The Pacific: General Beightler and the Buckeye Division

Recently the HBO Network aired the multi part series “The Pacific”, about World War II Marine combat in the Pacific Theater of Operations.  It has been compared to the series “Band of Brothers” about the US Airborne forces in Europe during World War II.  Both were based on specific historical units and the real soldiers and Marines of those units.  This has brought new interest and insight to American forces and especially Marine combat operations in the Pacific during World War II.

But to be fair the Marines were not the only American forces fighting in the Pacific during World War II.  Ohio had its own National Guard division, the 37th Infantry Division, the Buckeye division, fighting in the same Pacific theater of operations.  Major General Robert Beightler commanded the 37th from its call up in 1940 till its final combat operations in the Philippines in 1945.

H 84348. Guidon of the 37th Division Transportation, 37th Infantry Division from the collections of the Ohio Historical Society.

It should not be forgotten that the 37th Tank Company from Port Clinton was sent to the Philippine Islands before the war started and fought as part of the 192nd Tank Battalion in the battles from December 1941 to April 1942. They were stationed at Fort Stotsenburg and fought the first tank battle fought by the United States Army.  They were forced to surrender with the American and Philippine forces and endured the Bataan Death March.

The article that follows originally appeared in the Ohio Historical Society publication, “Preview”, in 1996.

The history of the Thirty-seventh Ohio National Guard Infantry Division dates from July 17, 1918, when the unit received its official authorization and designation from the Federal government several months after America’s entry into World War I.  The story of the division during World War II begins in 1940, shortly after Adolf Hilter’s conquest of Western Europe in the spring and summer of that year.  President Roosevelt and Congress decided it was time to organize (and reorganize) America’s national defense establishment, which at the time was in a sorry state of repair.  On September 26, 1940, Ohio Governor John W. Bricker received a telegram from the secretary of war ordering the Thirty-seventh into Federal service effective October 15, 1940.  The Thirty-seventh first received the name “Buckeye Division” because its constituent battalions and regiments were Ohio National Guard units.

Major General Robert Sprague Beightler (1892-1978), one of the preeminent divisional commanders of World War II, joined the National Guard in 1911, enlisting as a private in Company E, Fourth Ohio Infantry. He served under Black Jack Pershing in the Pancho Villa campaign and later fought in France during World War I. In the 1920s and 1930s Beightler, who had trained as an engineer, worked in a variety of capacities for the Ohio Department of Highways and the United States War Department. And in 1940, with war looming just over the horizon and at the behest of the governor of Ohio, he asumed command of the 37th Infantry Division. From the Beightler Collection at the Ohio Historical Society.

The first Buckeye Division troops left Ohio for Camp Shelby, Mississippi, on October 16, 1940, and the rest of the Thirty-seventh followed a few days later.  On arrival the troops had to build much of the camp themselves before they could even begin training exercises.  About nine thousand soldiers went to Camp Shelby from Ohio, and in the succeeding months they were joined by ten thousand selectees sent from the state to bring the division to full strength.  Intense training and maneuvers followed throughout much of 1941.

In December 1941 after the United States entered the war, the Buckeye Division stood by for transport to the Philippine Islands.  But it became apparent that the Philippines could not be defended, much less reinforced; and the Thirty-seventh was send to Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, where it soon received orders for the South Pacific, setting sail from San Francisco on May 26, 1942, bound for New Zealand and the Fiji Islands.  On board four ships were the bulk of the division’s chief combat units – the 145th and 148th Infantry regiments and the 135th, 136th, and 140th Field Artillery battalions.  Major General Robert S. Beightler, a Marysville, Ohio, native and a descendant of naval hero Oliver Hazard Perry, led the men of the Buckeye Division.

A brave soldier. General Beightler presenting the Silver Star to a GI of the 37th. More than nine hundred Buckeye Division troops one this military decoration, awarded for gallantry in action. Seven won the Medal of Honor. From the Beightler Collection at the Ohio Historical Society.

The Thirty-seventh trained on Fiji and several other South Pacific islands until July 1943, when the Buckeye troops saw their first action during combat operations on New Georgia in the Solomon Islands.  The Thirty-seventh went into the line to relieve the Forty-third Infantry Division, which was about to disintegrate as an effective force, and then proceeded to pummel the Japanese army until the middle of August, a running battle that cost the division 206 killed and 928 wounded.  Although its casualties were high, the Buckeye Division’s long period of training (as well as Beightler’s policy of expending materiel rather than men) had paid off during the dense jungle fighting on New Georgia – as they would in later campaigns.

