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8-18-17

Combat Operations of the 155th Infantry Regiment in World War II – Honoring the memory of local WWII Veterans


Compiled and submitted By Wilburn Bell


Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a new series of articles that will chronicle the South Pacific combat operations of the 155th Infantry of the 31st Infantry Division in World War II.

     Independent Researcher Wilburn Bell has compiled a unique collection of information that honors these local men and their families. Bell’s own relatives, his Uncle Reid Bell and first cousin Wilmarth Strickland, were two of the men who served in the Live Oak National Guard unit that were transferred to Co. I, 155th Infantry during World War II.  


– More about the author at the end of this article.

WILBURN BELL


The 155th Infantry in New Guinea
Part 1
Company E, 124th Infantry, Florida National Guard Origins


[Compiler’s Note: Compiler’s portion of the narrative is printed in italics, and bracketed items are additions or corrections by the compiler. Most of the narrative comes from publications of the United States Army Center of Military History and National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) records, with one portion coming from the book Florida’s Army by Robert Hawke, © 1986.]


At least eight members of the Live Oak Florida National Guard unit prior to World War II went on to serve in the 3rd Battalion, 155th Infantry, 31st Infantry (Dixie) Division, in World War II. They saw combat with the 155th Infantry in the South Pacific, and one of them died there. It is the purpose of this series of articles to honor their memory with a chronicle of theirs and others’ service with the 155th Infantry in combat operations against the Japanese in New Guinea, Morotai, and Mindanao during World War II.


The members of Co. I, 3rd Battalion, 155th Infantry, who had been pre World War II members of Co. E, 124th Infantry, the pre World War II Live Oak National Guard unit, were as follows: James B. Barber, Thomas I. Dasher, Clifton W. Greene, Melvin L. McMullen, John W. Rogers Jr. (of Suwannee County) and Reid Bell, and Wilmarth Strickland (of Lafayette County). Lester W. Kent (of Suwannee County), also a pre World War II member of Co. E, 124th Infantry, may have been a member of the 3rd Bn., 155th Infantry, Battalion Headquarters Co., rather than a member of Co. I. All of these men were awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge for their conduct in a 29 August 1944 3rd Battalion reconnaissance in force patrol to the Sawar Airdrome in New Guinea.


It is believed that other members of the pre World War II Live Oak Florida National Guard unit, Co. E, 124th Infantry, served in the 155th Infantry also (and possibly others not listed below). They included Theron R. Howard (Co. B), John T. Owens, Jr. (Co. K), and Glenn Smith (Co. unknown)—all of Suwannee County. Also, James P. Williams, of Lafayette County (155th HQ Co.) In addition, William C. Durden, of Hamilton County, is believed to have served in an unknown company of the 167th Infantry, another regiment of the 31st Infantry Division.


The story of these men starts with their original pre World War II company, Co. E, 124th Infantry Regiment, Florida National Guard, which was also a part of the 31st Infantry (Dixie) Division. This distinguished company is especially deserving of having its service remembered and honored also.


The following quote comes from the book, Florida’s Army, by Robert Hawke, © 1986, Florida National Guard Officers’ Association, pp. xxiii-xxiv, reprinted here with permission. It is a portion of Robert Hawke’s tribute to Live Oak’s pre World War II Florida National Guard unit. As noted above, this unit was designated Company E, 124th Infantry and included many men from Suwannee County, Florida, and some from Lafayette County, Florida, including, among others, the compiler’s very special uncle, the late Reid Bell, whose widow Evangeline Bell resides at the ACV Good Samaritan Center in Dowling Park; Reid’s first cousin Wilmarth Strickland; and their neighbor, James Irvin Bell. This unit was mobilized November 25, 1940, for a year’s training, and, after Pearl Harbor, for the duration of the war.


“Company E and the 124th Infantry were organizationally part of the 31st (Dixie) Division. Following extensive periods of training and a spell as demonstration troops at Fort Benning, Georgia, the 124th was abolished. The regiment was reconstituted in Australia early in 1944 for combat service with the 31st Division in New Guinea and the Philippine Islands. Few, perhaps none, of Company E’s men from 1940 were still serving with the Regiment in 1944. They were serving, fighting and dying elsewhere.


