Monday, April 17, 2017

75 Years Ago: West Michigan's 126th Infantry Headed for the South Pacific

On April 18, 1942, the 126th (Infantry Regiment of the 32nd "Red Arrow" Division) boarded the S.S. Lurline, a luxury liner that had been converted to transport duty, and four days later sailed for the South Pacific.  Life aboard the ship was no doubt tedious and boring at times.  To help alleviate the conditions of the long trip, there were a number of activities designed to keep the men busy.  Besides pitching in to help with the duties of the ship, a ship-wide essay contest titled What Are We Fighting For? was conducted.  Cash prizes amounting to fifteen dollars and a carton of cigarettes were announced for the winning writers, and an additional five dollars was to be awarded to the company or battery first sergeant where the winning writer belonged.
Prospective contestants are reminded again that the judges don’t give a hang for high-fallutin language or fancy words.  They can get those out of books.  They want every soldier to write how he really feels about the question, in simple, honest words.

SS Lurline before the war
       To accommodate the large contingent aboard the ship, two meals were fed each day in five different shifts.  Simple training was conducted as well.  In one exercise, a number of soldiers wore paper facsimiles of Japanese Army insignia on their collars.  A description of the insignias was provided to every soldier who then made an effort to identify the insignia when they saw it.

         Security was tight aboard the ship, and discipline was severe to anyone breaking regulations.  In one instance, a Private First Class VanEttan of Company G was court-martialled, reduced in rank to private, and sentenced to thirty days at hard labor and forfeiture of $20 pay.  What did he do?  He lit a match on deck, a careless act that could have allowed Japanese subs to spot the Lurline and fire on it.

The regiment crossed the equator on April 30, and the international date line on the seventh of May, reaching Adelaide, Australia, seven days later.  There, the 126th unloaded and moved to Camp Sandy Creek some eighteen miles outside the city.

SS Lurline departing Australia in 1945
In August, the 126th moved nine hundred miles to Brisbane and was billeted at Camp Cable.  The camp was named in honor of Corporal Gerald Cable, the first U.S. soldier killed by the Japanese during World War II.  Cable, a member of Service Company, 126th Infantry, along with approximately twenty other men, were onboard a ship transporting trucks and other equipment from Brisbane to Adelaide when a torpedo hit the ship in the stern.  He had been pulling duty in the ship’s gun crew that took the full force of the attack.


      The regiment continued to train on jungle warfare in preparation for combat against the Japanese in New Guinea


Britten, David G. Lieutenant Colonel (Retired). Courage Without Fear: The Story of the Grand Rapids Guard. Xlibris 2004