111th Infantry Regiment Has A Long, Proud History Of Answering The Call In World War Ii, Its Men Fought In The Pacific Theater And Suffered Heavy Casualties.

Posted: December 06, 1998

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the 111th Infantry Regiment of the Pennsylvania National Guard had been, along with many other units, on federal service for almost 11 months. It would be four years before the guardsmen would return home.

During World War II, this Norristown-based regiment would add to an already-honorable tradition.

According to retired Col. William J. Huber, historian of the 111th Infantry Regiment, the unit can trace its lineage to colonial Pennsylvania.

In 1747, Benjamin Franklin, who had failed to persuade the Quaker-dominated provincial assembly to provide for the defense of the colony, formed a private militia unit called the Associators. At the time, Philadelphia was facing a threat from Spanish and French privateers sailing up the Delaware.

The Associators fought through the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. During the first half of the 19th century, Huber said, new company units were added to the original regiment. Noteworthy among these was the Norris City Rifles, organized in Norristown in 1856. That became the parent unit of the current Headquarters Company, First Battalion of the 111th.

It was not until World War I that the unit was designated the 111th Infantry Regiment.

During World War I, the 111th added the actions at Chateau Thierry, the Meuse-Argonne and other places to battle honors won in the Civil War in Antietam, Gettysburg and the Wilderness Campaign.

After World War I, the 111th became a permanent regiment in the Pennsylvania National Guard. At the time, the 28th Division, Pennsylvania Army National Guard unit was a ``square division'' with four regular infantry regiments.

But with the ``triangularization'' of Army divisions just before World War II, the unit was reduced to three infantry regiments. When the guard was called in to federal service, the 111th was detached from the 28th Division for the entire war.

In February 1942, the 111th was re-formed as a regimental combat team in the Army Ground Forces Reserve to guard militarily important facilities in the Chesapeake Bay area.

From this assignment, it was transferred to the Pacific Theater in late 1943. Throughout the rest of the war, the companies of the 111th would be used as replacement or additional units in combat conditions.

Regimental historian Huber recounted that the Third Battalion of the 111th was used for mopping up operations on Makin Atoll in the Gilbert Islands in December 1943.

The 111th B Company was assigned to the Seventh Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop of the Seventh Division for the assault on Kwajalein Island in February 1944.

In other actions, I Company of the 111th was involved in assaulting and capturing Ujeland Atoll in the Marshall Islands in April 1944. And in September 1944, both the D and H Companies were assigned to the 81st Division for an attack on Peleliu and Auguar Islands in the Palaus chain.

Later, in February 1945, the entire 111th returned to Peleliu Island for mopping-up operations. Huber reported that in this action, ``the 111th received heavy casualties.''

When the war ended in September 1945, the 111th had added three battle streamers, Central Pacific, Eastern Mandate and Western Pacific, for a total of 38 on its flag.

Since 1947, the 111th has undergone a number of reorganizations in the National Guard. Today, the First Battalion, 111th Infantry is an element of the 28th Infantry Division (Mechanized), based in the National Guard Armory on Belvoir Road in Plymouth.

The regimental motto remains Nulla vestigia retrorsum: ``No step backward.''

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