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Minnesota National Guard
WWII Battalion Marks 67 Years Since Its Call to Arms

It was 67 years ago today, Feb 10, 1941, that the 125th Field Artillery Battalion (with headquarters at the Duluth Armory on London Road) was inducted into federal service These were Minnesota National Guard members: some had just graduated from high school; others had seen some army experience each summer with two weeks' training at Camp Ripley (located in Little Falls, Minn)

Officers and enlisted men were immediately told to notify their families, employers and business associates that they were on alert to enter combat readiness and maneuvers for at least 10 months in the bayous of Louisiana

Within two weeks, orders came down for three of the batteries to report to the Armory (and the rest to the Shrine Auditorium) and to start packing their gear In the meantime, an advanced detail of 15 army vehicles and 20 men had left for a three-day trip to set up tents and quarters in the muddy grounds of Camp Claiborne, La

I was part of that advance detail, along with my dad, George Watts [Watts and his dad were one of three father/son pairs to go]

Then, on or about March 1, the rest of the men left Close to 600 National Guardsmen from Duluth and the surrounding area marched from the Armory down London Road to Superior Street and made their way to the Depot At the Depot, they boarded a troop train bound for the Deep South For most of us young boys, it was the first time we'd left Minnesota

Arriving at Camp Claiborne during the rainy season, living conditions were between fair and poor One thing favorable, however, was the fact that most of the men knew each other: Some had been school classmates; others had been together at Camp Ripley

For the next 10 months, the troops went on maneuvers and had hours of training with French 75s, which were later replaced with heavier firepower [Photos at Veterans' Memorial Hall show the men training with World War I-era equipment - including their helmets - and dealing with a major flood while they were there] It wasn't all work and no play, however If you behaved yourselves, passes were issued to a local carnival or maybe a tour of New Orleans for three days

Then, on Dec 7, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor

This historic event changed the lives of millions of young men and their families Our 10 months training was suddenly over Every man was wondering, What next? Enlisted men older than 40 could be discharged, including my father Officers were to wait for orders Many of the troops were sent home on leave to say goodbye to family and employers

Off to war

At this time, the first and second battalions were split up The first battalion of the 125th Field Artillery was attached to the 34th "Red Bull" Division and shipped off from Fort Dix, NJ for the European theater of operations in early February 1942

Leaving the United States with new recruits and draftees by ship, we were slightly nervous as our convoy of ships - which included four destroyers, a large air-craft carrier, two battleships and several transports - was constantly harassed by German submarines However, we arrived safely in Belfast, Northern Ireland We were finally billeted in Portrush, and later settled in Newton Stewart for training and getting properly equipped for combat

After leaving Ireland in the fall, we crossed the rough North Sea and had a short stop in England before setting sail for north Africa

Our ship convoy was again bothered by German subs and, after many close calls and two transport ships hit, our units passed the Rock of Gibraltar on New Year's Eve and reached Oran, north Africa, Jan 2, 1943 The 34th Division task force had already invaded Algiers on Nov 7, 1942

Our so-called vacation was over as we entered the combat zone

It was our job to protect the infantry We had the big guns so we fired ahead with the aim of knocking out the enemy's guns Some of our guys drove trucks up to the front line with supplies and ammunition Others, like Bud Freeman, worked with the forward observers Bud was a radio operator (Later on, he got a concussion and ended up being a guard for the German prisoners of war in Nebraska, some of the very men we captured)

After chasing Erwin Rommel, the German commander, through the deserts around Kasserine Pass and Fondouk in Tunisia, the biggest battle was at Hill 609 There were heavy casualties on both sides In the end, thousands of German Soldiers surrendered and the Tunisian campaign ended May 13, 1943

By Bob Watts,
Budgeteer News

Article source: http://www.DuluthBudgeteer.com/articles/rss.cfm?id=21605

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