J Haas

Stay Tuned for more information about the Buckeye Division and Ohio in the Pacific Theatre.

The second half of this article will be posted Wednesday, May 19, 2010.

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24 Responses to The Pacific: General Beightler and the Buckeye Division

  1. hale bradt says:

    A good site – but one strong objection vis a vis a statement re the New Georgia campaign. Although one regiment of the 43rd Div had troubles that led to the relief of its commander and although progress by the 43rd toward Munda had “stalled”* which led to the relief of the division commander, many would object to the phrase “was about to disintegrate as an effective fighting force”, despite Gen. Harmon’s unfortunate comment that it was about to “fold up”*. This was surely an overstatement meant to stress the need for and to secure reinforcements. The 37th did not, in fact, “relieve” the 43rd; the 43rd stayed in the line and the 37th took up positions alongside it. Both divisions drove toward Munda airfield together and it was actually 43rd troops that took the field. See the map on p. 145 of John Miller Jr.’s “Cartwright, the Reduction of Rabaul”. Asterisked (*) quotes are from Miller. I hope the phrasing of your “history” can be corrected appropriately.

    My Dad (Maj. (later LtC) Wilber Bradt) was an Battalion artillery commander (169 FA Bn) of the 43rd Division and was pleased to provide the artillery support for both the 148th and 145th Infantry Regiments during portions of the Munda campaign. He received commendations from the C.O.s of both regiments. They give some sense of the combat at that time – I would be happy to forward them, given an email address.

    My Dad mentioned in a letter that he had been photographed with officers of the 145th and 148th during the campaign and that he could be recognized by his major’s leaves which he wore for morale purposes (the soldiers could see the brass were at the front too). That is why I was snooping around your web site. I have no pictures of him during the combat where he went unwashed and unshaved for 30+ days. Perhaps the 37th Div archives has such a picture? I would love to have a copy.

    My Dad was wounded in the forehead by a bomb fragment as the Munda campaign started, but went on as artillery CO through the Munda, New Guinea and Luzon campaigns and then as Acting CO of the 172 Inf. Regiment which he took to Japan and back to the US for decommissioning in 1945. He was much decorated (silver star with 2 clusters, legion of merit, purple heart with cluster, etc.). He died by his own hand 5 weeks after returning home.

    Good luck with your historical efforts.

    I hope these comments are helpful.
    Hale Bradt
    Salem MA

    • Jim Higgins says:

      Hale, your father was a brave soldier, to be proud. The artillery was my dad’s best friend, as he said. I know you mean “Munda, New Georgia”, not “New Guinea” above. The artillery was most effectively used on Bougainville when the Japanese attacked the beach stronghold of the 37th and Americal Divisions. As the 37th History Book states, an aritllery man was first to note the attack by the famed: “At 0627, March 8, 1944, the first artillery shell from the attacking Japanese lit the 145th Infantry sector. The bell had rung, and the enemy began carrying the fight to the Americans. Lieutenant Jennings, 135th Field Artillery forward observer stationed at OP 0 in the 145th Sector, was immediately alerted. From March 8 to 24, the 37th Division fought the famed Japanese 17th Division until the Japanese retreated back over the mountains.” My dad said the Japanes attacked their positions, the artillery shelled an area, caused severe casulaties to the enemy, they retreated. The Americans left the guns dialed-in. The enemay attacked the next day, artillery stopped the attack. Dad said “isn’t that the damnest thing you ever heard” he thought it was such a waste of human life. I have photos of artillery men and will check them for a major. Have you read “Pacific Memories” BY KEN MCLINTOCK (1920-2000), 136TH FIELD ARTILLERY BATTALION, 37TH INFANTRY DIVISION, 1942-1945. RECOLLECTIONS OF THE PACIFIC CAMPAIGN IN WORLD WAR II, FROM HIS UNPUBLISHED MEMOIRS. http://pacificmemories.blogspot.com/ Good to ready about the artillery, Hale, I also wrote to others in the 43rd to ask their story and received a reply. -Jim

    • Julie Adams says:

      I have pictures and metals and letters of a Edward T. Gardiner Sgt. From WWII and Korea.
      soldier of 37th Infantry division Buckeye Division. He had no family except a brother who died yrs ago. Only living relative is 95 and doesn’t want all of this! I am her caregiver and am hoping someone will want these things. A family of his fellow soldiers!??
      Thank you ,
      Julie

      • ohiohistory says:

        Hello,

        I will give your name and e-mail to one of our curators who specializes in military collections.

