clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

WWII CAME 9 MONTHS EARLY FOR UTAH GUARD UNIT

For almost 2,500 Utahns, World War II started long before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Orders came in February 1941 that virtually the entire Utah National Guard was to be called to active duty. On March 3 at 10 a.m. - a Monday morning - 2,431 enlisted men, 153 officers and three warrant officers stood at attention in armories around the state and took a new oath, one that would end up committing them to military service for the duration of a war that had not even started yet."You could see something was going to happen," said Robert Crossley, a corporal in the Army Guard at the time of the call-up.

The politics of war weren't really clear to teenagers at the time, he said, but they knew something was up. "As young boys you couldn't see it even though you read about it in the newspaper."

Crossley said a notarized affidavit was all a person needed to get in the National Guard. The document needed only to indicate the person was at least 18 years old. Crossley, who joined the National Guard in 1939, admits fudging his birth year to a notary just enough to get him in the Guard while he was still 17.

"I knew of several others that were 15 and 16," he said.

Salt Lake resident Bill Langdorf was also a fresh-out-of-high-school recruit drawn into the National Guard before the 1941 call-up. Germany's roll through Europe was in the news daily. "I guess we knew something else was going to happen. Once your friends started joining, everybody else went in."

Ralph Enman, who also lives in Salt Lake City, had an older brother in the Army who decided for him that military service was the way to go. "He dragged me down (to the recruiter) without even asking me and told me to sign up."

All three youths, members of field artillery regiments under the 65th field artillery brigade, found themselves on a train bound for San Luis Obispo, Calif., where tents lined up in the mud would be their home for the next several months.

The group arrived in California only to find that the old military trucks they had taken with them were immediately being traded in. "There were brand new trucks there waiting for us," Crossley said. "They were waiting for war, they just weren't telling us."

Training began with the soldiers destined for maneuvers in "Plum," or the Philippines.

But the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor before the soldiers shipped out. The day after the attack, Enman was on his way to Los Angeles, where he found himself manning a 75mm cannon as part of a coastal defense effort. "A Japanese submarine shelled a ship going into the L.A. harbor. I could see that big old freighter listing (after it had been hit)."

Crossley, by then, was busy making barbed wire. Later, as a military police officer, his duties included rounding up Japanese-Americans who were headed for internment camps. His beginnings as a weekend soldier developed into an eight-year military career.

Crossley is now the historian for the Utah regiments that were drawn into the war and helps arrange annual reunions for the group. About 35 to 40 veterans attend each year, he said.

This year's reunion will include all Utah World War II veterans, who will be recognized during Governors Day activities at Camp Williams on May 2.