40th Infantry Division History

Command Sergeant Major Daniel M. Sebby,

California Center for Military History

The Beginning & The Great War 

     The 40th Infantry Division (Mechanized) was born at Camp Kearney California at San Diego on 16 September 1917 in response to the nation's entry in to World War I. Known simply as the 40th Division (there were not yet cavalry or armored divisions) it was made up of National Guard unit from Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. It was soon decided that the new division's nickname would be the "Sunshine" Division since its patch was a sun on a field of blue. The division was one of the best prepared for the great mobilization since a majority of the units had just been released from active duty on the Mexican Border.
     In November the Division moved to Camps Lewis and Funston where the division received over 9,000 fresh draftees and recruits and training for war began in earnest. But almost immediately trained soldiers of the division were siphoned off to form new units. The first to go were 1,200 engineers who were used to form the 20th Engineer Regiment and the 534th Pontoon Train. This was a start of what the division would experience for the rest of the war. In April of 1918, 1,500 riflemen were transferred out to other divisions. Again though the division was tasked to support other units with a contribution of 5,000 infantryman and 1,500 artillery men.
     Before departing overseas, the unit were forced to give up their traditional state militia titles and so the 159th and 160th Infantry Regiment were born out of the 2d, 5th, and 7th California Infantry Regiment. Likewise, the 1st and 2d California Field Artillery Regiments became the 143d and 144th Field Artillery Regiment while the 1st Squadron, California Cavalry turned in their horses and became the 145th Machine Gun Battalion.
     When the division arrived in France in August of 1918, the Germans had just completed a series of offensives that started on 21 March and ended on 15 July 1918. These offensives were designed to destroy the American Expeditionary Force before it could be fully constituted. They almost succeeded. It was decided that the new divisions would be used as depot divisions, supplying fresh troops to the more experienced combat divisions. By the end of the war, over the 40th Division provided over 27,000 replacements to the 26th, 28th, 32d, 77th, 80th, 81st, 82d, and 89th Division.
     The most famous of these former "Sunshiner" was Captain Nelson Holderman, who commanded the former Company L, 7th California Infantry from Santa Ana. This company was to gain everlasting fame as part of the "Lost Battalion" of the 308th Infantry Regiment, 77th ("Metropolitan") Division. Captain Holderman was decorated with the Medal of Honor and the California Medal of Valor for his actions during the Battle of the Argonne. Another company commander in that battalion was Captain Leo Stromee from the old Company K, 7th California who received the Silver Star. The old 7th also provided Captain Arthur King who received the Distinguished Service Cross for his service the 1st Division.
     At the end of the war, the 40th ("Sunshine") Division had 2,587 members killed in action an 11,596 wound. An additional 103 were to die of their wounds at the Camp Kearney Post Hospital. On 20 April 1919, the division stood down and was demobilized at Camp Kearney, where they were form just two years before.

Between the Wars         

     The division was reconstituted on 18 June 1926 with its headquarters in Berkeley. This was later changed to Los Angeles in 1937. The division was organized pretty much as it was in 1917 with a lot of the units coming from Nevada and Utah. However, the "teeth" of the division was mostly Californian with the Arizona and Colorado regiments replaced by two new California Regiments, the 184th and 185th.
     For the most part, the normal peacetime routine existed until 1934. In November of that year, prisoners at the Folsom State Prison seized control of the main buildings and took several of the staff as hostages. The warden was unable to control the situation and asked the Governor for the National Guard. Telephone calls and announcements over the radio were made. Theaters stopped their shows to announce "...All National Guardsmen report to your armory." The entire 184th Infantry Regiment, and supporting troops, under the command of Colonel Wallace Mason, assembled and moved to Folsom. When the action was over, 11 inmates were dead and 11 wounded.
     For the rest of the 1930s the unit kept busy with their weekly evening drills and the "summer camp" at Camp Merriam between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay. Several of the enlisted members who had joined the unit during the twenties and thirties would work their way through the NCO and commissioned officer ranks. One of the most notable was Sacramento dentist Roy A. Green, who joined the 184th Infantry Regiment as a private in 1918, and went on to be commissioned and command Company A, the 1st Battalion, and later the entire regiment. When the war ended, he was the officer who accepted the Japanese surrender at Seoul, Korea. He was to eventually become a Major General, commanding the 49th Infantry Division.