        Thank you,
        L. Wood, Curator for Visual Resources

  2. Edmund Ferrall says:

    My Uncle, Cpl. Walter R. Leahy, 148th Inf., 37th Division was a member of the unite. He was from Tiffin, Ohio and was posthumusly awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart after he was killed in the Munda – New Georgia Campaign in 1943. I never knew him because he was killed the year I was born. My mother, his sister, Eileen Leahy Ferrall place flowers on his grave in St. Mary cemetary in Tiffin every Memorial Day. She often said that they were never sure that the body in the grave was really Uncle Walter’s, but that even if it wasn’t she would honor him by remembering the rest of her life. I personnaly still do not understand why Uncle Walter’s grave is not decorated with a flag each Memorial Day by the VFW or the American Legion in Tiffin. Keep the history coming.

  3. Laird Wilcox says:

    My father was in the 129th Infantry Regiment, attached to the 37th Infantry Division, and was wounded outside of Bayambong, Northern Luzon, on 7 June 1945. I have been trying to get more information on this outfit before and on that date for some time. If anyone has any information I would appreciate hearing from them. My Dad was Pfc Laird Wilcox, Jr. He survived the war and died in 1997. Contact me directly: lwilcox3@aol.com

  4. Edmund Ferrall says:

    My uncle, Walter R. Leahy, was killed in the Munda campaign. He was posthumously awarded a bronze star for his actions. I read “Munda Trail” by Hammod and heard Heman Golden’s accounts of the action in Munda. It seems we were lucky to win the campaign.

  5. hello there, im trying to find out more about my grandfather on my fathers side, and am just wondering if you know the nameds of the buckeye division who came to newzealand for r&r, any information would be appricated thank you
    p.s loving the site cant wait to read your next intro

    • ohiohistory says:

      This is a prefect question for our reference archivists! You can reach them by emailing reference@ohiohistory.org

    • Jim Higgins says:

      I am reading about Gen Beightler, Marysville, Ohio and also reading the other responses. I just completed a book about my father in L Company, 3rd Battalion, 148th Infantry, 37th Division. The first and second battalions went in to New Georgia, as the others have stated. The 3rd Battalion 145th and 148th were attached to the 1st Marine Raiders and landed behind enemy line at Enogai Inlet. The Marines always got the headlines (quote, from my dad, Ralph Higgins). Took me 30 years to write the book about my father, from Camp Shelby to Indiantown Gap, to Fiji to New Georgia where he won mom “in a poker game” (long family story). Dad survived the war, lived to the year 2000. Awarded Bronze Star, marksman badge, good conduct and so forth. Many northest Ohio towns like Napoleon, McClure, Defiance and the city of Toledo sent men to the 37th in 1940 and 1941. I have both books published by the 37th. One in 1940 with all the photos and names of the men in the entire Division. The other is the History of the 37th Division in World War II. Bindings and covers in rough shape. I wrote my dad’s story, published it last Christmas to my mom, brother and sister, using all the old photos my dad had and even the letters my mom & dad wrote to each other. Mom never shared these until 2010. Dad, like most combat soldiers, rarely talked about his experiences. My name is Jim Higgins, live near Rochester, NY. Let me know if I can help you with photos of men of the 37th from the 1940 book. jhiggins331@yahoo.com

    • Jim Higgins says:

      Jessica, I do not know the men who went to New Zealand. The 37th rarely sent their troops on R&R, if that is who you were referring to. I do both books published by the 37th Division. One published in 1940 with all the photos of the men in the 37th Division and the other is the History Book, published in 1946. What was your grandfather’s name? Maybe his photo is in the book. If you know his unit number, that would also help.

      • Nicholas Loscalzo says:

        Hi Mr. Higgins, Nick Loscalzo here, my uncle, Michael J. Mattiace was a Staff Sgt. – Co. A – 148th infantry – section leader of a heavy machine gun. Passed away in early 1990’s. I’ve been researching his military svc. He did receive the bronze star but could never find details behind it. Wanted to know the title of the books about his unit. Thanks

  6. skeptic says:

    Indiscriminate and continuous bombardment killed tens of thousands and flattened residential areas that were hardly considered Japanese strongholds. In his activity report for the 37th Infantry Division, General Robert Beightler, among the chief architects of the wanton artillery attacks, wrote: “I have no apologies to make. … So much for Manila. It is a ruined city—unhealthy, depressing, poverty stricken. Let us thank God our cities have been spared such a fate.”

