CPL. ALLEN MERRITT
Army Correspondent Headquarters,
Fort Lewis, Washington
THREE YEARS IN
Veterans of three long years in the bitter cold of Alaska end the lashing winds of its Aleutian islands, the "Fighting Fourth Infantry" which pioneered military development of the strategic Alaskan territory has returned after one of the war's longest fours of overseas duty.
The first units of the famed regiment, which dates back to the time of George Washington, disembarked from a ship at Seward in June, 1940--the very month the world was stunned by the fall of France to German military might. As the remainder of the regiment arrived end started clearing ground for what is now Fort Richardson, congress passed the selective service act.
It was the first organization of such size to arrive in Alaska, and formed the nucleus for the old Alaska defense force. Since that time, the regiment has written another colorful chapter to its history.
Its first battalion, the first to arrive in Alaska, played a decisive role in the bloody Battle of Attu. The graves of many of its officers and men are marked by wooden crosses in that bleak island's Little Falls cemetery.
The second battalion took part in whet was perhaps the largest movement of troops and equipment by air up to that time. That was lest year when the Japanese moved into the Aleutians and it appeared they might attack Nome, on the mainland in the far north. More than 2,000 fully equipped troops were moved there by army and civilian planes in an 18-day period. The battalion later helped to establish the chain of bases out on the Aleutian archipelago.
The regiment's third battalion, which includes two companies that were stationed at Chilkoot Barracks for many years before the war when that was the largest army garrison in the territory, helped establish the two big bases at Ladd Field and Fort Richardson.
Col. Gregory Hoisington, Seattle, who had been commander of the garrison at Chilkoot Barracks, assumed command of the regiment when it went to Alaska, holding that post for about a year and a half until he was succeeded by Col. P. E. Le Stourgeon, Lexington, Ky., the present commander.
Few of the regiment's soldiers had furloughs during their long stay in Alaska--the job they were doing was too important--and today they are seeing their wives, friends and relatives for the first time in three years. Some of them are meeting young sons and daughters they had never seen.
A few of them, who had come to know Alaska as home, asked to remain in the territory and were transferred to other Alaskan organizations. In a few cases, they had bought property there and married Alaskan girls.
When they bade Alaska goodbye, none had the slightest idea what the future held in store for them. Many who spent years at isolated points, naturally enough, hoped to be stationed in the States near a fair-sized city where they could once again enjoy the comforts and entertainment offered by civilization. A number of them expressed a desire that the regiment be to a division for duty in a more active theater of war.
The Battle of Attu
Soldiers of the Fourth Infantry regiment's first battalion, who were already overseas veterans when the United States entered the war, acquitted themselves well at Attu, where they saw action in one of the strangest and bloodiest battles of the war.
They were called in at a critical point in the campaign, exactly a week after the first American troops had landed on that fog-shrouded island. They did not even know what part they were scheduled to play in the battle when they climbed over the sides of their transport ship last May 18 to land at Massacre bay, for they had not originally been slated for action at Attu.
Major John D. O'Reilly of Seattle, Commander of the battalion, who was later to receive a battlefield promotion to lieutenant colonel for outstanding leadership, reported to Major Gen. Eugene Landrum. Carrying extra rations and ammunition, the troops were marched directly to a battle sector, and they had engaged the enemy less than 24 hours after they landed.
They fought the Jap at altitudes of 2,000 feet or more, in snow-blanketed mountain areas high above the clouds. But these men already were acquainted with Alaska weather and were more inured to the hardships than other American troops on the island.
Moving north along the high ridge west of Chichagof valley on May 21, the battalion came up against strong enemy opposition from machine gun and sniper positions. Many of the Japanese were killed, the remainder driven off, and the Fourth moved along the ridge to a point late that day where visual contact was established with other American forces which had pressed inland from the Holtz Bay area, on the opposite side of the island.
The battalion fought for five days without rest and then was given 24 hours for its members to rest and get ready for one of the toughest assignments of the campaign--wresting the high peaks of Fish Hook ridge from the Japanese.
The battalion provided its own barrage of concentrated machine gun and mortar fire, while its soldiers scaled the 60-degree cliffs in the face of enemy fire from prepared positions high above them. This was part of the movement that drove the Japanese into Chichagof valley, from where they made their final suicidal counterattack.
