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sm654.jpgThe Wisconsin National Guard has released an anthology detailing the 32nd “Red Arrow” Division’s achievements in World War II in December 2020. Wisconsin National Guard image

On this day nearly four score years ago, Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, destroying most of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet, killing more than 2,300 service members and wounding at least 1,100 more. The next day, Congress declared war on Japan — which had that day launched a surprise attack on the Philippine Islands, garrisoned by U.S. troops led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

The attack on Pearl Harbor and the war that followed began one of the most difficult, but ultimately triumphant, journeys in Wisconsin National Guard history.

The United States, despite recent massive military exercises in the southeastern states, was not ready for war. What preparation the country had made thus far was directed toward potential combat against Germany. But ready or not, war had come to the United States, and America would respond.

The 32nd “Red Arrow” Division, consisting of the entire Wisconsin National Guard and much of the Michigan National Guard, would pay the price for the nation’s lack of preparation. Waiting in Massachusetts to deploy to Europe, the 32nd Division learned it would instead deploy to the South Pacific to take on the Japanese in a style of combat it had not trained for. The Red Arrow would learn how to fight — and beat — the Japanese the hard way in New Guinea, and continue the fight in the Philippines.

That story is told in the newly published anthology, “654: The Red Arrow in World War II.” Complete with historical photos from the National Archives, the anthology traces the Red Arrow from the pre-war Louisiana Maneuvers to Japan, and conveys the hardship and heroism of the first American division to bring the fight to the Japanese in the South Pacific. The “654” project drew its name for the number of days the 32nd Division spent in combat—more than any other U.S. Army division in World War II.

“With the pandemic and other events of 2020, it’s easy to forget that World War II came to an end 75 years ago,” said Maj. Brian Faltinson, deputy public affairs director with the Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs Office who guided the “654” project. “We cannot forget the Red Arrow’s incredible story in the Pacific because the service and sacrifice of these Soldiers set an example of success that later Wisconsin Guardsmen would follow as they have deployed overseas multiple times and responded to numerous emergencies here at home.”

The full anthology is available here: