Jukeboxes played "Goodbye, Dear, I'll Be Home in a Year," and the headlines of Utah newspapers on March 3, 1941, announced that the entire Utah National Guard was being called to active duty.
During those tense months 50 years ago, the United States was continuing preparations for a possible war that became a reality nine months later when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.Early in 1941, the entire Utah National Guard consisted of nearly 2,600 enlisted men and officers. Thirteen of those men gathered Saturday for a reunion at Fort Douglas - to recall old times and talk about what's happened in the years since their call-up, including another war just ended in the Persian Gulf that involved yet another group of Utah Guard members.
According to Weber State University history professor Richard C. Roberts, author of a study of the National Guard in Utah, units were in Salt Lake City, Ogden, Brigham City, Garland, Spanish Fork, Fillmore, Richfield, Beaver, Cedar City, Pleasant Grove, Bountiful, Logan, Manti, Nephi, Springville, St. George and Vernal.
In May 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought congressional authorization to activate the National Guard and to enact a Selective Service Act. Congress responded on Aug. 27, 1940, with authorization to call the National Guard into federal service for a 12-month period of training.
On Oct. 8, 1940, Utah's State National Guard staff, five officers and 17 enlisted men, were inducted into federal service, and it was anticipated that the rest of Utah's National Guardsmen would follow a few weeks later. However, delays in preparing training centers postponed the activation orders until March.
The delay brought problems for many Guardsmen. When a January departure date was postponed, Capt. Henry E. Petersen, commander of Battery F, 222nd Field Artillery, at Cedar City, wrote to his superiors in Salt Lake City:
"The fact is some of the boys are in bad circumstances through their membership in the guard. Four of my men have always worked in Sun Valley during the winter months. Due to the January date being set they could not get in there for work for such a short period - two men quit their jobs in California to get back here in time for the January date - no employer around here will hire any of the men because they are going away at an indefinite time - and many other reasons along this same line prevent 20 to 30 of my men from making a dime to support themselves."
Induction finally did come on March 3, 1941, at the 19 armories and stations of various units around the state. Nevertheless, Utah Guardsmen were obliged to remain at their various armories or in public quarters until March 15, when the first units began the journey to San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Most traveled by train and, according to Roberts, they took with them their federal equipment, which included 24 155mm Howitzers, 24 75mm guns, 50 half-ton reconnaissance cars, 130 11/2-ton cargo trucks, 34 21/2-ton cargo trucks, 12 3-ton prime movers and a variety of motorcycles, command cars, ambulances, tractors, trailers and other trucks.
"It was quite an experience," recalls Hugh Nelson, one of the Guardsmen deployed in 1941 who attended the reunion Saturday. "Gov. (Herbert B.) Maw came to San Luis Obispo to give us a talk. We all knew that war was coming; we didn't know when or how."
Nelson had already served one four-year stint in the Guard beginning in 1925 and was exempt from further service in 1941 because of his age, 32. But he and many others who qualified for the exemption returned to service anyway. At 6-foot-5, Nelson was picked to serve with the military police in Riverside, Calif.
The Utah unit was a "good group of men," Nelson said.
Regimental Chaplain Theodore E. Curtis Jr. concluded from a survey of the 230 men of the 1st Battalion of the 115th Engineers on the eve of their departure that:
"The typical Utah national guardsman is a 20-year-old member of the LDS church. Of the 230 answering the questionnaires, 184 professed membership in the LDS church; 185 are high school graduates; four are college graduates. Basketball took top honors easily as the guardsmen's favorite sport, 120 of the men taking that activity over baseball, which ran a poor second, and football, which was even a poorer third.
"Ages of the enlistees range from 18 to 40, with the majority claiming 20. Seventy of the guardsmen have participated in high school, college, little theater and church dramatic productions, and five have had experience as stage managers and make-up men. One has written original plays.
"Four guardsmen listed themselves as directors of musical groups, 26 have participated in operas and operettas, 23 have memberships in glee clubs and choruses, 12 are vocal soloists and 66 play some type of instruments. The engineers also have 13 Scoutmasters, six former LDS church missionaries, 13 athletic managers, coaches and referees and 39 men who have had experience on high school, college and local newspapers. In the occupational line, the engineers could well conduct a small community of their own with the talents available - they have everything from a jeweler and furrier to sign painters and bootmakers."
Perhaps not so typical was Jim Tazoi, a Japanese-American raised in Garland, Box Elder County, who was a member of that community's National Guard unit. Before war's end, he became a member of the famed 442nd Japanese-American unit and was cited for bravery against German forces during the rescue of the "Lost Battalion" in France.
With departure ceremonies that were forerunners of those witnessed in Utah in recent days following the start of the Persian Gulf war, the anxious soldiers set out, leaving families at home wondering if they really would return after a year.
The year stretched into nearly five years as World War II took members of Utah's National Guard to the far corners of the world, where they contributed in securing victory for the Allied forces.
A. Kent Powell is a historian for the Utah State Historical Society.