Observers watching the action from a distance were fascinated by the spectacle, with small groups of troops clearly visible as they clambered up the steep slopes. Other troops were evacuating the wounded, crawling painfully clown the almost impossible mountain sides with their human burdens.
It impressed the observers as being more like a scene from a Hollywood thriller than the grim reality that if was.
After suffering many casualties, the battalion on May 27 finally took a portion of a high peak on the northeast end of the ridge, giving the Yanks a commanding position overlooking the main ridge running east toward the Chichagof valley. The fighting continued through that night, and by 5:30p.m., the next day, the Fourth Infantry's battle-weary troops had accomplished their mission. They had seized the high peak and wiped out all enemy resistance on the slopes.
The next day after the final big counter attack by more than 1,000 Japanese, two companies of the Fourth were sent to help clear the enemy out of Sarana valley and the high ground surrounding the area. Most of the Japanese had been exterminated or had committed suicide by that evening and the situation was well under control.
Later the battalion was assigned the task of combing the area east of Chichagof valley by patrol action, hunting out and destroying the scattered and doomed Japanese stragglers.
The Fourth Infantry had added another battle streamer to its colors---no other unit of the army boasts as many--but it had paid a high price. Approximately five officers and 60 enlisted men of the battalion were dead.
Their experience in Alaska proved invaluable for soldiers of the Fourth during the Battle of Attu, as evidenced by the fact that casualties from exposure in this battalion were few. The much-discussed "immersion feet" which took such a terrific toll among other troops was virtually nonexistent in the ranks of the Fourth.
The cold blasts of wind end the oozing muskeg that kept clothing and sleeping bags saturated was old stuff to them. Consequently, they could relax and sleep when they were afforded the opportunity, while other troops who were newcomers to the Aleutians were too miserable to rest.
Great Movement of Troops By Air
To Protect Nome
One of the first of the big troops movements by air, probably the largest up to that time, took place last year when Nome, on the Alaska mainland, near the edge of the Arctic Circle, was threatened with an invasion.
Dutch Harbor was still smoldering from two Japanese bombing raids, and Kiska and Attu had been occupied by the Japs. Enemy surface activity had been reported in the vicinity of St. Lawrence and the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea. Several Jap ships were reported steaming toward Nome, which had no defense force capable of turning back a full-scale invasion.
An unidentified plane, flying higher than was possible for any based in the area, circled over Nome.
Early on the morning of June 19, reinforcements were ordered moved to Nome immediately, and the Fourth Infantry's second battalion, reinforced with engineer, field artillery and anti-aircraft units into a force of more than 2,000 troops, hastily prepared to depart from the Fort Richardson area.
The move was made under the direction of Col. Thomas M. Crawford, Lebanon, Tenn., GSC, G-3 of ADC. Maj. E. H. Jacobsen, Oakland, California, AC, represented the Air Transport Command, and Capt. Nell W. Philips of the Fourth Infantry, Palos Verdes Estates, California, then a first lieutenant, superintended the actual loading of planes.
Only a pitifully small number of army transport planes were available, the situation was critical and orders required that the vanguard of the force--20 anti-aircraft guns and their crews--be in Nome within 24 hours.
All civilian air traffic in Alaska was stopped that day and every suitable plane in the territory was requisitioned for the movement. The fleet of planes included Stinsons, Bellancas and two old Ford tri-motored jobs.
By midnight of the same day, after 39 individual trips, the anti-aircraft units had been moved to Nome and the big shuttle movement was under way.
Despite weather that kept the planes on the ground part of the time, the entire force, along with all its equipment, with the exception of big field pieces and similar heavy items, was transported to Nome in a period of 18 days. The movement could have been completed in a week had it not been for unfavorable weather conditions.
Cargo-carrying commercial planes coming in from China were used to supplement the air armada. The midnight sun, providing almost a full 24 hours of daylight, made it possible for some of the planes to make two trips in a single day.
Ammunition, rations, tents, even 37 millimeter guns and field kitchens--everything necessary to make the force self-sufficient--were moved by air without one single accident. Heavy weapons were brought up later by boat. The troops stepped out of the planes at Nome, equipped and ready to fight. A total of 218 flights were made in the movement.
