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158th Regimental Combat Team (RCT) "Bushmasters"

Discussion in 'Land Warfare in the Pacific' started by JCFalkenbergIII, Apr 13, 2008.

  1. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    The Bushmasters: Arizona's Fighting Guardsmen
    By Joe Patrick



    "On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. By the end of June 1940, France
    had fallen to the Germans as well. Although the United States remained
    officially neutral in the growing conflict, President Roosevelt ordered all
    units of the Arizona National Guard to active federal duty on September 16, 1940.
    After hard training at Fort Sill, Okla., and Camp Barkley, Texas, the 158th was
    detached from the 45th Division as a "stand alone" unit. Authorized to add units
    as needed in order to operate independent of divisional support, if necessary,
    the 158th Infantry was later redesignated the 158th Regimental Combat Team (RCT).

    Earning the Nickname

    On December 7, 1941, officers of the 158th called their men to formation and
    told them that a place called Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, had been bombed by the
    Japanese and that the unit had orders to move out for its fourth war. By January
    2, 1942, the 158th RCT, moving under secret orders, was in the Panama Canal Zone
    to guard all parts of the vital canal against sabotage. That mission involved
    constant training in the art of jungle warfare. It was in Panama that the 158th
    acquired its nickname of "Bushmasters" from a deadly snake that inhabited the
    jungles there. The RCT's insignia became a snake coiled around a machete, and
    its motto was the Spanish word cuidado ("take care")--a reference to avoiding
    the snakes and also an admonition to enemy soldiers who would later encounter
    the unit's troops.

    The 158th stayed in Panama exactly one year. Then the unit was summoned--by name--to
    help General Douglas MacArthur in his campaign to return to the Philippines. On
    January 2, 1943, the Bushmasters walked up the gangplanks of transports and
    headed for the southwestern Pacific. January 16 saw them encamped at the Coomben
    Racetrack at Brisbane, Australia.

    In March, the 158th was moved to Port Moresby on the island of New Guinea, where
    the 32nd and 45th divisions of Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger's Sixth Army had already
    defeated the Japanese at Buna, Gona, Lae and Sanananda. At Milne Bay, on New
    Guinea, the 2nd Battalion of the 158th (2/158) was assigned the task of acting
    as the security force around Krueger's Sixth Army headquarters.

    Some of the Bushmasters were depressed; it seemed to them as if they would never
    see real combat. But that was about to change. On December 12, the 2nd Battalion
    was designated the reserve element for the upcoming invasion of New Britain
    Island.

    Jungle Combat

    On December 15, 1943, U.S. Army troops under the command of Brig. Gen. Julian W.
    Cunningham landed at Arawe on New Britain. On December 21, with Japanese
    resistance stiffening and with growing evidence of enemy preparations to
    counterattack, Cunningham called for reserves. Accordingly, on Christmas Day,
    the pride of Safford, Ariz.--Company G of the 158th--was shipped to Arawe to
    support the Texans of the 112th Cavalry Regiment. At about that same time,
    Company B was leaving Milne Bay aboard a slow Sydney Harbor ferry boat, bound
    for Finschhafen. From there, three PT-boats escorted the company to Cape Merkus
    Peninsula, where it, too, landed at Arawe. They were joined a short time later
    by the rest of 2nd Battalion, under the command of Lt. Col. Fred Stofft of
    Tuscon, who would later be adjutant general of Arizona.

    After several weeks of heavy fighting, Cunningham launched an offensive on
    January 16, 1944, employing the 158th RCT, the 112th Cavalry and the 1st Marine
    Division's 1st Tank Battalion. Later that same day, reports came in that the
    Japanese were withdrawing.

    At Gilnit on February 20, Cunningham's troops made contact with Marines who had
    landed at Cape Gloucester. New Britain had been secured. At the same time, the
    Japanese air and naval base at Rabaul to the east was effectively neutralized,
    eliminating a longtime threat to Australia and to the flanks of the Allied
    forces as they advanced along the northern coast of New Guinea.

    Replacing the losses suffered on the Arawe Peninsula, the 2/158 was refitted at
    Finschhafen. The 1st and 3rd battalions, brought in from Woodlark and Kiriwina
    islands, were subsequently reunited with the 2nd, bringing the RCT up to full
    strength.

    Task Force Tornado

    After a short rest period, the 158th was combined with the South Dakota 147th
    Field Artillery to create Task Force Tornado. That force was sent to relieve the
    163rd RCT of the 41st Division, which had invaded and taken Wakde Island on May
    18, and was now engaged in a grueling drive to take Sarmi on the mainland of
    Dutch New Guinea. The 158th disembarked at Toem on May 21.