    Such a swell guy.So casual with the deaths of thousands of Filipino civilians who bravely sided with us against the Japanese.

    Nothing against the guys who served and fought and died so bravely in that division, but Beightler would have fit in better with the Wehrmacht.

    • ohiohistory says:

      Dear Sir: Your statements about the 37th Ohio National Guard Buckeye Infantry Division and its Commander General Robert Beightler are completely incorrect and terribly misinformed. And I shall try to state the facts as I am familiar with them to the best of my ability.

      Let’s start with your first sentences: “Indiscriminate and continuous bombardment……etc.” The US Army troops attacking Manila, the 37th (Beightler), the 1st Cavalry, and the 11th Airborne were under strict orders from General MacArthur to not use indiscriminate air bombing or artillery fire on the city in order to prevent Filipino casualties. MacArthur had spent many years living in Manila and loved the Filipino people and did not want to see the city destroyed. He know those type of tactics would cause huge civilian casualties and he did not want that to happen. For example spearhead columns of American troops were rushed into Manila to rescue the international, American and Filipino prisoners held in prison camps in Manila. Why: because he knew the Japanese would start killing the prisoners if we did not get them out and indiscriminate bombing and shelling could also kill those prisoners. Two major reasons MacArthur gave the order to not bomb and/or shell the city.

      For your second sentence: “….Beightler, among the chief architects of the wanton artillery attacks,…”. I am not sure of the context of your quote, but let us say for arguments sake it’s correct. The three American division commanders eventually did ask MacArthur to lift the ban on artillery fire after the fighting in the city began and for a very good reason.

      Upon the approach of the American forces the Japanese commander, a Naval Admiral, ordered large parts of the city set on fire to clear out the Filipino homes and neighborhoods in order to clear fields of fire for his troops. His defenses were concentrated in the downtown area where all the major Manila office and government buildings were located. Manila had huge state government buildings like the Agriculture Department, the Post Office, the Treasury Building, the Police Office Building and many more. The Japanese turned all these building into fortresses with armor plate, concrete pillboxes, sand bags and anything they could get their hands on. When the American troops started attacking these buildings their lighter weapons did no damage and had little to no effect on the Japanese defenders. Permission was granted by MacArthur to bring in artillery and put direct fire into those buildings to make it possible for the American troops to root out the Japanese defenders. No civilians were in those buildings and most of the Filipino civilians who had lived near those buildings had already fled or had been killed by the Japanese when the Americans approached the city.

      The Japanese troops in Manila killed thousands of Filipino civilians, not the American troops or Beightler. The Japanese troops killed men, women, and children by the thousands just before and during the Battle of Manila, not Beightler or the Americans.

      From what I have read he did seem to be a well liked commander, competent, no nonsense, and definitely not casual about the lives of the Filipino population. And you are correct they were extremely brave and willing to help us fight the Japanese and liberate their capital city.

      And your final comment about Beightler being a better fit as a Wehrmacht officer is beneath any rational comment on my part.

      I failed to mentioned above the Japanese Admiral in charge of the defense of Manila did so against orders. The overall Japanese Commander of the Philippines, General Yamashita, ordered Manila abandoned and declared an open city. But the Japanese Admiral disobeyed Yamashita’s orders and defended the city to the death of himself and all his troops, but not before killing thousands of Filipino civilians and American troops.

      John Haas

      Manuscript Curator

      Ohio Historical Society

    • Sascha Jansen says:

      Boy, what a bunch of balut you dish out. Before you open your mouth, do your homework and get it straight…your stupidity is showing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!I was a POW in Manila from 1942 and 1945 and we were liberated by the 1st Cav Division and the 37th
      Buckeyes, 11th Airborne and 44th Tankers. The JAPS ruined Manila with their scourging, massacres,and wanton methodic raging, setting the city on fire and killing everyone in their wake……………………..WAKE UP and LEARN the TRUTH!

      • ohiohistory says:

        Hello,

        I will share your comment with the author of the article.

