World War II (1940-1945)

WW2 Asiatic-Pacific Campaign ribbonWW2 Philippines Liberation RibbonWW2 Victory Ribbon

Return to the Pacific theater

After a 42 year absence, the 161st Infantry found its destiny in the South Pacific once again.

The 161st Infantry continued to serve as a component of the 41st Division when the division was called into 1 year of Federal Service Sept 18, 1940 by Executive Order signed by President Franklin Roosevelt. Mobilization station was Camp Murray … or Swamp Murray as it became known during the fall and early winter of 1940. The environment was so miserable that illness effected the men like an epidemic and news articles of the poor conditions were published nationally.

In October 1941, the 41st Division was reconfigured from a square division (four infantry regiments) to a triangular division (three infantry regiments) and the 161st Infantry was considered surplus. However the War Department had more important plans for the Regiment. After filling its ranks from other Regiments of the 41st Division, the 161st left Fort Lewis on 6 Dec 1941 by train towards San Francisco. War Department orders were to board transports and steam back to the Philippine Islands. Before leaving Fort Lewis, 35 members of the Regiment of Japanese and Chinese ancestry were transferred to other units.

Next Stop, Philippines (not yet)

As the troop train pulled into Kalama Falls, OR, in the late morning of 7 Dec 1941, the troops learned of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by naval and air units of the Japanese military. Soldiers were posted on guard duty and some were issued ammunition.  After a delay of several hours, the train continued to San Francisco without incident. The next week was full of confusion as ships were loaded, unloaded, troops and equipment were distributed around San Francisco and ships finally loaded again. Men of the regiment watched with humor and uncertainty during the 8/9 Dec 1941 “air raid” on San Francisco. By 14 Dec 1941, the entire Regiment had left San Francisco en route to Hawaii.

Tropical Paradise (Hawaii)

Arriving at Honolulu on December 24, 1941, the air around Pearl Harbor was still thick with the smoke of burning ships, death and destruction. They would spend the next 12 months protecting the shores of Hawaii from potential Japanese invasion and training for the next stop in their trip through the Pacific. Some members of the regiment were sent to Officer Candidate School (OCS), others received special schooling. Several detachments were sent to protect small islands. By the end of 1942, the regiment had been filled by volunteers and draftees to a strength of more than 3000 men.

Guadalcanal

The 161st landed on Guadalcanal during January 1943 as a member of the 25th Division. Their mission was to provide fresh troops to the stalemate fight with Japanese troops on Guadalcanal. During the next several months, they helped defeat the Japanese and learned many of their tricks that would be helpful on the next stop.

New Georgia (Munda)

New Georgia was supposed to be an easy fight. However the two US divisions assigned to take the island struggled almost immediately and needed help. Despite the 161st Infantry operating at only 60% strength, the Regiment was committed to New Georgia at the end of July, 1943. Due to the fog of war, it took the 161st a full week to fight its way to the Line of Departure losing more casualties to enemy action and the harsh jungle environment

The Regiment’s deeds were the subject of two Yank magazine articles:

“Infantry Battle on New Georgie”, Yank Oct 1943

“Attack On Hastings Ridge”, Yank, Nov 1943

 

New Zealand

Since the 25th Division had suffered so many casualties and had essentially been in direct combat for nearly a year, they were sent to New Zealand in December, 1943, to recover. While a great place to become re-acquainted with civilization, it was difficult for troops to stay focused on training. On January 22, 1944, the Regiment received a large group of replacements. By February, 1944, the 161st was shipping to its next stop.

New Caledonia (Noumea)

New Caledonia was essentially a giant training area without the distractions of New Zealand. Here the Regiment was brought back to full strength and equipment was replaced. Here they prepared for the next big campaign to retake the Philippines. They started over with individual skills and worked up through squad, platoon, company, battalion, regiment and finally division training problems. There were weekly lectures and frequent forced marches. They trained with blanks and live ammunition. Several casualties were taken during the realistic live-fire training.

Next Stop, Philippines (for real this time)

When the 3027 members of the Regiment boarded transports at New Caledonia on 15 Dec 1944 it looked like this

SHIP USS Pres Monroe USS La Porte USS Adams USS Algol
161 INF O WO EM O EM O EM O EM
HQ 5 1 52 11 64       1
Service Co 4 3 45 1 5   6 1 32
Anti-Tank 3   87 1 31 1 31 1  
Medical 5   58 3 34 2 31    
Cannon Co 3   46 1 22 1 21   1
1ST BN       33 692       23
2ND BN 37   694     37 704   27
3RD BN                 10
ATCEDARG 1   33   12   10    
161 Total 158 4 1015 50 860 41 803 2 94

The Regiment spent the next 165 days in nearly daily contact with Japanese forces. Finally the Regiment was relieved and returned to camps in the Philippines for refit … and to prepare for the invasion of Japan.

End of the War

As the Regiment started filling its ranks and training for the invasion of Japan, the war quickly came to an end thanks to the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Regiment left the Philippines destined to serve in Japan as an occupation force. The Regiment landed in Japan on 25 Oct 1945 moving into Nagoya. However, the War Department decided it was time for the Regimental Colors to end its Federal Service. On 1 Nov 1945, the 161st Infantry Regimental colors were cased and the 4th Infantry Regimental colors were uncased. The people didn’t change, only the flag they gathered under. The Regimental colors were returned to the United States accompanied by the final 4 members still with the Regiment since mobilization in Sept 1940.