With Col. W. K. Dudley, Eustis, Fla., then a lieutenant colonel, in command of the force, the defense of the area was hastily organized with the troops working long hours and until late at night. There had been only a small garrison at Nome until that time, and there were no facilities for housing or feeding the big force.
Later, after it became apparent the expected invasion would not materialize, the troops prepared themselves for the bitter cold of the winter to come. Tents were winterized, buildings went up, the supply of rations was supplemented. Nome is ice-bound about nine months of each year, and all supplies moving by boat must be brought in during the three summer months.
The troops maneuvered in weather from 20 to 35 degrees below zero. They found that none of the elaborate footgear provided by the army protected the feet from this particular type of weather as well as the native mukluk, made by the Eskimos from deer and reindeer hides or sealskins.
Mai. Roy M. Morse of Eugene, Ore., who described the Nome adventure, said that the mukluk had no equal in a climate like Nome's. The army purchased a number of them by contract from the natives and provided every soldier there with a pair.
The second battalion remained in the Nome area for about a year, later moving out to the Aleutians to Dutch Harbor for a short stay, and then to Adak, where they became acquainted with another type of disagreeable weather.
Teaching Eskimos to Drill Was a
Soldiers of the Fourth Infantry's third battalion learned during their three years in Alaska, among other things, that although many Eskimos are mechanical wizards, it is next to impossible to teach some of them close order drill.
The battalion furnished some of the personnel for operating an Alaska recruit training detachment where draftees from Alaska, including Eskimos, get their basic training.
The best method for teaching them close order drill, Fourth infantrymen said, is to get all the native recruits in a small room where they cannot help but hear what the drill sergeant has to say about the intricacies of this GI institution. Outside, the Eskimos become extremely interested in each other and pay little attention when the sergeant is explaining the proper way to do an about face.
After days of patient explanation and innumerable demonstrations, they finally learn to march in a straight line in simple formation. A "column left" causes considerable confusion and "by the right flank" results in pandemonium.
The drill sergeant, by this time, is on the verge of suffering a cerebral hemorrhage and is muttering incoherently.
On the other hand, they show a remarkable mechanical aptitude. Some of them can watch a complex machine gun dismantled and then put together just once and can take over and do a repeat performance.
One officer said he had heard of cases where an Eskimo, with some machine part broken and no replacement available, would take a piece of iron and a file and patiently file out a new part. They have infinite patience, he said.
On the whole, they are intelligent and serve many useful purposes in the Alaskan theater.
As for army chow, the Eskimos missed their native dishes of seal oil and fish, but most of them were already, well acquainted with most foods served. Pork chops are their favorite.
They are extremely susceptible to common sick, nesses of the white man and, not having immunity, are gravely ill with simple ailments like measles. Large numbers were hospitalized.
Medical stocks of castor oil, salad oil and buffer disappeared from refrigerators, while trays of carefully prepared hospital food were left untouched.
When the Fourth Infantry arrived in Alaska, the two companies which had been stationed at Chilkoot barrack for many years before the war when that was the largest army garrison in Alaska, became a part of its third battalion.
Some members of the famed Alaska combat scout intelligence platoon, which includes many Alaskan old-timers, came from these two companies.
Only a few of the soldiers who were at Chilkoot barracks for so long still remain in the companies. There are few, if any, soldiers who have been on duty outside the United States for as long a time as these Alaska veterans.
1st Sgt. James Kay, of Adams, Mass., Company "K," for example, had been in Alaska for eight and one-half years, with the exception of one eight-month period when he returned to the States with the Fourth.
Several experimental and reconnaissance trips were conducted by the third battalion. One party of 10 men made a trip with toboggans to Eagle river glacier and reconnoitered the vicinity of Eagle river pass.
Maj. George A. Felch of Spokane, Wash., now head of the Alaskan department experimental board and formerly with the Fourth infantry, made a trip to various outposts to determine the best types of footgear for various climatic conditions.
An interesting experimental trip was one on which Maj. Felch led a party of 28 men on a three-week trip to an area near Mt. McKinley. Certain items of food, clothing and equipment were tested. As a result of this trip and previous research, Maj. Felch was called to Washington, D. G., by the quartermaster general to make recommendations on arctic clothing.
