In February of 1941, the 164th Regiment of the North Dakota National Guard was called up in preparation for a United States involvement in the global conflict. When they reported to Camp Claiborne in Louisiana, little did they know that it would be more than four years before they saw their homes again. Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7th, and they were transferred to the West Coast and then on to New Caledonia for five months of training. They were combined with other units and given the name, the Americal Division – coined by combining America with Caledonia.
On October 13th 1942, the 164th entered their first combat zone at Guadalcanal and suffered their first casualty. From October 24th to the 27th, only two weeks after their arrival, they took part in some of the heaviest fighting, as the Japanese were repulsed with over seventeen hundred enemy losses. After one hundred and twenty days, they were finally relieved from Guadalcanal. They went on to fight in Bougainville, Leyte, Samar, Cebu, Bohol, Negros and Mindinao. Finally, on September 10, 1945, after three years of almost constant combat, the Americal Division arrived on Japan as part of the occupational force.
But it was on this date in 1945, five thousand men from the Americal Division were coming home, arriving at Fort Lawton near Seattle, Washington. Another ten thousand were soon to follow. Among these troops were five hundred men from North Dakota with four of their top ranking officers. Fittingly, they had left Japan on Armistice Day and arrived at Fort Lawton on Thanksgiving Day. Lt. Col William Considine from Cando was the senior officer among the North Dakota unit. The other officers with the unit at Fort Lawton, were Major Harry Yuill of Devils Lake, Maj. Vernon Johnson of Pembina and Maj. LeRoy Baird of Dickinson.
Major Baird commented that the food on the return trip to the United State was rather sparse, and these battle-hardened troops were just getting ready to eat a quail, which was part of the metal nameplate on the ship’s bow, when they landed at Seattle.
But after four-and-one-half years, they were finally returning home, having witnessed some of the most intense fighting in the Pacific Theater of War. Many of those who left for Camp Claiborne in February of 1941 never returned, fallen on battlefields that stretched across the Pacific Ocean – four thousand three hundred miles, from New Caledonia to Japan.
Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis
The Grand Forks Herald November 27, 1945