The story of the 4th's activities and achievements in Alaska,
specifically the Aleutians, and a
short resume of the brilliant record of the famous
Fourth Infantry Regiment over it's 141 years of existence.
Fort Lewis, Washington
THREE YEARS IN
Veterans of three long years in the bitter
cold of Alaska end the lashing winds of its Aleutian
islands, the "Fighting Fourth Infantry"
which pioneered military development of the strategic
Alaskan territory has returned after one of the war's
longest fours of overseas duty.
The first units of the famed regiment, which
dates back to the time of George Washington,
disembarked from a ship at Seward in June, 1940--the
very month the world was stunned by the fall of France
to German military might. As the remainder of the
regiment arrived end started clearing ground for what
is now Fort Richardson, congress passed the selective
It was the first organization of such size to
arrive in Alaska, and formed the nucleus for the old
Alaska defense force. Since that time, the regiment
has written another colorful chapter to its history.
Its first battalion, the first to arrive in
Alaska, played a decisive role in the bloody Battle of
Attu. The graves of many of its officers and men are
marked by wooden crosses in that bleak island's Little
The second battalion took part in whet was
perhaps the largest movement of troops and equipment
by air up to that time. That was lest year when the
Japanese moved into the Aleutians and it appeared they
might attack Nome, on the mainland in the far north.
More than 2,000 fully equipped troops were moved there
by army and civilian planes in an 18-day period. The
battalion later helped to establish the chain of bases
out on the Aleutian archipelago.
The regiment's third battalion, which
includes two companies that were stationed at Chilkoot
Barracks for many years before the war when that was
the largest army garrison in the territory, helped
establish the two big bases at Ladd Field and Fort
Col. Gregory Hoisington, Seattle, who had
been commander of the garrison at Chilkoot Barracks,
assumed command of the regiment when it went to
Alaska, holding that post for about a year and a half
until he was succeeded by Col. P. E. Le Stourgeon,
Lexington, Ky., the present commander.
Few of the regiment's soldiers had furloughs
during their long stay in Alaska--the job they were
doing was too important--and today they are seeing
their wives, friends and relatives for the first time
in three years. Some of them are meeting young sons
and daughters they had never seen.
When they bade Alaska goodbye, none had the
slightest idea what the future held in store for them.
Many who spent years at isolated points, naturally
enough, hoped to be stationed in the States near a
fair-sized city where they could once again enjoy the
com�forts and entertainment offered by civilization.
A number of them expressed a desire that the regiment
division for duty in a more active theater of war.
The Battle of Attu
Soldiers of the Fourth Infantry regiment's
first battalion, who were already overseas veterans
when the United States entered the war, acquitted
themselves well at Attu, where they saw action in one
of the strangest and bloodiest battles of the war.
They were called in at a critical point in
the campaign, exactly a week after the first American
troops had landed on that fog-shrouded island. They
did not even know what part they were scheduled to
play in the battle when they climbed over the sides of
their transport ship last May 18 to land at Massacre
bay, for they had not originally been slated for
action at Attu.
They fought the Jap at altitudes of 2,000
feet or more, in snow-blanketed mountain areas high
above the clouds. But these men already were
acquainted with Alaska weather and were more inured to
the hardships than other American troops on the
Moving north along the high ridge west of
Chichagof valley on May 21, the battalion came up
against strong enemy opposition from machine gun and
sniper positions. Many of the Japanese were killed,
the remainder driven off, and the Fourth moved along
the ridge to a point late that day where visual
contact was established with other American forces
which had pressed inland from the Holtz Bay area, on
the opposite side of the island.
The battalion fought for five days without
rest and then was given 24 hours for its members to
rest and get ready for one of the toughest assignments
of the campaign--wresting the high peaks of Fish Hook
ridge from the Japanese.
Observers watching the action from a distance
were fascinated by the spectacle, with small groups of
troops clearly visible as they clambered up the steep
slopes. Other troops were evacuating the wounded,
crawling painfully clown the almost impossible
mountain sides with their human burdens.
It impressed the observers as being more like
a scene from a Hollywood thriller than the grim
reality that if was.