Members of the third battalion became past masters at the art of unloading ships and putting up Quonset and Pacific huts, the greater part of their time being devoted to work details. They got their share of training, however, in the Eklutna and Campbell Lake areas near Fort Richardson. The battalion was also assigned to the defense of certain military installations in the area and kept small detachments at those points.
BRIEF HISTORY OF 4th INFANTRY DURING ITS 141 YEARS IN SERVICE
Fourth Infantrymen will tell you that there is something that sets a member of the regiment apart from other soldiers. Perhaps this can be attributed to the regiment's great history and traditions.
The regiment was organized 141 years ago as the Infantry of the Fourth Sub-Legion, and has figured prominently in every war in which the United States has been involved with the exception of one, the Revolutionary war.
Out of its ranks have come some of the most renowned military figures and statesmen in American history. There were Zachary Taylor and Ulysses S. Grant, Presidents of the United States. Then there were Phillip H. Sheridan and George Cook, famous for their part in the Civil war, and George Wright, who gained fame during the Indian wars in the west, and for whom Fort George Wright, Wash., was named. There were many others.
FIRST OVER ATLANTIC
The Fourth Infantry, in 1899, became the first U. S. army unit to cross the Atlantic ocean, except for a small detachment of artillery serving with the navy during the Algerian war. The Philippine Insurrection had reached serious proportions, and the regiment sailed aboard the transport Grant from Brooklyn to Manila, by way of the Suez canal.
Wearing of a red breast cord for members of the regiment's band was authorized after an incident in the Mexican war. During the battle of Monterey, in 1846, members of the band threw aside their instruments and joined in the battle. They captured a Mexican field battery and turned the guns on the fleeing enemy. The red breast cord was authorized to show that they were good artillerymen as well as infantrymen.
MARCHED ON PENSACOLA
In 1817 the regiment, as part of a force under Gen. Andrew Jackson, marched on the independent, Spanish-controlled town of Pensacola, Fla. It was claimed that Spanish citizens and officials of the town were abetting the Seminole Indians in their war against the Americans. After a short but fierce campaign, the town was taken and many Indian villages were destroyed.
The regiment played an active role in the campaign of 1841-42, in which the Seminole wars were ended with the capture of Indian Chief Helleck Tustemuggee and occupation of his most important village, which housed most of his stores of food and supplies.
Five officers of the Fourth, of Southern birth and sympathies, resigned their commissions at the outbreak of the Civil war and joined the Confederate army.
SUFFER HEAVY CASUALTIES
In the thick of the fighting at many of the major battles of the Civil war, the regiment suffered heavy casualties, and in June, 1864, with but three officers and 143 enlisted men remaining, this gallant organization was selected by General Grant, as a token of appreciation for its services, as guard for his headquarters.
In one engagement during the Philippine Insurrection, the Insurgents, with artillery pieces and about 5,000 men, attacked the Fourth's position at Imus. After a seven-hour battle, only three men of the regiment had been wounded, and those but slightly, while the Insurgents had lost 221 killed and over 400 wounded. The regiment later was at Cavite, Manila bay.
IN DEFENSIVE ACTION
The German army was at its crest and The Allies were staggering under ifs blows in World War I when most of the regiment disembarked from the Transport ship Great Northern at historic Brest, France.
The regiment participated in The defensive actions of Aisne, Chateau-Thierry and Champagne Marne, and in The Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne offensives. The entire regiment was decorated with The French Crolx de Guerre.
Having lost approximately 80 per cent of ifs men, under constant and grueling fire during 30 days on The line, The regiment was relieved by The 60Th Infantry. After a rest during which The organization received 600 replacements, it was marched To a position in The Forst de Beese, and on Nov. 9, 1918, received orders to be ready to move at a moment's notice.
The men knew They were To Take part in the final drive to encircle Metz, in The event The Germans did not accept Terms of The proposed armistice which had been Tendered The Germans. Preparations were being made for The departure on The morning of November II when The end of The war was heralded by French villagers' shouts of "Vive la France! .... Vive l Amerique!" "Vive les Allies! ...Fini la guerre!"
The Fourth served as part of the Army of Occupation after The end of The war.
(Provided courtesy of Mack Collings and http://www.hlswilliwaw.com/aleutians