Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Battle of Bougainville and Francis

My husband's paternal grandfather Francis Ladner was in World War II. He and my husband would often go rabbit hunting together. While hunting my husband would ask his Papa Francis about the War and he would always say, "Well, I didn't see much action" and that seemed all he wanted to say about it. There is an old photograph of Papa Francis in his uniform that my husband cherishes, and he often wonders what did happen to Papa during the War.
At Camp Shelby

Quite by mischance while looking for family obituaries in old newspapers I came across a story about young Francis Ladner written by the local paper, which sheds a whole new light on Papa and his life. When I showed this to my husband, his eyes glowed with pride. He said to me, "Now I want to learn more about this battle." For once my genealogy didn't seem so trivial to him, for once it gave him the same special feeling it gives me each time I find something new.
So today in honor of what would have been Papa Francis 91'st birthday I decided to see what more I could piece together about him during the War. 

Francis W.J. Ladner was born in Hancock County, Ms on July 17, 1921, to Felix Ladner and Victoria Stravapodi. On October 18, 1941 he married Elvera Cuevas. They had 6 children the eldest, was my husband's father. He died on February 15, 1993. 

Francis enlisted in the Army on December 20, 1942 at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. His enlistment record shows his occupation as a farmer, married, and having completed grammar school. His enlistment entailed the duration of the War or other emergency, plus six months as accorded by law.

The news article I found from the Daily Herald November 6, 1944, states that: 
With the 37th Infantry Division in the Southwest Pacific—Private First Class Francis W. J. Ladner, 23, Gulfport, Miss., has been awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge for service in combat against the Japanese. Ladner earned the badge, a silver rifle on an Infantry blue field imposed on a silver wreath, for his part in helping defeat Jap assaults on Hill 129, Bougainville Island, Husband of the former Elvera Cuevas, who with their son, Cecil Dean, resides on Route 1, Gulfport, he has been overseas 18 months serving also in New Hebrides and Guadalcanal.
According to Wikipedia here is an explanation of the Combat Infantryman Badge.
The Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB) is the U.S. Army combat service recognition decoration awarded to soldiers—enlisted men and officers (commissioned and warrant) holding colonel rank or below, who personally fought in active ground combat while an assigned member of either an infantry or a Special Forces unit, of brigade size or smaller, any time after 6 December 1941. The CIB and its non-combat analogue, the infantry skill-recognition Expert Infantryman Badge (EIB) were simultaneously created during World War II as primary recognition of the combat service and sacrifices of the infantrymen who would likely be wounded or killed in numbers disproportionate to those of soldiers from the Army’s other service branches
 Awarded for :Being personally present, and under hostile fire, while serving in assigned, primary infantry or special forces duty in a unit actively engaging the enemy in ground combat.
Combat Infantry Badge