World War II 

     In response to the war in Europe, the California's 40th Infantry Division was mobilized on 3 March 1941 and sent to Camp San Luis Obispo where it remained, except for divisional maneuvers at Fort Lewis, Washington, until the attack on Pearl Harbor. While most of the division was from California, some of the supporting artillery, quartermasters and medics were also from Nevada and Utah. Almost immediately, two elements were split off to serve as separate units.
     The 40th Tank Company from Salinas was sent to the Philippine Islands in 1941 and became Company C, 194th Tank Battalion. That battalion, made up of National Guardsmen from California, Minnesota, and Missouri, along with the 26th Cavalry Regiment (Philippine Scouts) were the covering force during the retreat to the Bataan Peninsula. When Bataan fell, these brave Californians, along with other US Army, Philippine Scouts, and Philippine Commonwealth Army soldiers, were part of the Bataan Death March and the subsequent imprisonment and slavery.
     The division's observation squadron, the 115th was sent to the newly formed Army Air Forces where the served throughout the war. The 115th was later to form the backbone of the California Air National Guard when the Air Force was formed in 1947.
Within 48 hours of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Camp San Luis Obispo was a ghost town as elements of the 40th Infantry Division took defensive and security positions over a 350,000 square mile area that stretched from Southern and Central California to Yuma, Arizona and Salt Lake City, Utah. They dug in and prepared for what was thought to be the inevitable Japanese invasion of the West Coast.
     In February of 1942, the division was reorganized from the old four regiment "square" division to the three regiment "triangular" division. This resulted in the 184th Infantry Regiment being made excess. That regiment went on to do great things during the war as part of the 7th Infantry Division. Later in the war, the 159th was replaced by the 108th Infantry Regiment from New York. They, along with the 3d Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), went on to reconstitute the badly mauled 104th Infantry Division during the Battle of the Bulge.
     In April 1942, the division moved to Fort Lewis, Washington for further training and preparation for overseas service. And soon that day would come. On 25 July, the division received orders to move to the Port of Embarkation at Camp Stoneman, California. By 8 August, the men of the division boarded a troopship, just as the fathers did during the First World War. And just as there forefathers did, the soldiers of the 40th established the shipboard routine of fire drills, gunnery drills, and abandon ship drills.
In September 1942 the division arrived in Hawaii and moved to defensive positions in the outer islands. In July 1943, the division moved to positions on Oahu. In October, with the threat of a Japanese invasion passing, the 40th took up jungle and amphibious training in preparation of offensive operations.
     During December, the division moved to Guadalcanal for further training and limited combat patrolling. While on the "canal", the division didn't battle the Japanese. They instead fought the island's muddy conditions, its swamps, and mosquito-borne malaria. The division, now part of the 1st Marine Amphibious Corps, then moved to Cape Gloucester on New Britain Island and relieved the 1st Marine Division on 23 April 1944. The 40th conducted combat operations until 27 November 1944, when it was relieved by the 5th Australian Division. The 40th then assembled at Borgen Bay the next day and departed New Britain on 9 December 1944 for the their next objective, The Philippines.
     After brief stopovers on New Guinea and Manus Island, the 40th Infantry Division landed in the Lingayen area of Luzon at 09:36 hours on 9 January 1945. It was followed up with another landing at Bamban. While opposition during the first landing was light, Bamban was a different story. The division battled the main Japanese force in the Bamban Hills, Fort Stotsenburg and Clark Field, The Zambales Mountains, Snake Hill, Storm King Mountain, The Seven Hills, and the mountain known as the Top of the World. In the final phase the battles moved to Scobia Ridge, Hill 1700, and Williams Ridge. On 2 March, the division was relieved by the 43d Infantry Division.
     The division left Luzon on 15 March 1945 and conducted unopposed landings on Paney Islands on the 18th. They conducted combat operations in those islands until the division next moved to Los Negros Island where it conducted multiple landings with little or no opposition. The division regrouped on 8 April for an attack on the Japanese forces in the Negritos-Patog area. Prior to that attack, the 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment was assigned to the division, replacing the 108th Infantry Regiment. The division attacked with all three regiments (The 160th and 145th Infantry, and the 503d) on 9 April and immediately ran into stiff resistance and counterattacks. To make matters worse, the weather turned bad. Torrential rainstorms made air support impossible. Hill 3155 switched hands between the 160th Infantry Regiment and the Japanese Army several times between 18 and 23 May. Organized resistance ceased on 31 May and the 40th moved to the Otag-Santa Barbara-Taguan area for rehabilitation and training. The division was in this area when the war ended.
     But while the shooting had stopped, the 40th's mission didn't end just yet. On 22 September 1945 the division arrived in Korea at the port of Inchon to take up occupation duties in that country. They remained in Korea until March 1946 when it returned to Camp Stoneman on 6 April 1946 and was inactivated. When it was all over, the 40th added three more streamers for the divisional colors: BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO, SOUTHERN PHILIPPINES, and LUZON.