    Under the command of Brig. Gen. Edwin D. Patrick, Task Force Tornado unwittingly
    advanced into a trap. Initially surprised by the American landing at Wakde,
    Japanese Lt. Gen. Hachiro Tagami had recalled the scattered elements of his 36th
    "Tiger" Division and amassed a force of 11,000 troops. Only half of them were
    combat troops, but those combat troops included first-rate army soldiers and
    members of the Naval Guard detachments--well-trained, 6-foot-tall Japanese who
    were often mistakenly referred to as marines by Americans. Tagami planned to
    encircle Task Force Tornado with two pincers that would meet at the Toem-Arara
    beachhead. With their headquarters and supply dumps overrun, the Americans would
    be stranded in the jungle.

    On the morning of May 23, the 158th crossed the Tor River and advanced on the
    Maffin airstrip--only to be stopped by the Japanese. On the following day, the 3rd
    Battalion of the 224th Infantry and a company of the 223rd Infantry launched a
    banzai charge against the dug-in Bushmasters, but the Japanese were repulsed
    with heavy losses. The 158th resumed its advance on May 25, and by that evening
    their toughest objective lay before them--a coral ridgeline whose rain forest
    was dominated by a single towering tree that earned it the misleading name of
    Lone Tree Hill.

    Over the next several days, the 158th made agonizingly slow progress,
    occasionally capturing a foothold, sometimes pulling back to avoid being caught
    in one of Tagami's flanking maneuvers, sometimes beating back the Japanese
    attacks. Under pressure from an impatient MacArthur, Patrick visited the command
    post of the 158th's commander, Colonel Prugh "Pop" Herndon, along the Snaky
    River. Dissatisfied with the situation, he replaced Herndon with a Regular Army
    man, Colonel Earl D. "Bulldog" Sandlin. Herndon, who had been with the regiment
    for 22 years and commanded it for 12, wept as he said goodbye to his beloved
    Bushmasters.

    Repulsing the Attack

    With the 1st and 2nd battalions of 163rd RCT withdrawn for MacArthur's planned
    invasion of Biak (leaving only the 3/163 at Wakde-Sarmi), Patrick pulled the 1/158
    back to guard the Toem-Arara beachhead. His prudence paid off, as Tagami's two
    pincers closed around the rear area. Thanks in part to poor coordination by the
    two Japanese elements and partly to the dogged courage of the defenders, the
    Japanese attack, launched on May 30, was a failure.

    On June 5, components of the 6th Infantry Division arrived at Arara, freeing the
    1/158 to join the other two battalions in their continuing efforts to take Lone
    Tree Hill. Finally, on June 15, the 20th Infantry relieved the 158th. It would
    take the 6th Division weeks of bitter fighting to finally wrest Lone Tree Hill
    from Tagami's Tiger Division. By the time they succeeded, the Americans had
    incurred about 2,000 casualties overall. The Bushmasters suffered 70 dead, 257
    wounded and 4 missing. Known enemy losses during that same period were 3,870
    killed and 15 taken prisoner. Although still formidable on the defensive, the
    Japanese 36th Division was no longer an effective offensive force in New Guinea.
    The surviving division members ultimately withdrew to Tagami's peninsular
    headquarters at Sarmi, where they remained isolated for the rest of the war.

    One of the 158th RCT's finest hours was the invasion of Noemfoor Island. Again
    teamed up with the 147th Field Artillery, and given excellent air support by the
    U.S. Fifth Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force, the 158th hit the
    beaches on July 2 and quickly overran its primary objective, the Kamiri airfield.
    While reinforcements arrived by parachute, the 158th pushed on to take the
    Kornasoren airfield on July 4. On July 5, organized resistance on the island was
    broken when a battalion of the 158th, advancing southwest from Kamiri, smashed
    an enemy counterattack. The Japanese airfields were poor, but Army engineers,
    aided by the Bushmasters, developed a runway and facilities suitable for four-engine
    bombers, to support further island-hopping by MacArthur.

    Luzon Campaign

    The 158th's greatest campaign still lay ahead. At midnight on January 10, 1945,
    the 158th RCT, now commanded by Brig. Gen. Hanford "Jack" MacNider and attached
    to Maj. Gen. Leonard F. Wing's 43rd Division, entered Lingayen Gulf and landed
    on the Philippine island of Luzon. Among the first dangers the Bushmasters
    encountered was a 320mm howitzer with a 16-foot barrel that the Japanese had
    mounted on railroad tracks, firing on the beachhead from a dug-in position
    between the towns of Damortis and Rosario. The big gun was so well camouflaged
    that aircraft could not find it.

