The Luzon Campaign, 1944-1945: Two Windows

Article excerpt

In 1996, in the Donovan Technical Library, Fort Benning, Georgia, I found some microfilm rolls half a century old. They contained the US 37th Infantry Division's daily unit operational summaries for April and May 1945, the time during which the Ohio National Guardsmen pushed north from Manila to Baguio in the Philippines. Many summary entries were signed "R.A. Ramsey, Lt Col, G-3"-- my father. Having already published On Law and Country, Dad's biography and edited papers, I scrolled hastily through the old film to see if I had made any errors or noteworthy omissions.1

Not long afterward, John Ohl of Mesa Community College, Arizona, came to Fort Benning to do research on his biography of Major General (MG) Robert S. Beightler. Beightler successfully commanded the 37th "Buckeye" Division from its 1940 federalization through its demobilization in December 1945.2

When I received Ohl's final manuscript in early 2000 for comment, I was fortuitously aided by a review copy of Robert Ross Smith's classic, Triumph in the Philippines.3 The complementary books reveal aspects of World War II not previously evaluated and highlight events and relationships that could occur again during the 21 st century.

In his book, Ohl shows how honest biography can make for page-- snapping reader interest without having to collaborate with "enhancement hacks." Beightler, a successful Ohio highway and construction engineer, had a sense of public service. Cast in the mold of the 19thcentury US military engineers who tamed the frontier, Beightler studied Army tactics and organization and even attended the US Army War College, a rare thing for citizen soldiers.

Appointed Commanding General, 37th Infantry Division, Ohio National Guard (NG), over several senior candidates who had more political clout, Beightler was diplomatic but tough. Mobilized to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, Beightler drove the Ohio Guardsmen through conversion to the triangular division and the famed Louisiana Maneuver of 1941. Shipped to Indian Town Gap, Pennsylvania, for European deployment, then suddenly diverted to the Pacific Theater, the 37th did extensive jungle training on New Georgia, where Beightler quietly relieved and sent home the last politically appointed, incompetent officers.

On Bougainville in the Solomons, the 37th Division was a major land force fighting under MG Oscar W. Griswold's legendary 14th Corps. When the time came for the Luzon invasion, the 14th Corps was General Walter Krueger's 6th Army's main effort. Beightler's 37th Division was the Sunday-punch force that recaptured Manila, forcing the crossing of the Pasig River and the low-- casualty recapture of the Spanish Intramuros "Walled City," where fanatical Japanese defenders held internees as human shields and hostages against attack.

When the 14th Corps turned northward to conquer northern Luzon, Beightler was faced with huge leadership challenges. Combat had ended in Europe, and no one knew of the impending use of two atomic weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Bluntly put, no soldier in any war is enthralled with the idea of being the last casualty of an enemy who is obviously losing. Still, the 37th fought strongly until war's end. Beightler remained in the Philippines until his Ohioans were assured of transport home.

At a speech before his heavily decorated veterans on a cold night in late December 1945, in Columbus, Ohio, he thrilled my 10-year-old heart. Beightler was one of only two NG flag officers integrated into the Regular Army in grade because of their fabulous combat records. At that time, Regular Army officers were taking two-grade cuts in rank to remain aboard.

Beightler's biography is filled with vignettes showing the delicate line an officer must walk in the shadow of Cincinnatus, the legendary Roman militia hero that George Washington and the founding fathers admired. Ohl also shows how militia or citizen forces can only succeed if an officer of Beightler's no-nonsense commitment to training, maneuvers and personnel decisions based on military ability instead of political backing commands them. …