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Why infantry?

Why Infantry?


 A bit of history

Sometimes those

Army guys get it right


     An interesting letter, 1942 congressional response. From out of the dusty archives of the 27th Infantry Division:

      

Office of the Commanding General , Fort Ord, California.

27 February 1942

The Hon. Clinton P. Anderson, MC House of Representatives

Dear Mr. Anderson:


     Your letter of February 17, to the Adjutant General, concerning Private Robert H. Jones, Company A, 165th Infantry, has been sent to me.

     You state: "I am wondering if there has been some mistake in his assignment to Fort Ord. Robert Jones has had a fine education, has a masters degree, is about ready for a doctor's degree, is an expert Spanish student, a skilled archaeologist, and has been an instructor at the University of New Mexico."

     In this division of 22,000 men, I receive many letters similar to yours from parents, relatives, friends and sweethearts. They do not understand why the man who had a good law practice at home cannot be in the Judge Advocate General's Department, why the drug store manager cannot work in the post hospital, why the school teacher cannot be used in educational work. They are all willing for someone else to do the hard, dirty work of the fighting man so long as the one they are interested in can be spared that duty.

     If doctors in the future are to have the privilege of practicing their profession, if archaeologists are to investigate antiquity, if students are to have the privilege of taking degrees, and professors the privilege of teaching in their own way, somebody must march and fight and bleed and die and I know no reason why students, doctors, professors, and archaeologists shouldn't do their share of it.

     You say, "It strikes me as too bad to take that type of education and bury it in a rifle squad," as though there were something low or mean or servile being a member of a rifle squad and only morons and ditch diggers should be given such duty. I know of no place red-blooded men of intelligence and initiative are more needed than in the rifle or weapons squad. In this capacity, full recognition is given to the placing of men so that they may do the work most beneficial to the unit of which they are a part. Whenever men are needed for a particular duty, the records of all men having the required skills and qualifications are considered. I have examined the records of Private Jones and it is fairly complete. I know he holds the 100-yard dash and broad jump records in the Border Conference; that he was president of his fraternity; that his mother was born in Alabama and his father in Michigan, that his father lives at the Burlington Hotel in Washington and I suspect asked you to do what you could to get his son on other duty.

     It is desirable that all men, regardless of their specialty, shall learn by doing, how hard it is to march with a pack for 20 miles; how to hold their own in bayonet combat; and how to respect the man who really takes it, namely the private in the rifle squad. If Private Jones has special qualifications for intelligence duty, he will be considered when a vacancy occurs in a regimental, brigade, or division intelligence section. You can't keep a good man down in the Army for long. Every commander is anxious to get hold of men with imagination, intelligence, initiative, and drive. Because you may think I'm a pretty good distance from a rifle squad, I should like to tell you I have a son on Bataan peninsula. All I know of him is that he was wounded on January 19. I hope he is back there by now where the rifle squads are taking it, and I wish I were beside him there.

     I have written you this long letter because in your high position you exercise a large influence on what people think and the way they regard the Army. It is necessary for them to understand men must do that which best helps to win the war and often that is not the same as what they do best.

     Sincerely yours,

     RALPH T. McPERNELL

     Brig Gen, USA

     Commanding

Epilog:


     The 165th Infantry Regiment was mobilized from a New York National Guard unit, which was previously designated the 69th New York Infantry, dubbed by Robert E. Lee after seeing them in action at Fredericksburg as the "Fighting 69th." The unit has a long and honorable history. In World War II, the unit was federalized and then augmented with draftees, and was one of four regiments in the New York 27th Division. When this letter was written, the 165th was in training at Fort Ord, California. In 1942 they were deployed to defend the Hawaiian Islands, and trained for amphibious assault. They became an important part of McArthur's campaign to free the Pacific islands from Japanese occupation. Campaigns of the 165th included the Gilbert Islands (in particular Makin Island, where they were instrumental in the first US recapture of a Japanese-held island), Saipan, and Okinawa. During the Saipan campaign, the 165th received a unit citation. They were attached to the 4th, then the 1st Marine Divisions for amphibious operations, and gained the respect of the Marines for their hard fighting and successful operations. Without

     access to the service record of Private Jones, we can only assume that he contributed to these operations and experienced a lot of up-close combat. Certainly, the initiative and intelligence of bright young men like Robert Jones were instrumental to the success of the 165th Infantry. General McPernell's insight about the importance of smart infantrymen is well stated.

     EDITOR'S NOTE: The article and epilog are shared with Checkerboard readers by our own John Rarick, a distinguised Louisiana attorney who formerly served in Congress and during World War II was a rifleman in C Company, 393rd Infantry Regiment.

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