In the course of the Second World War, no unit of the Florida National Guard had more men killed, wounded in action, or dead from other causes than Company E, 124th Infantry. Thirteen men from the original company were killed in action or died of wounds and one man died of non-battle-related injuries.


The men of Company E served with the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 9th Regular, 30th and 31st National Guard and also with the 78th and 79th National Army Divisions. They also served in the Air Corps. These Floridians died in Italy, France, Holland, Germany, New Guinea and the Philippines. If the list of wounded were included here, it would show that approximately half the men of Company E earned the Purple Heart.”


[The names and information about thirteen men from Suwannee and Lafayette Counties, and one listed from Polk County, all originally in Company E, 124th Infantry, who died in the service in World War II are listed below.


This information was extracted from the book, Florida’s Army, by Robert Hawke, © 1986, Florida National Guard Officers’ Association, Appendix 4, pp. 276-81.]


“BACKUS, William E., Sergeant, Polk
Died non-battle; date and place unknown


BELL, James [Irvin], PFC, [Lafayette]
Combat Service: 7th Infantry, 3rd Division
Died of wounds; 25 March 1944, Anzio, Italy
[Compiler’s note: This man’s father, William
Bell, was a Civil War veteran of the First
Florida Reserves Infantry Regiment, C.S.A.]


CARVER, Burnice, Sergeant, Suwannee
Combat Service: 16th Infantry 1st Division
Killed in action; 14 September 1944, Belgium


COLLINS, Ernest W., Sergeant, Suwannee
Combat Service: 119th Infantry, 30th Division
Killed in action; 12 July 1944, St. Lo, France


HARPER, William M., Sergeant, Suwannee
Combat Service: 309th Infantry, 78th Division
Killed in action; 15 April 1945, Kilinghausen, Germany


HOWARD, Green V., Sergeant, Suwannee
Combat Service: 119th Infantry, 30th Division
Killed in action; 8 July 1944, St. Lo, France


KNIGHT, Carlton D., Tech 5, [Suwannee]
Combat Service: 60th Infantry, 9th Division
Killed in action; 11 October 1944, Zweifel, Germany


LANDEN, Nathaniel, 2nd Lieutenant, [Suwannee]
Combat Service: 435th Fighter Squadron, 475th Fighter Group. Killed in action; 19 September 1944, Manado, Celebes Islands


PETERSON, Noel B., PFC, [Suwannee]
Combat Service: 8th Infantry, 4th Division
Killed in action 10 June 1944, Normandy, France


PREVATT, John P., PFC, [Suwannee]
Combat Service: 314th Infantry, 79th Division
Killed in action; 19 November 1944, Barbas, France


ROGERS, John W. Jr., PFC, [Suwannee]
Combat Service: 155th Infantry, 31st Division
Died of wounds; 30 August 1944, Maffin Bay, New Guinea


SKINNER, Steve Earl, Sergeant, [Suwannee]
Combat Service: Unit unknown
Killed in action; 29 November 1944, Germany


TAPLEY, Arthur L. Jr., PFC, [Suwannee]
Combat Service: 15th Infantry, 3rd Division
Killed in action; 24 March 1944, Isola della, Italy


WEAVER, William D., Private, [Suwannee]
Combat Service: 119th Infantry, 30th Division
Killed in action; 12 July 1944, St. Lo, France”



Next article: The 1st Battalion, 155th Infantry, 31st Division executes a reconnaissance in force on the Japanese held Sawar Airdrome in New Guinea.


About the Author – Independent Researcher Wilburn Bell was born in Lafayette County and received a B.A. in Education with high honors from UF in 1971, and a Master of Education from UF in 1972. After a 37-year teaching career, he retired in 2009. Bell has had a keen interest in genealogy, local history, and military history most of his life.  After serving a six-year enlistment with the Florida National Guard, he was honorably discharged from the 269th Eng. Co. in Live Oak, FL, in 1971 as an E-4.


Bell also compiled and edited Sworn and Examined: Witnesses to Suwannee Valley Reconstruction Violence in Florida’s Third Judicial Circuit, a self-published compilation of Congressional Hearing testimony.

Wilburn Bell may be reached at 386-294-1456.

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Wakde-Sarmi Area, New Guinea, 1944. [Source: The Approach to the Philippines by Robert Ross Smith, p. 207.] -Map submitted by Wilburn Bell