units in Utah, Montana and Idaho. The headquarters was moved to Fort Douglas, Utah.
In 1968, a 96th ARCOM unit, the 259th Quartermaster Battalion, from Pleasant Grove, Utah, was called to active duty in Vietnam. As one of only 35 Reserve units activated for Vietnam service, they provided transportation and distribution of petroleum products in the northern provinces in the I Corps area of operation. The 259th was inactivated in 1995 as part of a downsizing initiative.
In March 1971, the states of Wyoming, Colorado and both of the Dakotas were added to the 96th ARCOM, making it geographically the largest Army Reserve command in the United States. Two years later a six-state configuration was created when the ARCOM lost both Dakotas and gained New Mexico. Another major Army reorganization in October 1984, returned the ARCOM to its 1971, seven-state area of responsibility.
The 96th ARCOM had 20 units activated for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm between the fall of 1990, and through the winter and spring of 1991. These units provided engineering, logistic support, medical evacuation, and military police support to the Gulf War. The 96th ARCOM provided the only Reserve infantry unit activated for Desert Storm, the 3/87th Infantry Battalion. It too was inactivated during the 1995-96 reorganization of the Army Reserve.
During the winter of 1995-96, two 96th ARCOM units were activated in support of Operation Joint Endeavor. In the fall of 1996, two more 96th units supported the Bosnia peace keeping mission. Additionally, more than 15 soldiers have been activated during the last three years on individual orders to participate in that operation.
In April 1996, the U.S. Army Reserve underwent a major reorganization reducing the continental U.S.-based Army Reserve Command headquarters from 19 to 10. The new commands were re-designated as U.S. Army Regional Support Commands (RSCs). The 96th RSC's boundaries were modified to align with those of the 8th Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) region boundaries. The 96th RSC lost command of the Idaho Army Reserve units during this change.
In April 1997, the 348th Quartermaster Detachment (Water Purification) was activated under FEMA orders to provide purified water to the North Dakota flood victims. They were assisted by five other 96th water units which changed the dates and location of their annual training mission to provide this much needed assistance to the citizens of Grand Forks.
In January 1999, three members of the 358th Public Affairs Detachment went to Central America in support of the U.S. relief efforts following Hurricane Mitch. Four other 96th units are currently preparing to perform their 1999 annual training in Central America to aid in the relief mission there.
The 96th RSC has approximately 7,000 soldiers serving in about 100 units, located in 33 cities in Colorado, Montana, North and South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.