    The 158th pushed inland to take Routes 3 and 11 near the DamortisRosario road.
    At 3:15 p.m. on January 12, an American patrol entered the town of Damortis and
    captured four enemy fieldpieces and 150 tons of ammunition. Unknown to the
    Bushmasters, however, they were only six miles from the headquarters of Lt. Gen.
    Tomoyuki Yama****a, commander of the Japanese Fourteenth Area Army. As the
    Bushmasters advanced through a narrow defile, they came under a massive
    artillery barrage that littered the road with casualties in a matter of minutes.
    Thereafter, that day was known to the Bushmasters as "Bloody Sunday," and the
    nearby town was known as "Rigor Damortis."

    As fighting continued, another noteworthy Bushmaster exploit took place at
    Cataguintingan. There, Company G, led by Captain Bayard W. Hart, a Cherokee
    Indian, found the camouflaged lair of the giant howitzer that had been shelling
    the Lingayen beachhead. The gun was duly captured and 164 of its defenders
    killed for the loss of only one Bushmaster wounded. Company G was issued a
    Presidential Unit Citation for that feat.

    Despite stubborn resistance from Yama****a's troops, the 158th, with the
    assistance of 29 Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers of Marine squadron VMSB-241,
    finally secured its objectives. The commander of the 158th, General MacNider,
    later wrote of their efforts: "To be able to say in years to come that you
    fought along the Damortis Rosario Line with the 158th Regimental Combat Team
    will give you a proud and well-earned distinction."

    Opening the Batangas

    March 12 found the Bushmasters and part of the 11th Airborne Division involved
    in fierce fighting on the Batangas Peninsula that helped open Balayan Bay and
    Batangas Bay to American shipping. The 158th lost 45 men securing the peninsula,
    but the Japanese lost 781.

    April 1, 1945, was marked by two more D-days, as U.S. Marines landed on Okinawa
    and the 158th RCT invaded the Bicol Peninsula on southern Luzon. Despite sniper
    fire, the Bushmasters advanced 500 miles inland before they encountered their
    first roadblock. Twenty minutes after coming ashore, the troops reported that
    the beachhead was secure, and General MacNider came ashore to take charge.
    Legaspi fell to the Bushmasters on that same day. The heaviest fighting took
    place farther inland on April 3, but after a series of sharp engagements,
    Japanese opposition collapsed, and mopping up operations were quickly completed
    after April 4. When it was finally withdrawn from Luzon, the 158th's casualties
    totaled 226 killed, 1,046 wounded and 20 missing.

    The 158th RCT was scheduled to spearhead the invasion of the Japanese home
    islands, but the atomic bomb strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki compelled the
    Japanese to surrender on August 14, 1945. With the great odyssey over, the 158th
    was deactivated at Utsunomiya, Japan, on January 17, 1946."

    Joe Patrick writes from Tombstone, Ariz. For further reading, try Bushmasters:
    America's Jungle Warriors, by Anthony Arthur.
     
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  2. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    After serving in Vietnam for 2 tours my father served in the AZ Army National Guard in the 70's. This article brought back memories.
     
  3. bushmasterjoe_mendez

    bushmasterjoe_mendez recruit

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    South Pacific WW2 Vets.
    I sit here with my father, Joe Mendez who was a member of the HQ detachment, 2nd battalion, 158th. inf. Reg.
    He fought in Luzon, Philippians. and New Guinea campaigns. He is is current here in Tucson AZ. He is looking for any other further or new info on the Az. Bushmasters. Please direct. Thanks.

    PS. He is also a living member of the Bloody Sunday Battle. (Totally intact)

    Rob
     
  4. bushmasterjoe_mendez

    bushmasterjoe_mendez recruit

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    South Pacific WW2 Vets.
    I sit here with my father, Joe Mendez who was a member of the HQ detachment, 2nd battalion, 158th. inf. Reg.
    He fought in Luzon, Philippians. and New Guinea campaigns. He is is current here in Tucson AZ. He is also a living member of the Bloody Sunday Battle. (Totally intact)
    Who are you and where were you.
     
  5. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    Rob, I have sent you an email.
     
  6. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    Welcome to the Forums and the thread bushmasterjoe. Perhaps your father could add some more info to this thread?
     
