Later this month, North Dakotans will have what will likely be one of the last opportunities to meet and listen to veterans of Guadalcanal. This is a chance to hear from men who participated in one of early, key battles of World War II.
This isn’t just an event for history buffs. Anyone interested in the role our small state played on the world stage will find this interesting. The event is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 14 at the National Energy Center of Excellence at Bismarck State College.
The 164th Infantry Regiment from North Dakota landed on Guadalcanal on Oct. 13, 1942, to assist the Marines who had been battling the Japanese. The regiment entered a horrible battleground and were greeted by skepticism by the hardened Marines. It didn’t take long for the North Dakota Army soldiers to win the respect of the Marines.
Within five days of landing the regiment had endured eight prolonged bombing attacks, several strafings and shelling from land and enemy warships.
An Associated Press dispatch told of their ordeal.
“One ghastly, horrible night late in October, both the second and third battalions fought in a pouring rain and the North Dakota men often met attacking Japanese with the cold steel of bayonets.”
The regiment would serve with distinction on Guadalcanal and help secure an early victory for the U.S. They went on to fight in the Bougainville and the Philippines campaigns.
The 164th Infantry of the North Dakota National Guard was called up in 1941 to fight in the Pacific Theater, according to Tribune files. There were 1,723 soldiers in the regiment. During the war the 164th lost 325 men and had 1,193 wounded. The unit earned one Navy Cross, six Distinguished Service Crosses, 89 Silver Stars, 199 Bronze Stars, 1,200 Purple Hearts, six Legions of Merit and 10 soldiers’ medals.
By the time the 164th was disbanded in November 1945 it had become famous for its service. They earned their fame the hard way.
Seventy-two years after the end of World War II they deserve to be remembered. The Oct. 14 event offers an opportunity to honor them and hear the stories as only they can tell them.
At 1 p.m. in the second-floor theater there will be a chance to chat with the veterans. Larry Skogen, Bismarck State College president, will conduct the interactive session to discuss the battles and take questions from the audience. A short program will take place in the third-floor display area prior to a 2 p.m. band concert by the North Dakota Army National Guard's 188th Army Band.
Expected to attend are Richard Stevens, who was a National Guard private and is now a 95-year-old retired Army colonel; Louis Hanson, a farmer from the Jamestown area assigned to Company E, which helped defend the area that became known as Coffin Corner; Dennis Ferk, Harry Vadnie and Aloysius Moszer from Bismarck's Company A; Doug Burtell, Bowman; and Ralph Oehlke, Enderlin, who joined the 164th Band but transferred to the Anti-Tank Company for the duration the war.
The AP dispatch mentioned earlier also said: “Mention this regiment to anyone in the South Pacific and you’ll get return comment of respect and admiration.”
That respect and admiration hasn’t dimmed in the 75 years since they landed on Guadalcanal. The Oct. 14 event is free and open to the public. It should be worth everyone’s time.