        Thank you,
        L. Wood, Curator for Visual Resources

      • john haas says:

        Dear Reader: You are correct! the 1st CAV, the 37th Buckeyes, the 11th Airborne, and the 44th Tankers did help retake Manila and free thousands of civilian and military prisoners and detainees and did their best to avoid civilian casualties. MacArthur ordered our people to avoid mass bombardments and bombings of Manila in order to lessen civilian losses. The Japanese Admiral in charge disobeyed General Yamashita’s order to not defend the city and the Admiral in charge ordered the burning of large areas of the city, ordered killing of Filipino prisoners, and indiscriminate murders took place all over the city condoned by the Japanese authorities. Eventually MacArthur allowed the troops to bring in large artillery pieces to bring direct fire into the large government and office buildings in order to root the Japanese troops out. But you are correct we conducted no mass bombardments by artillery or bombing in retaking Manila. But as you know the city was heavily damaged as a result of the fighting and the wanton destruction ordered by the Japanese authorities. I think the post on November 17, 2011
        above gives a fuller explanation of my thoughts on the Manila operations.
        John Haas, Ohio Historical Society, Manuscript Curator

      • Sascha Jansen says:

        Hi John,
        Thank you for explaining the True Battle of Manila to those who have a different take on the truth. It will be coming up 70 years next Feb – 2015, and those of us who have lived through that horrible part of WWII in the Philippines can, and do appreciate those US units who liberated us before the inevitable took place. Thousands of people in Manila were not so lucky.

        Whenever we can, those of us who were civilian and military POWS, try to head off present day
        historical naysayers. It is amazing how many are un-informed and profess to know the “real story.”

        It is amazing how much we have connected the dots, and learned so much about the Philippine Theater in the past 70 yrs. I don’t now why I am still alive after that experience. Thankfully, I am. Now I get to continually sing the praises of the wonderful Buckeyes, The 1st Cav, the 44th Tankers and the 11th Airborne. Without you folks, I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy and love my family.

  7. Gary M. Kirk says:

    John, I just finished reading “Triumph in the Philippines.” I found your statements to be in accord with the statements in that book, which, I might add was written between 1956 and 1958 and was based upon extensive research in American, Japanese, and Filipino records as well as interviews with many of those directly involved. I would suggest that Skeptic read this book and revisit his use of the word “indiscriminate” in the context in which he used it above. My father served in the battle for Manila and was nominated for an award for valor for rescuing a pregnant Filipina from the fire the Japanese were sending toward a crowd of civilians they were using to distract the American forces. He was far, far from the only GI who risked their own lives in order to protect the Filipino civilians. Did Americans kill some Filipinos? Almost certainly they did. However, that was, by all reasonable accounts (including the Japanese, by the way), the exception. That being said, after the battle, Manila was, indeed, a ruined city – especially that part of it south of the Pasig river where the large buildings were mainly located.

  8. Jack L. Stump, SFC, USA ( Retired) says:

    My respect and admiration to the men of the 37th Division’s 148th Regimental Combat Team in WW2 and all who put their lives on the line for our country in the South Pacific.. My father Roy E. Stump was a member of the 37th Division’s Headquarters Company,136th Field Artillery. He died last year but always remembered his “Army buddies” and was at all the reunions until his death at 92 years old. My father was from Troy, Ohio.
    My mother’s first husband however, was SGT Walter R. Prestel of Dayton, Ohio. Walter was a member of Co. I (not L), 148th RCT and was killed near Myoko Mountain, Luzon on 8 May 1945 after fighting through the Manila and Bagio battles. I just wanted to express my thanks and admiration for all those men like my dad and Walter who loved our country enough to stand in harms way for her.

  9. Vincent Favata says:

    Hi My name is Vincent Favata,

    My uncle Michael A. Favata served in the 37th Division 145th Regiment from the years 1942 -1945. He was a Pvt.Heavy Machine Gunner and a infantry men he fought in Guadalcanal,Bougainville,New Georgia,Luzon,Manilla.He was awarded the Purple Heart and the
    Bronze Star.He was from Newark ,New Jersey.Unfortunatly he passed away in 1977 I have a few
    pictures of him along with a few stores that he told me when I was younger and I am trying to find as much info as possible along with any photos anyone may
    have of his Div and Regiment..Any help would be greatly appreciated !
    Thank You
    Vincent Favata

  10. Nancy Gonzales Taylor says:

    My Dad, Julian Gonzales, was in the 148th. I have 2 group photos with names on the back if you’re interested.

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