Time to go home:
Remembering 75th anniversary of 37th ID’s return to U.S. at end of WWII
“During the war I wanted to see it through to the end, now that it had ended it was time to go home.” The words of Maj. Charles Henne of the 148th Infantry Regiment were probably symbolic of the thousands of men of the 37th Infantry Division who remained in the Philippines with the division at the end of World War II. After the Japanese surrendered in September 1945, the Buckeye Division’s work continued as they collected and processed thousands of Japanese prisoners of war on northern Luzon. In early October, with the task complete, the men began to think about their return to the United States.
The 37th had been overseas since May 1942 and had accumulated 592 days of combat on New Georgia, Bougainville and Luzon. In October 1945, the division gathered at Camp LaCroix near Cabaatuan, a large tent city that would facilitate the turning in of equipment and completion of the necessary paperwork needed to discharge the Solders. Early reports indicated the division would be shipped home on Oct. 15, then the date was shifted to Nov. 1.
“The waiting life is not physically taxing, but waiting, waiting for a ship lengthened the days and weeks.” Henne wrote. “At first, most of the veterans, at least the fighting men, were satisfied with sleeping and eating, and then they began to wonder, ‘Where in the Hell was our ship?’”
As Nov. 1 neared, the departure was pushed again to Nov. 15. When the 38th Division, which had served a shorter period overseas period, departed before the Buckeyes, veterans and rookies of the division began to lose patience.
“In early November, Congressmen, newspaper columnists, and just plain citizens were bombarded with telegrams and letters all emphasizing the untoward delay in the 37th’s return to the State…” recalled the 37th Infantry Division history. “These wires were supplemented by a rubber-stamp device which printed on the backs of thousands of letters sailing or flying Statesward ‘no boats, no votes.’”
The campaign worked and within days the 37th was alerted for movement and the ships for the trip were designated by name. At 12:30 p.m. Nov. 16, the Dutch ship Weltevreden pulled out of San Fernando with the first 1,200 men of the Buckeye Division. Maj. Gen. Robert S. Beightler, commanding general of the 37th ID, and his staff departed on Nov. 26. By Dec. 1, the entire division was sailing home.
The ships arrived in various west coast ports and soon the men were transported to separation centers near their homes. Most made it home by Christmas, a welcomed present for thousands of American families. The 37th Infantry Division was inactivated on Dec. 18, 1945, and ceased to exist legally.