After suffering many casualties, the
battalion on May 27 finally took a portion of a high
peak on the northeast end of the ridge, giving the
Yanks a commanding posi�tion overlooking the main
ridge running east toward the Chichagof valley. The
fighting continued through that night, and by
5:30p.m., the next day, the Fourth Infantry's
battle-weary troops had accomplished their mission.
They had seized the high peak and wiped out all enemy
resistance on the slopes.
The next day after the final big counter
attack by more than 1,000 Japanese, two companies of
the Fourth were sent to help clear the enemy out of
Sarana valley and the high ground surrounding the
area. Most of the Japanese had been exterminated or
had committed suicide by that evening and the
situation was well under control.
The Fourth Infantry had added another battle
streamer to its colors---no other unit of the army
boasts as many--but it had paid a high price.
Approximately five officers and 60 enlisted men of the
battalion were dead.
Their experience in Alaska proved invaluable
for soldiers of the Fourth during the Battle of Attu,
as evidenced by the fact that casualties from exposure
in this battalion were few. The much-discussed
"immersion feet" which took such a terrific
toll among other troops was virtually nonexistent in
the ranks of the Fourth.
The cold blasts of wind end the oozing muskeg
that kept clothing and sleeping bags saturated was old
stuff to them. Consequently, they could relax and
sleep when they were afforded the opportunity, while
other troops who were newcomers to the Aleutians were
too miserable to rest.
Great Movement of Troops
One of the first of the big troops movements by air, probably the largest up to that time, took place last year when Nome, on the Alaska mainland, near the edge of the Arctic Circle, was threatened with an invasion.
Dutch Harbor was still smoldering from two
Japa�nese bombing raids, and Kiska and Attu had been
occupied by the Japs. Enemy surface activity had been
reported in the vicinity of St. Lawrence and the
Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea. Several Jap ships
were reported steaming toward Nome, which had no
defense force capable of turning back a full-scale
An unidentified plane, flying higher than was
possible for any based in the area, circled over Nome.
Early on the morning of June 19,
reinforcements were ordered moved to Nome immediately,
and the Fourth Infantry's second battalion, reinforced
with engineer, field artillery and anti-aircraft units
into a force of more than 2,000 troops, hastily
prepared to depart from the Fort Richardson area.
The move was made under the direction of Col.
Thomas M. Crawford, Lebanon, Tenn., GSC, G-3 of ADC.
Maj. E. H. Jacobsen, Oakland, California, AC,
repre�sented the Air Transport Command, and Capt.
Nell W. Philips of the Fourth Infantry, Palos Verdes
Estates, Cal�ifornia, then a first lieutenant,
superintended the actual loading of planes.
Only a pitifully small number of army
transport planes were available, the situation was
critical and orders re�quired that the vanguard of
the force--20 anti-aircraft guns and their crews--be
in Nome within 24 hours.
civilian air traffic in Alaska was stopped that day
every suitable plane in the territory was
requisitioned for the movement. The fleet of planes
included Stinsons, Bellancas and two old Ford
By midnight of the same day, after 39
individual trips, the anti-aircraft units had been
moved to Nome and the big shuttle movement was under
Despite weather that kept the planes on the
ground part of the time, the entire force, along with
all its equipment, with the exception of big field
pieces and similar heavy items, was transported to
Nome in a period of 18 days. The movement could have
been completed in a week had it not been for
unfavorable weather conditions.
Cargo-carrying commercial planes coming in
from China were used to supplement the air armada. The
mid�night sun, providing almost a full 24 hours of
daylight, made it possible for some of the planes to
make two trips in a single day.
Ammunition, rations, tents, even 37
millimeter guns and field kitchens--everything
necessary to make the force self-sufficient--were
moved by air without one single accident. Heavy
weapons were brought up later by boat. The troops
stepped out of the planes at Nome, equipped and ready
to fight. A total of 218 flights were made in the
Col. W. K. Dudley, Eustis, Fla., then a lieutenant
colonel, in command of the force, the defense of the
was hastily organized with the troops working long
hours and until late at night. There had been only a
small garrison at Nome until that time, and there were
no facilities for housing or feeding the big force.
Later, after it became apparent the expected
invasion would not materialize, the troops prepared
themselves for the bitter cold of the winter to come.