     When the California National Guard was reconstituted after the Second World War, it was determined that the state could support two infantry divisions. So the state was divided in two with the newly organized 49th Infantry Division taking the 159th, 184th and 185th Infantry Regiments and the 40th Infantry Division consisting of the 160th Infantry Regiment and the newly organized 223d and 224th Infantry Regiments.
     Peace did not last long though. On 25 June 1950, the North Korean People's Army invaded the southern Republic of Korea. Two days later, the United States were at war again. A month later, the 40th Infantry Division received their warning orders for mobilization for Korea.
     By 15 September 1950, the entire division was encamped at Camp Cooke (now Vandenberg AFB) in coastal central California. Almost immediately, new recruits and draftees began arriving to fill out the division's ranks. Basic and advance training continued through the fall and winter until 29 March 1951, when the division's main body departed California for the Japanese island of Honshu. Almost immediately, they were given the mission of defending the northern part of the island while continuing to train for further deployment to the Korean Peninsula.
     Three day before Christmas the division was alerted for that deployment, with the advance party leaving 26 December 1951. There mission was to relieve the battle hardened 24th Infantry Division which had been there since the day that the ill-fated Task Force Smith landed on the peninsula in 1950. On 6 and 7 January 1952, the division boarded troopships bound for Pusan, near Seoul. By 10 February 1952 the division had relieved the 24th, and took their place in the front line.
     It was bad enough that the North Koreans and the Chinese "volunteers" dropped artillery and mortars on the division's area when ever they could. But when your own air forces do it, that just added insult to injury. On 2 March 1952, US Marine Corps F4U Corsairs strafed and bombed the division's rear area killing several members of the division's postal section.
     About this time, the Company E, 224th Infantry Regiment received two new second lieutenants as replacements. Now normally, such personnel don't pique the interests of military historians, but these two new "butter bars" were special. One was Donald E. Rosenblum. Later in his career he would wear the three stars of a Lieutenant General and Commanding General of the First United States Army. But even with that outstanding career, his partner would have an even more stellar rise through the ranks. Second Lieutenant of Infantry Edward C. "Shy" Meyer would get four stars and serve as the Chief of Staff of the United States Army.
     Five days after reporting to the Company Commander, First Lieutenant Arthur Belknap, they would participate in a combat patrol led by Lieutenant Belknap, and consisting of themselves, all four platoon sergeants, six other sergeants, three corporals and one private. Their mission was to rescue the crew of a T6 "Mosquito" observation plane. Unfortunately, the plane crashed 75 yards from the Chinese and over 1,000 yards from the American lines. Other Air Force units covered the position, keeping the Communists at bay. When this rank heavy patrol finally reached the wreck, they found the pilot dead. But the other crewman, First Lieutenant Peter Tolputt, Royal Artillery, alive and only slightly injured. When the patrol was approaching, the British Gunner called to the other aircraft over his radio, "Here comes a bloody lot of American sergeants!"
     Offensives and counteroffensives would last through the rest of 1952 and well into 1953. By April 1953, were at the Ihyon-Ni-Kalbakkumi sector, better known as the "Punchbowl." Later they would replace the 45th Infantry Division in the "Heartbreak Ridge-Sandbag Castle" sector. But, finally a truce was declared on 27 July 1953.
     The division would remain in Korea until May 1954 and was returned to state control on 30 June 1954. Commemorating their service in Korea, the division colors have added the campaign streamers: SECOND KOREAN WINTER, KOREA SUMMER-FALL 1952, THIRD KOREAN WINTER, and KOREA SUMMER 1953. The division was also awarded the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation. Members of the division would earn three Medals of Honor, nine Distinguished Service Crosses, 246 Silver Stars, and 675 Bronze Star Medals for Valor.

     The very next day after their demobilization, the 40th Infantry Division became the 40th Armored Division. This was a great change, not only in names, but also familiar titles and regimental identities. Regiments were replace by Combat Commands A, B, and C. These were later replaced by more familiar Brigades and the return of regimental titles.
     With that reorganization complete, the division once again settled into the routine of drills and summer camps. But as the nation entered the 1960's and the Vietnam era, heated passions and the search for civil rights collided in the Los Angeles community of Watts in 1965. For almost two weeks the sight of National Guardsmen with rifles loaded and bayonets fixed became a common site. As with many of these incidents, a majority of the residents of Watts were responsible citizens, seeking change through the ballot box, peaceful protest, and other legal means. These people, and those in the surrounding communities, were the ones that the guard were serving and protecting.
     In 1968, the National Guard was reorganized and the division was broken up into the 40th Separate Armored Brigade, the 40th Separate Infantry Brigade, and the 223d General Support Group, as well as other separate units.

A Division Reborn 

     On 13 January 1974, the 40th Infantry Division was reborn with its headquarters at Long Beach. The headquarters was later moved to the former Naval Air Station, Los Alamitos where it remains today. During this period the concept of a "Total Force" was the driving force. Infantry battalions would rotate to Korea to participate in TEAM SPIRIT exercises, observers from the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force attended divisional exercises. Staff officers and NCOs participated in training exercises world wide.
     Although the division did not deploy any elements to the Persian Gulf War, it did provide highly trained, professional soldiers to other California National Guard and Army Reserve units that did deploy to Saudi Arabia.
     But once again, the division was called out to protect the people of California. In April 1992, a jury in Simi Valley found four Los Angeles police officers not guilty of beating Rodney King. Almost immediately, rioting broke out throughout Los Angeles County. So widespread was this incident, that the division was federalized and reinforced by the 49th Military Police Brigade, as well as the 7th Light Infantry Division from Fort Ord and the 1st Marine Division from Camp Pendleton. Once again, as in Watts, a majority of the residents appreciated the presence of the troops. Several local organizations would adopt a platoon or company as their own. Residents of senior citizens' centers slept well knowing their facility had a platoon of infantry patrolling their block.
     From its formation through the present, the division continued to train for war and serve in peace. The Northridge earthquake and the Floods of 1997 are just the latest in a long list of operations that the division has participated in. It is a proud record that speaks well of California and its citizen-soldiers. We hope that this will continue for many years to come.