Before Pearl Harbor there were Thunderbirds

In Sept. 1940 the 45th Infantry Division, made up of National Guardsmen from Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, was ordered into federal service for one year to engage in a training program. The division’s time in federal service began at Fort Sill, and at the end of the first year they participated in the Louisiana Maneuvers. The Thunderbirds trained at Fort Sill; Camp Barkeley, Tex.; Fort Devens, Mass.; Pine Camp, N.Y.; and Camp Pickett, Va.

On July 10, 1943 the division participated in their first of four amphibious landings of World War II - Sicily. The Thunderbirds served 511 days in combat; fighting their way across Sicily, Italy, France, and Germany. Stars, of that day and of later years, made appearances or received Army training at Fort Sill during World War II. Humorist Will Rogers and motion picture star Gene Autry made numerous trips to entertain the troops here. Another future celebrity who served at Fort Sill was the writer of western novels, Louis L'Amor, who was a boxing instructor at Fort Sill's famous Artillery Bowl in 19431.

Field Artillery OCS – A Proud Legacy

In 1941, the army opened a Field Artillery Officer Candidate School at Fort Sill to help meet the need for leaders in a rapidly expanding Army. The school was closed during the peace period between World War II and the Korean War. Thereafter, the OCS would remain open until 1973 and would train 57,500 artillery officers for World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Two OCS graduates, 1st Lt. James E. Robinson (Class of 62-43) and 2nd Lt. Harold B. Durham, Jr., (Class of 1-67) were awarded the Medal of Honor. The OCS building complex on Jones Road near I-See-O Hall was named Robinson Barracks in Robinson's honor.

Other OCS graduates have made their impact on history: H. Malcolm Baldrige (Class 91-44), a former Secretary of Commerce; Martin R. Hoffman (Class 71-55), a former Secretary of the Army; and retired Generals Jack N. Merritt (Class 35-53), former Senior US Military Representative to NATO, and John M. Shalikashvili (Class 4-59), former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff2.

A Significant Farewell

In 1942, Fort Sill stood down the last horse-drawn field artillery unit, ending 73 years of the partnership between soldier and horse that helped fuel Fort Sill's military strength. While the post maintained stables for private horse owners for many years, the horse did not reappear at Fort Sill until 1963, when the commanding general authorized a special "Half Section of Field Artillery". The Half Section (a complete section would include caisson handlers) has become a popular feature for local parades, community events and funerals.

To this day, the Half Section names their horses after Fort Sill commanders.

Remembering the Dixie Division

Fort Sill also served as the training home of the 31st Infantry Division, the "Dixie Division", a National Guard unit from Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Georgia, before it deployed to the Pacific Theater in 1944.

The 31st Infantry Division arrived at Oro Bay, New Guinea, Apr. 24, 1944, and engaged in amphibious training prior to entering combat. The 124th Regimental Combat Team left Oro Bay in June and landed at Aitape, New Guinea, July 3-6, 1944. The combat team moved up to advanced positions and took part in the general offensive launched July 13, running into bloody fighting along the Drinumor River.

The rest of the division relieved the 6th Infantry Division in the Sarmi-Wakde Island area, July 18. The unit built bridges, roads and docks, patrolled the area and engaged small units of the enemy, trying not to provoke a large scale counterattack by the enemy. More than 1,000 Japanese soldiers were destroyed in these actions.

In mid-August, the division began to stage for the Morotai operation, leaving Aitape and Maffin Bay. The division made an assault landing on Morotai, Sept. 15, 1944, meeting only light opposition. During the occupation of Morotai, elements of the division seized Mapia and waded ashore the islands only to find the Japanese had already evacuated.

Other elements reverted to Sansapor, where they maintained and operated the base. On Apr. 22, 1945, the division landed on Mindanao to take part in the liberation of the Philippines. Moving up the Sayre Highway and driving down the Kibawe-Talomo trail, fighting in knee-deep mud and through torrential rains, the Dixie Division forced the enemy to withdraw into the interior and blocked off other Japanese in the Davao area. With the end of hostilities on Aug. 15, the division accepted the surrender of all Japanese forces remaining in Mindanao3.

1 History of the 45th Infantry Division, www.45th
2"OCS Hall of Fame" article, FA Magazine, March-April 1999, Capt. Larry Pool