ARMY RESERVE: Serving the Nation for 100 Years

By Kolb, Richard K. | VFW Magazine, April 2008 | Go to article overview

ARMY RESERVE: Serving the Nation for 100 Years


Kolb, Richard K., VFW Magazine


April 2008 marks a full century of service for the U.S. Army Reserve. Its story spans seven wars and encompasses a multitude of units. Today, its visibility is greater than ever because of its missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Though often losing their distinctive identity once integrated into the regular Army, Reservists have done their part in every war and military crisis since shortly after the turn of the 20th century. From low-key beginnings as a Medical Reserve Corps created on April 23, 1908, the Reserve quickly blossomed into a full-fledged component of the Army's fighting machine.

In 1916, when a crisis with Mexico loomed large, 3,000 Reservists were mobilized. During World War I, the officer and enlisted reserve corps provided 169,476 men. Before the war was over in 1918, every division in France would see an infusion of some of these soldiers into their ranks. Some of the greatest heroes of WWI were Reserve officers-Medal of Honor recipients Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker and Maj. Charles Whittlesey, for example.

Reserve officers made a tremendous contribution in World War II. Some 23% of Army officers were Reservists. In a typical infantry division, about 85% of company and 60% of battalion commanders came from the Reserve. A study of one period between 1943 and 1944 found that more than 52% of officers killed in action were Reservists. All told, 204,000 soldiers from the Organized Reserve Corps served.

Korean War: "Cavalier Redlegs" in Action

Unlike WWII, intact Reserve units were dispatched overseas to fight in Korea (1950-53). They included 14 service support battalions and 40 companies (a total of 8,651 enlisted men), as well as two field artillery battalions. None of the Reserve's other combat units (besides the nine other field artillery battalions) were mobilized even in the U.S.

The 424th and 780th Field Artillery battalions (both 8-inch howitzer) were attached to corps artillery in Korea. The 424th participated in five campaigns between 1951 and 1953, earning a Distinguished Unit Citation and sustaining nine deaths, three of them on Sept. 30, 1952, alone.

Nicknamed the "Cavalier Redlegs," the 780th constituted three batteries from Roanoke, Blacksburg and Christiansburg, Va. It arrived in Pusan, Korea, on April 8,1951, undertaking its first combat fire mission at the end of June. Its pieces were 8-inch guns towed by an M4 tractor.

One particular mission stands out among all others to some veterans of the unit: Operation Mountain Goat in February 1952. "It was the first use of direct assault fire from an 8-inch self-propelled howitzer in Korea," remembers George J. Ellis. "We fired in a below horizontal position from the highest direction center in Korea."

The 11-man crew of B Battery led by 1st Lt. Dennis Crafton destroyed 20 enemy bunkers with 107 rounds at a range of 1,800 yards the first day. Ultimately, the battery obliterated 90 Communist bunkers, inflicting 35 casualties. After that, the 8-inch howitzer originally nicknamed "The Bastard" was dubbed "The Killer."

During its more than two years in action in Korea, the 780th lived up to its motto: "Never Wavering." The unit fired 232,000 rounds in combat while fighting in seven campaigns and earning two Korean government presidential unit citations. Thirteen men died (eight were KIA), including three from C Battery on March 23,1952, at Kajon-ni from enemy artillery fire. Another 70 were WIA.

The Cavalier Redlegs finally returned to Virginia in December 1954 after three years and eight months in Korea.

"This spring we will be dedicating a memorial at the entrance to the VA hospital in Salem, Va., to all who served in the 780th and especially the 13 men killed" Ellis said. "This timing is only fitting to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Army Reserve."

Many individual Reservists also served in regular Army combat units. Dispersed throughout the divisions, they had more than ample opportunity to display courage. …

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