SERVING OUR VETERANS: North Dakota’s 164th Infantry Regiment
In my column several weeks ago I mentioned the 164th Infantry Regiment of North Dakota. It was the first U.S. Army unit on Guadalcanal in WW2. The 164th is probably North Dakota’s most famous infantry regiment. It began its’ history December 8, 1906 in the North Dakota Army National Guard as Company E Infantry Regiment, Williston, ND. It was activated to federal service June 18, 1916 for service on the Mexican border. On February 14, 1917 Company E was inactivated at Fort Snelling, MN. From 1917 to 1921 it was activated and reassigned several times. On October 21, 1921 it was reorganized and re-designated as Company E 164th Infantry, an element of the 34th Infantry Division. L.R. Baird attained the rank of Brigadier General and commanded the 164th Infantry from 1931 to 1941. The 164th Infantry, of the North Dakota National Guard, was activated into Federal service on February 10, 1941 at Williston. Before deployment overseas, the 164th was relieved from assignment to the 34th Infantry Division on December 8, 1941.
Commanded by Colonel Earle Sarles, the 164th transited the South Pacific ferry route in January 1942 to New Caledonia. There they joined the 182nd Infantry Regiment and the 132nd Infantry Regiment, in addition to artillery, engineer and other support units to form a new division on May 24, 1942, designated the Americal Division. The name Americal was derived from a combination of the words America and New Caledonia. The regiment spent nearly five months in combat training. In September, Colonel Sarles, National Guard officer, was replaced as commander of the regiment by Colonel Bryant E. Moore, a West Point graduate. Moore would subsequently be promoted to command an infantry division in Europe, and the regiment would serve under other commanders, almost all of whom advanced to general’s stars.
Arriving at Guadalcanal on October 13, 1942 ahead of its brother regiments as emergency reinforcement for the 1st Marine Division, the Regiment was the first US Army unit to engage in offensive action during WW2 in the Battle of Guadalcanal. Between October 24th and 27th, elements of the regiment withstood repeated assaults from Japanese battalions and inflicted some 2,000 enemy casualties. The first marine commander, Major General A.A. Vandegrift, was so impressed by the soldiers’ stand that he issued a unit commendation to the regiment for having demonstrated “an overwhelming superiority over the enemy.” In addition, the Marines took the unusual step of awarding Lt. Colonel Robert Hall, commander of the 3rd Battalion, the 164th, with the Navy Cross for his role in these battles.
Until the Americal Division commander, Major General Alexander M. Patch, and other units of the division arrived, the 164th fought alongside the Marines in a series of encounters with Japanese units in the Point Cruz area, where they successfully dislodged enemy troops from two hilltop strongpoints. The action earned them the nickname, “The 164th Marines.” Members of the 164th were also known as “jungle fighters” within the U.S. media because of the terrain on which they fought.
Later, the 164th participated in extensive jungle patrols as well as organized offensive sweeps of the island to eliminate remaining Japanese resistance. This experience gained the regiment valuable combat experience in jungle travel and navigation, ambush and counter-ambush and small-unit tactics using small arms and light support weapons. After the Battle of Guadalcanal, the regiment returned to Fiji with the rest of the Americal Division to refit and replenish losses. At this point, many veteran officers and men of the 164th volunteered to join the 5307th Composite Unit, better known as “Merrill’s Marauders,” for service in Burma. With the rest of the Americal, the Regiment later participated in the Bougainville campaign, and then fought to secure the islands of Leyte, Cebu, Negros and Bohol in the Philippines. The regiment was slated to be part of the invasion of Japan when the war ended in August.
Woodrow W. Keeble, the first Sioux Medal of Honor awardee, served with the 164th throughout the war. He was wounded several times and awarded the Purple Heart and multiple awards for valor during WW2. His Medal of Honor, officially recognized in 2008, came for his actions in the Korean War.
Corporal Kenneth S. Foubert of the 164th Infantry has been recognized as the first US Army soldier to die in combat after the attack on Pearl Harbor. As he landed on the beach on Guadalcanal, he was struck by shrapnel from a bomb dropped by a Japanese plane.
The 164th was inactivated November 24, 1945 at Fort Lawton, Wash. On June 10, 1946, the 164th Infantry was relieved from assignment to the Americal Division and assigned to the 47th Infantry Division.
On May 1, 1947 the 164th was reorganized and federally recognized May 1, 1947 as Company E of the 164th Infantry at Williston.
The 164th was ordered to federal service January 16, 1951 at Williston. Company C of the 164th Infantry (NGUS) organized and federally recognized January 16, 1953 at Williston, while the 164th Infantry was on federal service.
The 164th was inactivated from active federal service December 2, 1954 and reverted to state control and re-designated as Company C, 164th Infantry; federal recognition was concurrently withdrawn from Company C, 164th Infantry (NGUS).
As North Dakotans we should be proud of the freedom and liberties our very own 164th Infantry Regiment helped win for us. They may be our most famous, but let us not overlook all our state veterans, whether they served in the active, reserve or National Guard components. Throughout our state’s history, in all wars and during peace time, they have attained a reputation of excellence. They have performed their duty with dignity and honor and represented our state in the finest manner. As an expression of our gratitude, let us continue to work together to see they receive the benefits they have earned and deserve.
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