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45th Infantry Thunderbird Insignia

Following World War I the National Defense Act of 1920 created the authority to form the Forty-fifth Infantry Division from the four states of Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. The division was organized in 1923, and Oklahoma members camped together for the first time at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1924.

In the period predating World War II, the division was called upon to maintain order in times of disasters and keep peace during periods of political unrest. Gov. John C. Walton used the National Guard to keep the legislature from meeting when they were preparing to impeach him in 1923. Gov. William H. Murray's calls to duty included the enforcement of closing of banks and keeping open a free bridge on the Red River, in spite of a federal court order that it not be opened.

During the late 1930s the world situation worsened. In September 1940 the division was ordered into federal service for one year to engage in a training program. The division's time in federal service began at Fort Sill. At the end of the first year they had participated in the Louisiana maneuvers. The Thunderbirds trained at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Camp Barkeley, Texas, Fort Devens, Massachusetts, Pine Camp, New York, and Camp Pickett, Virginia. They soon entered action in World War II. On July 10, 1943, the division participated in their first of four amphibious landings. In all the division served 511 days in combat; fighting their way across Sicily, Italy, France, and Germany. The National Guard Division of the southwest became highly regarded by both regular army forces and the enemy for their valiant efforts and fighting abilities. The Forty-fifth Infantry Division served with Gen. George S. Patton's U.S. Seventh Army during the Sicilian campaign. When the fighting was done, the commander had this to say about the division, "Your division is one of the best, if not the best division in the history of American arms." Following World War II the division reverted back to National Guard status became an all-Oklahoma organization. Weekly evening drill periods were again held in armories statewide, and Fort Sill was the site of their annual summer encampment.

In June 1950 South Korea was invaded by North Korea. This action led to the second federal mobilization of the Forty-fifth Infantry Division. The Thunderbirds were one of only two National Guard divisions to see combat in the Korean War, the other being the Fortieth, of California. Training for Korea began at Camp Polk, Louisiana, and in March 1951 the division shipped out for Hokkaido, Japan, for a continuation of their training. The move to Korea was made in December 1951. The division served in the Yonchon-Chorwon area and in sectors fronting Old Baldy, Pork Chop Hill, Heartbreak Ridge, and Luke's Castle. The majority of Oklahoma's guardsmen began returning to the United States in spring 1952, but the division remained in Korea until the end of the conflict in 1953. In all, the Forty-fifth saw 429 days in battle, participating in four campaigns.

After Korea, the division reverted to their stateside status as a National Guard unit. Reorganization in 1959 changed the division's structure from triangular to pentomic. Thereafter it comprised five battle groups, each smaller than a regiment but larger than a battalion. In January 1969 the Forty-fifth Infantry Division was disbanded and was restructured into an infantry brigade, an artillery group, and a support command, with state headquarters providing general administrative and logistical support. The Thunderbird patch was retained by all the organizations, with the exception of the state headquarters, which continued to be identified with the Indian-head patch.

The Forty-fifth Infantry Division Museum, located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, offers interpretive exhibits and a library-archive of documentary materials relating to the division's service.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Kenny A. Franks, Citizen Soldiers: Oklahoma's National Guard (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984). Charles H. Barnes, History of the 142d Infantry of the 36th Division (Blackwell, Okla.: Blackwell Job Printing Company, 1922). Forty-fifth Infantry Division, The Fighting Forty-fifth: The Combat Report of an Infantry Division (Baton Rouge, La.: Army and Navy Publishing Co., 1946). Oklahoma Military Department, Annual Report, 1966-2001 (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Military Department, 1965 2001).

Mike Gonzales

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