The 32nd Infantry Division was a unit of the United States Army in World War I and World War II. In both wars it was made up of National Guard units from Wisconsin and Michigan. The 32nd logged a total of 654 days of combat during WWII, more than any other US Army division.
In 1967, the 32nd Infantry Division (now made up completely of units from Wisconsin) was inactivated and partially reorganized as the 32nd Infantry Brigade, the largest unit of the Wisconsin Army National Guard.
The remainder of the division was flown to the Buna area, to join Australian units in an assault on the main Japanese beachheads in eastern New Guinea. The division began its attack on November 19 immediately meeting strong resistance from well-entrenched and camouflaged Japanese positions manned by fresh soldiers. With the only artillery support provided by a single 25 pounder gun with limited ammunition, the division was unable to make further progress against these positions. A stalemate ensued.
Believing that Buna was held by only 1000 sick and malnourished soldiers, General Douglas MacArthur dismissed the division's commander, Maj. Gen. Edwin F. Harding. MacArthur placed General Robert Eichelberger, a member of his staff, in command. MacArthur famously said to Eichelberger, "Bob, I want you to go out there and take Buna, or don't come back alive". Upon arrival at Buna, Eichelberger sacked the regimental commanders and most battalion commanders. He then placed the members of his own staff in the vacated positions, running his HQ with a batman and radio operator.
On December 5, Staff Sergeant Herman Bottcher led a thirty-one-man platoon forward against the attacking Japanese forces. He stood up and threw hand grenades at the enemy and was able to drive a wedge between Buna and Buna village. The tide of the battle of Buna turned and Bottcher was awarded the battlefield commission of Captain and his first of two Distinguished Service Cross Medals.
The 32nd Division, reinforced by the 18th Brigade and assisted by tanks, took Buna on January 2, 1943. Two members of the division were awarded the Medal of Honor for their gallantry during the battle. The 32nd then returned to Australia for rest and training.
On January 2, 1944, elements landed at Saidor on the north coast of New Guinea and helped to end enemy resistance there on April 14, 1944. On April 23, elements took part in the landing at Aitape, the division arriving on May 3. After meeting slight initial resistance, the 32nd had to withstand savage counterattacks in the Driniumor River area. By August 31, Aitape was secured and the division rested. Elements landed on Morotai on September 15. The 32nd CP opened at Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea on October 1, to stage for the Philippines. It landed on Leyte, November 14, and went into action along the Pinamopoan-Ormoc highway, taking Limon and smashing the Yamashita line in bitter hand-to-hand combat. The division linked up with elements of the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division in the vicinity of Lonoy, on December 22, marking the collapse of Japanese resistance in the upper Ormoc Valley.
From Leyte the Division moved to Lingayen Gulf, Luzon, on January 27, 1945. It pushed up the Villa Verde Trail, on January 30, and after more than 100 days of fighting took Imugan and met the 25th Infantry Division near Santa Fe on May 28, securing Balete, Aklan Pass, the gateway to the Cagayan Valley. While elements of the division continued mopping-up activities near Imugan, other units moved to rest and rehabilitation centers. Active elements secured the Baguio area, wiped out Japanese forces in the Agno River Valley area, and opened Highway 11 as a supply route. Operations ceased on August 15, 1945 and the division moved to Japan for occupation duty on October 20.
Wisconsin Highway 32, as well as a portion of former U.S. Route 12 in Michigan, are named in honor of the 32nd Infantry Division.
Lowell High School (Michigan), nicknamed the Red Arrows in honor of the 32nd Infantry Division shortly after their return.
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