Continuation from The Pacific: General Beightler and the Buckeye Division
On November 8, 1943, the Thirty-seventh landed on Bougainville, the largest of the Solomon Islands, joining up with the Third Marine Division, which had launched the initial assault a week earlier.
The Marines pulled out in December and were replaced by the army’s American Division. The American troops fought inland, set up defensive positions, and then waited. In March 1944 the Japanese hit the Americans with a massive counterattack. The Buckeye Division, which held a seven-mile-long front, was the target of the Sixth Imperial Japanese Infantry Division. According to General Beightler, the men of the veteran Sixth were among the best fighters the Thirty-seventh faced during the entire war – and the Japanese were ready for a fight, challenged by the words of their commanding officer, Lieutenant General Masatane Kanda, who proclaimed “there can be no rest until our bastard foes are battered, and bowed in shame – till their bright red blood adds yet more luster to the badge of the 6th Division.”
The attack on the Buckeye line lasted for seventeen days, but in the end the Sixth Imperial was smashed, losing more than seven thousand killed and ceasing to exist as a recognizable combat unit. The Thirty-seventh suffered fewer than seventeen hundred casualties. The Buckeye Division remained on Bougainville until December 1944, holding the island after the battles of March and training for a planned invasion of the Philippines.
Landing at Lingayen Gulf on Luzon, the main island of the Philippines, on January 9, 1945, the infantry men of the Thirty-seventh immediately headed south towards Manila – fighting hard, capturing Clark Field and Fort Stotsenburg along their way, and rescuing several impetuous units of the First Cavalry Division that had raced forward and been cut off and surrounded by the Japanese army. One of General Beightler’s lasting memories of the Manila campaign was the “assault” by troops of the Thirty-seventh on the Balintowok Brewery, which stood operating and untouched by war on the northern edge of the city. Within several hours all the bottles and two vats of mature beer in the brewery were gone, drained byt he hot and dusty GIs. “I’ll never forget,” Beightler later wrote, “the sight of the Buckeye Division invading Manila gulping beer from steel helmets as it marched!”
The Japanese were determined to hold Manila. The battle began on February 4 and lasted for twenty nine days, with troops of the Buckeye, First Cavalry, and Eleventh Airborne divisions bearing the heaviest burden. In the end, after nearly a month of street fighting and bitter house-to-house combat, the Japanese occupation force was destroyed – and with it much of the city.
The Thirty-seventh then headed north into Cagayan Valley of Luzon and proceeded to rout fifty thousand Japanese troops, quickly ending the last major enemy resistance on the island. On September 2, 1945, Robert S. Beightler of Ohio accepted the surrender of General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the “Tiger of Malaya,” conqueror of Singapore, and last Japanese commander in the Philippines. Beightler later described the scene after Yamashita, brought to earth in the vast cordillera of norther Luzon, came down from his lair in the mountains.
About 11:00 o’clock word was sent to us that Yamashita, carried in a sedan chair, with his staff and honor guard, had arrived and would be with us very shortly. Yamashita was transferred from his sedan chair into an army jeep and driven to where we were standing by on the highway. he was accompanied by a Lieutenant General, a Major General, an Admiral, and a Rear Admiral… As he walked towards me, he proffered his hand. I refused to shake hands; he then stepped back, saluted and bowed.
Bloodied but never defeated, the Buckeye Division had finished its job.
The collection s of the Archives/Library Division of the Ohio Historical Society include a number of pirmary and secondary sources documenting the Thirty-seventh Infantry Division and its World War II commander. The two most important are the manuscript and photograph collections of Robert S. Beightler, which the general donated to the Historical Society in 1976. The manuscript collection, which includes six cubic feet of material and covers the period 1940 through 1948, is arranged in six series. The photograph collection dates from 1941 through 1945 and includes 1,292 black and white prints and 1,324 black and white negatives.
Another valuable resource for students of World War II are the records of the Ohio War History Commission, which was created in the spring of 1942 to document wartime activities of the state and its citizens. The records of the commission, which form part of the State Archives of Ohio, include much material – both textual and photographic – on the Buckeye Division.