  7. Kent Stokesberry

    Kent Stokesberry Dishonorably Discharged

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    Greetings from the proud son of a warrior of World War II !

    On behalf of my father, Staff Sargent Kenneth A. Stokesberry, I would first like to thank every one of you who fought beside my father and who defended this great nation in WWII.

    My father now in his mid 80's and living in San Jose , California has macular degeneration that prevents him from writing himself. However he is a strong man who daily takes care of my mother who is ill. Even when most people would give up, my father refuses to neglect the needs of his mate of over 60 years, or the daily chores . It doesn't surprise me ...He is a BUSHMASTER !

    My father was instrumental in the writings of Anthony Arthur's book "Bushmasters" and is described very briefly on page 221. My father is a modest humble man who is proud of his action in the service and loyal to every one of his fellow Bushmasters. He has a pretty good memory too. If Websters dictionary didn't already have a definition of tough ...perhaps my fathers name would be in it's place .

    We never got along very well and to this day have our differences. He doesn't know I am writing this but I need to say here that I love him very much. What he is going through right now would bring even the strongest men to their knees ,however he fights.....never giving in . He takes care of my Altzeimer striken mother like a Queen. He uses public transportation to get around and cooks, does the laundry, and provides care for my mom . We recently have hired some help for him and he is their Sargent now. I feel very bad that after all my dad has been through in his life , that he is still fighting for the lives of others...........He is a hero .

    I can't find the words to thank my dad or even discuss general things because we usually get in an argument. I do want to do something for him before it is too late to do so. He deserves this.

    My father spoke very seldom of an account of heroism that occured in one of his encounters under fire. He carried a fallen officer to safety and care after being hurt, then proceeded to fight onward without need of recognition. I suppose this happened very many times in WWII...however it would give me great pleasure and my father even more to officially describe this account. I would be indebted to any of you who could help point me in the right direction as to how to go about documenting this for my dad. He would probably blow this off if I asked for him to explain in detail, but if it came from the Bushmasters....it would put a spark in his step if you know what I mean.

    My father means so very much to me ...and I don't get along with him. I would like to do something for him before the time comes to say goodbye.

    I applaud the BUSHMASTERS for instilling the courage and honor that my father eximplifies every day as he raises the flag outside his modest home, and the duty to his family and country that so many neglect to this day.


    " QUIDADO "

    Kent A. Stokesberry
     
  8. Christian Edward Stepien

    Christian Edward Stepien recruit

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    This is SO very Cool!
    My dad is Edward Stepien who served in Bushmasters (radioman) from 1944 and later in Occupation of Japan. He is still with us and does occasionally share some stories...but I've noticed many of these veterans are understandably private about their experiences.
    We still have a few old pictures but many aren't labeled and we aren't sure who the guys are. Most are from Yokohama during occupation so I supposed they wouldn't necessary apply to Bushmasters but perhaps some members were also transferred?
    This one is labeled November 1945 Utsunomiya, Japan before the deactivation and fortunately also included names!
    No doubt my dad would be interested in hearing from anyone he knew.
    [​IMG]
    higher resolution image:
    http://corvette1984.freewebtools.com/WW2 ED/Nov1945Bushmasters.jpg
    [​IMG]
    higher resolution image:
    http://corvette1984.freewebtools.com/WW2 ED/GroupBack.jpg
     
    von Poop likes this.
  9. kerrd5

    kerrd5 Ace

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    During my visit to the NARA last month, I had printed six photos
    of the 158th RCT in Luzon. All of these were published in Lancaster's
    book on the Bushmasters or in the History of the 43rd Infantry Division.

    Obviously, the quality of my priints is much better than was published
    in these two books. If anyone wants copies, let me know.

    I also copied the regiment's history of the Damortis/Rosario campaign
    and unit and S-3 Journals from the same. I have not yet had time
    to scan these, however.


    Dave
     
  10. chopimartinez

    chopimartinez recruit

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    My name is David Jaramillo and I'm looking for information on my uncle whom I never met. His name is Pete E. Martinez PVT anybody who has some info it would be greatly appreciated.
    My email address is chopi730 at msn.com
    He was killed in action at Batangas Phillippine Islands in mar 1945
     
  11. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Patron  

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    David, welcome to the forum. You might want to post this request in the Information Requests area where it will get more traffic. Was your uncle in the 158th?

    Please note that I also changed your email address to prevent you from being spammed.
     