Now on to the next search, the actual battle. A quick search for the Battle of Bougainville sent me to the site Historynet.com where I was able to read about the 37th Infantry Division's Battle for Hill 700.
As I continued my search I came across another old news article, this time from the Sarasota Herald, March 27, 1944.
Once again through Wikipedia, I came across more information regarding the 37th Infantry in general during WWII.
I still wanted to know more about the 129th specifically. Here at 37th Infantry Division. I was able to get a clearer picture of the part the 129th played in the battle.
The 148th Infantry landed first on Bougainville 8 Nov 43 and was followed by the 129th Infantry on 13 Nov 43 and the 145th Infantry which landed 19 Nov 43. Relieving the Marines there, the division took over the area perimeter defense, constructed roads and bridges, conducted patrols, and repulsed eight Japanese divisional attacks during March 1944. These included the 8 Mar 44 counterattack on Hill 700 which drove a salient in the lines of the 145th Infantry which wasn't reduced until 13 Mar 44 after heavy combat; the main counterattack of 11 Mar 44 toward Piva Airfield which hit the 129th Infantry; and the 23 Mar 44 general counterattack which penetrated the lines of 129th Infantry before it was defeated. The latter marked the last Japanese offensive activity in the Solomons and the division cleared the Laruma Valley during April 1944. The division remained on Bougainville until 14 Dec 44, conducting construction and combat activity up to 11 Oct 44 when it began training for operations in the Philippine Islands.
The division moved to the Philippines via Huon Gulf, New Guinea and Manus Island, and landed against slight resistance at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon, 9 Jan 45. The 148th Infantry took San Carlos 10 Jan 45 and the division assembled and then advanced against strong Japanese opposition toward Clark Field and Fort Stotsenberg. The 145th and 148th Infantry reached the Culayo-Magalang line and the runways of Clark Field 26 Jan 45 and captured their objectives with the 129th Infantry on 31 Jan 45. The division then turned south toward Manila and the 148th Infantry reached it 4 Feb 45. After crossing the Pasig River the division began the house-to-house combat which slowly reduced the city, and on 23 Feb 45 the assault was begun on Intramuros after heavy artillery preparation. The 145th stormed the Quezon and Parian Gates while the 129th Infantry crossed the Pasig River in assault boats and stormed the Mint Building. The 148th Infantry cleared the Legislative Building and by 3 Mar 45 the division had secured Manila. The division then garrisoned it until 26 Mar 45 and conducted mopping up activity.
The 129th Infantry was detached to Bauang and attached to the 33rd Infantry Division 26 Mar-10 Apr 45. The 145th Infantry remained in Manila when the division moved to northwest Luzon for the offensive against Baguio and did not rejoin it until 2 Jun 45. The division commenced its drive 10 Apr 45 as the 129th and 148th Infantry attacked up Highway 9 and took Three Peaks on 11 Apr 45. Following the Battle for Hairpin Hill the 148th Infantry reached the Irisan River 17 Apr 45, but the ridges there were not cleared until 21 Apr 45 when the advance resumed. Mt. Mirador fell after heavy combat to the 129th Infantry on 26 Apr 45 and Baguio was overrun by the combined action of 334d and 37th Infantry Divisions the following day. The division was relieved by the 33rd Infantry Division and moved to San Jose 4 May 45 where it rested until 29 May 45. It then moved into the Balete Pass-Santa Fe area and attacked north on Highway 5, 31 May 45, the 129th Infantry capturing Aritao on 5 Jun 45. Bagabag fell to the 145th Infantry on 9 Jun 45, and the division pushed across the Cagayen Valley and took Cauayan 16 Jun 45 and Ilagan 19 Jun 45. Although the Luzon campaign was officially closed 30 Jun 45, the division continued to mop up and secure its area, and was collecting and processing Japanese prisoners when the war ended.
37th Infantry Badge

Now that we have a clearer picture of what Papa Francis was involved in during the war, along with some of the historical photos that I saw, I can understand why he would not wish to discuss the war with his young grandson. It seems he was not alone in that aspect as I have come across many others commenting that their grandfather's also were in the 37th Infantry and never discussed the battles. 

I came across a question on a forum from one lady whose grandfather also was in the 37th Infantry. Her question was, "How did a man born in Alabama end up with an Ohio Infantry?" I was also wondering the same thing about Francis, a boy from Mississippi. So, I continued to read everything I came across regarding the 37th Infantry until I found the answer. No surprise that I found it in Wikipedia.

The 145th Infantry was inducted into federal service as part of the 37th Division (later redesignated the 37th Infantry Division “Buckeye”) on 15 October 1940 and left Cleveland, Ohio for Camp Shelby, Mississippi. From Camp Shelby, the regiment moved to Louisiana to participate in the Louisiana Maneuvers of June, August, and September 1941 before returning to Camp Shelby. On 26 May 1942 the division left the San Francisco Port of Embarkation, arriving at Viti Levu, Fiji Islands exactly one month later on 11 June 1942. There, the entire division resumed training and fortified the islands against possible invasion.

Apparently the 145th of Ohio, along with the  129th of Illinois became attached to the 37th Infantry Division during the Bougainville Campaign.They needed these young men because they were considered excellent marksmen.

So, thanks to one little news story from 1944 we now know the story of our families war hero.

Please note that all links are fully searchable for the location to the actual referenced pages, so you may for yourself read the entire entries listed.

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