Editor’s Note: “The Cruelest Climb,” an article published in the current issue of GX Magazine, an Army National Guard official publication, chronicles one of the most grueling marches in modern military history. During World War II, National Guard Soldiers from Wisconsin and Michigan serving in the famed Red Arrow Division, endured a 130-mile trek through a steaming jungle and over the 10,000-foot-high Owen Stanley Mountains in New Guinea en route to intense combat with the Japanese. Col. Mike Rand, the commander of today’s Red Arrow Soldiers in the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, offers his thoughts on the meaning of the Red Arrow.
The Red Arrow to me is a reminder. A symbol that focuses on remembering the Soldiers who gave everything for their fellow Soldiers, their communities, their state and nation. The 32nd Infantry Division was created during World War I, formed out of the tough and hardy men of the states of Wisconsin and Michigan who went overseas to the battlefields of Europe and fought as tenaciously and as fiercely as their state’s symbols, the badger and the wolverine.
It was during World War I that the unit’s unique patch was created. The patch was not created based on an artist’s concept or a popularity contest, but rather it was a reflection of what the 32nd Division had accomplished.
The 32nd did a lot of things well in combat. They fought like hell, and it pierced every enemy line it encountered during the First World War, which eventually led to the 32nd earning its “Red Arrow” moniker. The unit symbol or patch was based upon battlefield maps created during World War I where a red arrow showed the direction of attack, and in the 32nd Division’s case, that arrow pierced through enemy lines every time. The unit’s reputation was so fierce that the French referred to the Red Arrow Soldiers as “Les Terribles.” Even today, that fighting spirit, that tenacity, that ferocious loyalty to each other and the communities those Soldiers called home are the very essence of what it means to be a Red Arrow Soldier.
That same spirit carried over into World War II and, despite being dealt some of the worst cards fate could deal, the 32nd persevered through 654 days of combat during their campaign in the Pacific theater.
At the outset of World War II the 32nd Division was trained and equipped for a fight in Europe, but at the last minute the unit was sent to the Pacific. Upon arrival in Australia, where the Red Arrow was preparing for operations, they were ordered to move, build and occupy three different training camps, which drastically reduced the time they could devote to training and preparation for combat.
When the 32nd was ordered into combat in some of the most rugged, treacherous terrain on earth to fight a determined and jungle-savvy Japanese enemy, they were not even properly equipped. Their uniforms literally rotted off their backs, the limited medical supplies to combat disease disintegrated in their pockets and their artillery pieces were left behind. One author famously stated that fighting in New Guinea and the Philippines was like a knife fight in the Stone Age.
Combat was up close and personal. Sickness and disease along with combat in close quarters inflicted staggering casualties upon the 32nd Division, and yet they defeated their enemies and had accumulated more than 654 days in combat, more than any American division in the war. James Campbell’s book “The Ghost Mountain Boys” and the article “The Cruelest Climb,” from GX Magazine’s current issue, tells of the 126th Infantry Regiment of the 32nd Division and clearly gives you a sense of what that war was like.
Today, monuments dedicated to the Soldiers of the 32nd Infantry Division in Michigan, Wisconsin, Australia, New Guinea and the Philippines remain as somber reminders of the sacrifices borne by the Red Arrow. Almost every Wisconsin Army National Guard unit currently in the state was once a part of the 32nd Infantry Division and shares in that storied lineage.
History can be viewed as a bunch of words written by long-dead men with their own opinions on how events unfolded, but the Red Arrow is a symbol of the spirit, loyalty and sacrifice of our Citizen Soldiers that transcends opinion and time itself. Today’s Red Arrow Soldiers, now part of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, are expected to live up to that spirit, and the patch that they wear on their shoulders is a constant reminder. To wear the Red Arrow is to know what it means to sacrifice on behalf of loved ones and community alike. We take the time as an organization to teach them what it means to wear that symbol — that unit patch that always pierces the line.