  12. nyduke

    nyduke recruit

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    hello, my father was a member of the 158th. kenneth wormley. he is deceased and i would appreciate any info from anyone that knew of him
     
  13. pvdude

    pvdude recruit

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    My grandpa was with the Bushmasters. Was wondering if anyone may have any information on him, Ray Ellis from Flagstaff.
     
  14. kerrd5

    kerrd5 Ace

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    I now have 12 photos of the 158th from the NARA.

    All are from Luzon and all are scanned as high-resolution JPEGs.

    If you guys would like copies, let me know.


    Dave
     
  15. DJN

    DJN recruit

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    Hello to all. I'm hopeing to find someone who may have known my father in law, Pfc Willie Howard perhaps went by the nickname "Hillbilly". He was from Kentuckey and I believe was sent home after Normphor.

    Thanks.
     
  16. Klements

    Klements recruit

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    Dear friends,

    I was delighted to find this forum! My father, Henry W. Wooster, turned 90 on 9th December. He served in 2/158 (F Company), having joined the unit from the 5th Infantry, when they augmented the 158th in Panama. Only yesterday I was reading excerpts from the forum to him at the Long Beach VA Hospital, Long Beach, CA, where he is convalescing. While his short-term memory is failing, he remembers WWII in extraordinary detail, down to individual patrols -- and often, who was on them. Dad remained in the Army & made it a career, fighting also in Korea, and retiring in the early 1960s. If you have any questions you would like me to put to my Dad, do please let me know; he welcomes the opportunity to reflect on battles, people, and other details.

    Best regards,
    Klements
     
  17. Klements

    Klements recruit

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    Quote:
    Originally Posted by bushmasterjoe_mendez
    South Pacific WW2 Vets.
    I sit here with my father, Joe Mendez who was a member of the HQ detachment, 2nd battalion, 158th. inf. Reg.
    He fought in Luzon, Philippians. and New Guinea campaigns. He is is current here in TucsonAZ. He is looking for any other further or new info on the Az. Bushmasters. Please direct. Thanks.

    PS. He is also a living member of the Bloody Sunday Battle. (Totally intact)

    Rob

    Rob,

    My father, Henry Wooster, was with 2/158 (F Company).
     
  18. Crossfire6

    Crossfire6 recruit

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    My grandfather was a Bushmaster as well. He died in 1987 though and I have been piecing a bunch of his service time together, which is quite difficult as he didn't talk to anyone about it much when he was alive. If anyone knows him, his name was Raymond(Ray) Wangen. He was a heavy machine gunner, .30 caliber gun. He fought at Bismark Archipelago, New Guinea and Luzon. I am not sure what company, platoon, ect... that he was in. Thanks for any inofrmation that you might be able to give.
     
  19. Kent Stokesberry

    Kent Stokesberry Dishonorably Discharged

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    Rob..............When I read this to my dad on Christmas Day 2009, He said that's "Pepe" , your dad is his best buddy and they fought together. He also said he attended your sisters wedding so you might have met my father too.

    My dad accounts his pal taking a hunk of lead and not even interested in a purple heart ....just moving forward and protecting his fellow soldiers. Never even went to the medic ...they pulled it out and bandaged it and off your dad went.

    I recall as a young kid when we passed through and visited with your dad . He is a pharmacist if my memory serves me well.

    Well..........let me just say that if it wasn't for guys like our fathers , this Country would be in worse shape than it is now.

    My dad still remembers all the details and events that he was part of with your dad and his fellow BUSHMASTERS............................

    These men badly outnumbered, beat the Japanese Tiger Gorillas ! Japans elite !

    Quidado Bushmasters

    They would have had Bin Ladins head on a stick by now !
     
  20. Rae Whitley

    Rae Whitley recruit

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    Hello all,

    I was very glad to see so many posts about the 158 RCT. I have been given some good news about a possible "green light" concerning a documentary a friend of mine and myself have been pitching about the Bushmasters.
    With this in mind I am very interested in documenting memories from these men as soon as possible. I have gathered some interviews over the years but now will be doing so in full earnest. Please if you men could help out then together we can ensure that this unit's history is kept for the ages.
    I had spoken with Joe Mendez here in Tucson once but had not been able to talk with him since. So if "Bushmastermendez" could help with that I'd appreciate it.
    But, as I said any and all of you can help with this and I am willing to travel, call, etc. for the interviews. Also any docs or pictures you may have would be of great service. If they from from NARA or another repository I only ask that you mention that so I may acquire the rights to use. Same with private collections. Full attribution is a must so I have no more hang-ups with this project.
    Thank you in advance,
    Rae G. Whitley
    Cuidado
     

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