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Arizona Bushmasters

Published by Arizona Military Museum

With the Civil War still going on and Carleton still fighting the Navajos, the U.S. War Department authorized Governor John Noble Goodwin of Arizona to raise five companies of Arizona Volunteers in 1864. Recruitment was delayed for a year, but by the fall of 1865, the First Arizona Volunteer Infantry of more than 350 men had been issued into service under the command of nine officers. According to the Third Arizona Territorial Legislature, the volunteers inflicted "greater punishment on the Apaches than all other troops in the territory." After their year in service ended, the War Department disbanded the Arizona Volunteers because the army did not have the authority to retain native recruits. The 1st Volunteer Infantry began the lineage of the future "Bushmasters."

As a result of Pancho Villa and his men crossing the Mexican border and raiding Columbus, New Mexico, General "Black Jack" Pershing was ordered to lead a "punitive expedition" to apprehend and capture Villa and his bandits. The President called up the militias of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas on May 9, 1916. The Arizona militia, the First Arizona Infantry, was mustered in by May 19. Three weeks after the passage of the 1916 National Defense Act in late June, the National Guard of all of the states (except Nevada which did not have a militia), and Alaska and the District of Columbia were called into Federal service. There were as many as 111,954 guardsmen along the border at the end of August 1916. Douglas, Arizona, was one of the four assembly points for the guard units. The Arizona National Guard was called into active federal service with Col. Alexander McKenzie Tuthill as regimental commander. Besides units stationed at Naco, there were elements at Ajo, Nogales, Fort Huachuca, Douglas and other border outposts.

Arizona's First Infantry Regiment was drafted into Federal Service for World War I on August 5, 1917, as part of the 40th Division. The Regiment was re-designated as the 158th Infantry Regiment on October 3, 1917, and sent overseas in July and August 1918. In France, the 158th Infantry was assigned to a division that furnished replacement personnel to other units. The 158th Infantry was honored to act as guard of honor to President Wilson during his residence in France in 1918, and the 158th Infantry Band was chosen as Wilson's honor band.

On September 16, 1940, with the declaration of National Emergency, the 158th Infantry joined its parent organization, the 45th Division, at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. The troops trained for five months, moving to Camp Barkley at Abilene, Texas, on February 28, 1941. Following the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, the 158th Infantry Regiment was removed from the 45th Division becoming a separate Regiment. January 1942 found the Regiment embarking at the Port of New Orleans and disembarking in the Panama Canal Zone.

In Panama, they trained in jungle warfare. Becoming famous for newly acquired jungle-fighting skills, the Regiment took the name of the Bushmasters after the deadly bushmaster snake, which became the distinguishing shoulder patch of the fighting 158th Regimental Combat Team. The name "Bushmasters" became well-known through the nation's press.

General Douglas MacArthur personally requested that the Bushmasters be sent to his command in the Southwest Pacific Theater. They were on their way to Australia by January 2, 1943, landing two weeks later at Brisbane, Queensland. When General Walter Krueger's headquarters moved to Milne Bay and on to Goodenough Island, the 2nd Battalion, 158th Infantry became the security force for his headquarters. On Christmas Day 1943, Safford's Company G embarked for Arawe. It was there that the 158th Infantry had its "baptism of fire." A short time later the remainder of the 2nd Battalion arrived under command of LTC Frederick R. Stofft of Tucson, Arizona. After the landing on Wakde-Sarmi in Dutch New Guinea they fought the Japanese 6th Tiger Marine Division from May 17 to June 12, 1944. The Regiment traded 77 officers and men for 3000 of the enemy. They were relieved on 12 June by the 6th Infantry Division (which spoke well for the regiment as it took an entire division to replace them). With only a brief rest on the morning of 2 July, the Regiment went ashore at Noemfoor with the mission to destroy the enemy and construct an airstrip that would handle B-29 bombers. Fifteen days later the mission was accomplished and General MacArthur landed on the newly constructed B-29 airdrome.

It was at the battle at Lingayen Gulf, where the Japanese invaded the Philippines 3 years earlier, where Co G from Safford, Arizona was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for their action in capturing the 14-inch coast gun which was bringing heavy fire on the invasion force. By the end of the operation on January 27, 100 Japanese field pieces had been captured or destroyed. General MacArthur "had returned."

On April 1, Easter Sunday 1945, the 158th Infantry invaded the Bicol Peninsula in southern Luzon. The Regiment hit the Legaspi Port in a magnificent assault landing with naval landing craft.

General MacArthur summarized about the Bushmasters: "No greater fighting combat team has ever deployed for battle." After being relieved by divisions in campaign after campaign across the Pacific, the 158th Infantry was selected to spearhead the final invasion of Japan. The Bushmasters were under orders to proceed two days ahead of America's crushing D-Day, to silence Japanese air warning stations south of Kyushu. Timely capitulation of Japan saved the 158th Infantry from what many believed would have been a certain suicide mission. On October 13, 1945, the 158th Infantry landed in Yokohama, Japan. The great odyssey was over. FROM ARIZONA TO JAPAN - IN FIVE YEARS! Members were then shipped home and the 158th was deactivated at Utsunomiya, Japan on January 17, 1946.

Arizona Bushmasters

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