Special Collections unveils new exhibit about decorated North Dakota Guard unit
Titled "Service and Sacrifice: Remembering the 164th Infantry Regiment in World War II," the exhibit highlights several items that are part of the 164th Infantry Association Records collection, which is housed in the Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections at the Chester Fritz Library.
The exhibit is open during the normal hours of operation for the Department of Special Collections, which are Monday-Tuesday and Thursday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wednesday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The overall themes of the exhibit revolve around three distinct periods: before combat, service in the Pacific, and the legacy of the regiment.
Among the items in the exhibit are several artifacts, including a Hawaiian tapa blanket, Higgins boat tiller wheel, a Fijian grass skirt, a Japanese officer’s sword captured at Guadalcanal, a Kava bowl presented to the regiment during their time stationed on Fiji, soil from Guadalcanal and a bracelet made by one of the men for his wife from metal of a downed Japanese “Zero” fighter plane. In addition to the artifacts, several photographs are displayed, as well as publications related to the 164th, including Terry Shoptaugh’s recent book They Were Ready. A special feature of the exhibit is replicas of the medals and ribbons that the unit earned during its time in World War II.
The 164th Infantry Regiment traces its origins to the Dakota National Guard during the late nineteenth century, and elements of what became the 164th saw service in the Spanish-American War (1898) and later Philippine Insurrection (1899) as the First North Dakota Volunteer Infantry. By 1916, it was designated the 1st North Dakota Infantry Regiment and was called into federal service for the Mexican Border conflict (1916-1917), aiding Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing in attempting to capture Pancho Villa.
When the United States entered World War I, the regiment was designated the 164th in October 1917, and assigned to the 41st Division. After the war, the regiment reverted to state control, was federally recognized and assigned to the 34th Infantry Division in 1923. In February 1941, the regiment was again called into federal service and assigned to Camp Claiborne, La., where it participated in the “Louisiana Maneuvers,” which were a series of exercises to test the Army’s readiness for a potential conflict with Germany.
Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the 164th was sent west to San Francisco, where it was eventually shipped to New Caledonia for service in the Pacific Theater. While in New Caledonia, the regiment was assigned to a new division comprising it and two other regiments of National Guard troops. It was called the American-New Caledonian, or Americal Division.
While part of the Americal Division, the 164th participated in the Guadalcanal Campaign in October, 1942, earning the distinction of being the first Army unit to engage the enemy on the island. The regiment supported the 1st Marine Division and played a major role in the Allied victory over the Japanese. For its aid to the Marines, the 164th was awarded the Navy Presidential Unit Citation with bronze star, and was authorized to wear the 1st Marine Division patch. As a result, unofficially, the regiment was sometimes referred to as the “164th Marines.”
After Guadalcanal, the regiment continued to play a role in the Allied offensive in the Pacific. Assigned to Fiji to rest and refit, as well as aid in the protection of the island, the regiment prepared for its next round of fighting. It participated in the Bougainville Campaign of 1943-1944, as well as the Philippine Campaign in 1945, before taking occupation duty in Japan.
The 164th was a highly decorated unit. During almost 600 days of combat, several men of the regiment earned some of the highest decorations for bravery and valor in battle. Among these a Navy Cross (the Navy’s second-highest award for bravery) to an officer at Guadalcanal, six Distinguished Service Crosses (the Army’s second-highest award for bravery), six Legions of Merit, 10 Soldier’s Medals, 89 Silver Stars, 199 Bronze Star Medals, and about 2,000 Purple Hearts.
For more information on the Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections and the exhibit, please contact the department at 777.4625, or firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out the 164th Infantry Association Records.
-- Daniel Sauerwein, Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections.