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Michigan National Guard in World War II
The Adjutant General, Brig. Gen. LeRoy Pearson, gave the following report to Governor Kelly on July 16, 1944:
"All units of the Michigan National Guard inducted into federal service on October 15, 1940, February 24, 1941, and April 7, 1941, aggregating 527 officers, 8 Warrant Officers, and 7,673 enlisted men, continued in Federal service because of the war during this period.
"There are no official reports as to exact location of these troops, such information being restricted by the War Department for security reasons. It is known from unofficial sources, however, that the 32nd Division, elements of which are composed of Michigan troops, has rendered outstanding service in action against the enemy."
The Pacific Theater
Those "unofficial" sources quoted by Brig. Gen. Pearson were an understatement. Michigan units in the 32nd Division were indeed in the southwest Pacific theater. They were among the first American soldiers to meet the enemy in World War II and went on to establish the longest combat record of any American division in the war. The account of the division's incredible feats during the "Bloody Buna" campaign on New Guinea early in the war has become a military classic in the study of mountain/jungle warfare.
A wounded 32nd Infantry ("Red Arrow") Division soldier is transported from the front lines on New Guinea by native tribesmen in early 1942. The 32nd's Michigan and Wisconsin Guardsmen were the first U.S. ground forces committed to combat in WWII. Their "Bloody Buna" campaign has become a military classic in the study of mountain/jungle warfare.
Overseas for 40 months, the men fought continuously for more than a year-and-a-half. Members of the 32nd Division won six Congressional Medals of Honor. A Presidential Unit Citation for the entire Division confirmed its outstanding combat record.
Michigan Guard at D-Day
Members of the Michigan National Guard's 254th Combat Engineer Battalion and 107th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron played a vital role in the Normandy Campaign. One platoon of the 254th went ashore with the first wave at Omaha Beach on D-Day, the 6th of June 1944. The rest of the combat engineers from the Upper Peninsula went ashore on June 8th.
Michigan's 254th was assigned the task of building and repairing bridges, thereby facilitating the link-up of the infantrymen landing on the beaches with the paratroopers who had jumped behind enemy lines in the early morning hours of June 6. Normandy was the first of five campaigns for the 254th, which went on to receive the Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism during the Battle of the Bulge.
Even before the paratroopers jumped into Normandy to commence the invasion, pilots of the Michigan National Guard's 107th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron were flying photographic missions in preparation for D-Day. Mobilized at Detroit October 15, 1940, as part of the 32nd "Red Arrow" Division, it took part in antisubmarine patrols along the U.S. Atlantic coast before deploying to England in August 1942.
Flying the F-6A, the reconnaissance version of the P-51 Mustang, the 107th became the first operational photographic reconnaissance squadron in Northern Europe. The squadron's pilots flew 384 missions to perform the dangerous task of photographically mapping the French coast before D-Day. Miraculously, only one aircraft was shot down from December 1943 to June 1944. Lt. Donald E. Colton was killed in action in the vicinity of Roven, France, May 9, 1944. For its efforts during this period, the 107th received the Presidential Unit Citation.
Assigned to support the First U.S. Army during the Normandy Campaign, the 107th became the first recon squadron to operate from French soil. the squadron flew an additional 1,800-plus missions after May, 1944 and participated in four campaigns following Normandy.
Under War Department policy, many of Michigan's National Guard units were detached from their former organizations and attached to other units. Such was the case for the 107th Observation Squadron, which entered service with the 32nd Division. The Squadron was later attached to the 67th Fighter Reconnaissance Group and performed outstanding service in the European Theater of Operations. In this way, Michigan units were committed to combat operations on a worldwide basis and participated with honor on every front.