Vets reuniting: Regiment honored for South Pacific heroics gathering for weekend
MANDAN -- Nearly a dozen soldiers from a North Dakota National Guard regiment honored for its combat action in the South Pacific during World War II are gathering in Mandan this weekend for the 69th Annual Reunion.
MANDAN - Nearly a dozen soldiers from a North Dakota National Guard regiment honored for its combat action in the South Pacific during World War II are gathering in Mandan this weekend for the 69th Annual Reunion.
The 164th Infantry Regiment landed at Guadalcanal Oct. 13, 1942, to reinforce the beleaguered 1st Marine Division, which had been in a prolonged battle with Japanese troops for control of Henderson Airfield, a strategic site in the South Pacific.
The heaviest fighting occurred Oct. 25 and 26, with the U.S. troops ultimately prevailing in February 1943.
The 11 soldiers, with an average age of 93, are traveling from all over the country, including Alabama, California, Kentucky, Missouri, New Mexico as well as North Dakota, according to Ret. Lt. Col. Shirley Olgeirson, a National Guard veteran and editor of the 164th Infantry News.
“These guys are no spring chickens, and they’re flying in by themselves,” she said.
The group includes five of the original North Dakota soldiers who landed on Guadalcanal that October. It also includes a Kansas National Guard veteran who was assigned to the 164th just before shipping out from the United States, three other soldiers who joined the regiment at a later battle at Bougainville in the northern Solomon Islands, and two that met the North Dakota fighters in the Philippines, she said.
In addition to the World War II veterans, about 15 Korean War veterans also will be at the reunion. The 164th reorganized in 1951 for that conflict.
The public is invited to a concert performance of the 188th Army National Guard Band, a descendant of the 164th Infantry Band, at 2 p.m. Saturday at Dykshoorn Park in Mandan.
The 164th was comprised of soldiers from North Dakota National Guard companies in Grand Forks, Fargo, Hillsboro, Devils Lake, Grafton, Cavalier, Cando, Harvey, Bottineau, Bismarck, Williston, Carrington, Valley City, Edgeley, Jamestown, Wahpeton and Dickinson.
The regiment from North Dakota numbered 1,723, with 108 officers, one warrant officer and 1,614 enlisted soldiers.
The 164th, along with National Guard infantry regiments from Illinois and Massachusetts, was reorganized into the Americal Division in May 1942, while serving on the island of New Caledonia before shipping off to Guadalcanal.
“The 164th was not only the first Army unit to engage the enemy, it was scheduled to be the first American unit to land on Japanese soil during Operation Olympic,” Olgeirson said.
By the time the fighting stopped, 325 members had been killed in action and 1,193 wounded.
The regiment served more than 600 days in combat, earning the Navy Presidential Unit citation. Individually, men of the regiment were decorated with one Navy Cross, six Distinguished Service Crosses, 89 Silver Stars, 199 Bronze Stars, seven Legions of Merit, and 10 Soldier’s Medals.
“If those guys hadn’t gone and done what they did, the world would be a much different place today,” Olgeirson said.
Reunions and tributes
In October 1992, 27 veterans of the 164th Infantry returned to Guadalcanal for a reunion to mark the 50-year anniversary of their arrival in the Solomons. During that trip, the association dedicated the Guadalcanal Solomon Islands War Memorial at a site near Henderson Field.
The 164th Infantry was featured in a 1998 movie, “The Thin Red Line,” which was based on a novel by James Jones. The film starred Sean Penn.
It also is the subject of a 2010 book published by the association. The historical narrative, “They Were Ready: The 164th Infantry in the Pacific War, 1942-1945,” was written by Terry Shoptaugh, a now-retired history professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead.
The 164th’s first reunion was held in Fargo by a few soldiers from Company B who got together shortly after returning from the South Pacific in late 1945, according to Olgeirson.
Plans currently are under way for a 70th reunion in 2015.