Tents were winterized, buildings went up, the supply
of rations was supplemented. Nome is ice-bound about
nine months of each year, and all supplies moving by
boat must be brought in during the three summer
The troops maneuvered in weather from 20 to
35 degrees below zero. They found that none of the
elaborate footgear provided by the army protected the
feet from this particular type of weather as well as
the native mukluk, made by the Eskimos from deer and
reindeer hides or sealskins.
M. Morse of Eugene, Ore., who described the Nome
adventure, said that the mukluk had no equal in a
climate like Nome's. The army purchased a number of
them by contract from the natives and provided every
soldier there with a pair.
Teaching Eskimos to Drill
Soldiers of the Fourth Infantry's third
battalion learned during their three years in Alaska,
among other things, that although many Eskimos are
mechanical wizards, it is next to impossible to teach
some of them close order drill.
The battalion furnished some of the personnel
for operating an Alaska recruit training detachment
where draftees from Alaska, including Eskimos, get
their basic training.
The best method for teaching them close order
drill, Fourth infantrymen said, is to get all the
native recruits in a small room where they cannot help
but hear what the drill sergeant has to say about the
intricacies of this Gl institution. Outside, the
Eskimos become extremely interested in each other and
pay little attention when the sergeant is explaining
the proper way to do an about face.
After days of patient explanation and
innumerable demonstrations, they finally learn to
march in a straight line in simple formation. A
"column left" causes consid�erable
confusion and "by the right flank" results
The drill sergeant, by this time, is on the verge of suffering a cerebral hemorrhage and is muttering incoherently.
On the other hand, they show a remarkable
mechanical aptitude. Some of them can watch a complex
machine gun dismantled and then put together just once
and can take over and do a repeat performance.
One officer said he had heard of cases where
an Eskimo, with some machine part broken and no
replacement available, would take a piece of iron and
a file and patiently file out a new part. They have
infinite patience, he said.
On the whole, they are intelligent and serve
many useful purposes
in the Alaskan theater.
As for army
chow, the Eskimos missed their native dishes of seal
oil and fish, but most of them were already, well
acquainted with most foods served. Pork chops are
They are extremely susceptible to common
sick, nesses of the white man and, not having
immunity, are gravely ill with simple ailments like
measles. Large numbers were hospitalized.
Medical stocks of castor oil, salad oil and
buffer disappeared from refrigerators, while trays of
carefully prepared hospital food were left untouched.
Some members of the famed Alaska combat scout
intelligence platoon, which includes many Alaskan
old-timers, came from these two companies.
Only a few of the soldiers who were at
Chilkoot barracks for so long still remain in the
companies. There are few, if any, soldiers who have
been on duty outside the United States for as long a
time as these Alaska veterans.
1st Sgt. James Kay, of Adams, Mass., Company
"K," for example, had been in Alaska for
eight and one-half years, with the exception of one
eight-month period when he returned to the States with
Several experimental and reconnaissance trips
were conducted by the third battalion. One party of 10
men made a trip with toboggans to Eagle river glacier
and reconnoitered the vicinity of Eagle river pass.
Maj. George A. Felch of Spokane, Wash., now
head of the Alaskan department experimental board and
formerly with the Fourth infantry, made a trip to
various outposts to determine the best types of
footgear for various climatic conditions.
Members of the third battalion became past
mas�ters at the art of unloading ships and putting up
Quon�set and Pacific huts, the greater part of their
time being devoted to work details. They got their
share of training, however, in the Eklutna and
Campbell Lake areas near Fort Richardson. The
battalion was also assigned to the defense of certain
military installations in the area and kept small
detachments at those points.
HISTORY OF 4th INFANTRY DURING ITS 141 YEARS IN
Fourth Infantrymen will tell you that there
is something that sets a member of the regiment apart
from other soldiers. Perhaps this can be attributed to
the regiment's great history and traditions.
The regiment was organized 141 years ago as
the Infantry of the Fourth Sub-Legion, and has figured
prominently in every war in which the United States
has been involved with the exception of one, the
FIRST OVER ATLANTIC
The Fourth Infantry, in 1899, became the
first U. S. army unit to cross the Atlantic ocean,
except for a small detachment of artillery serving
with the navy dur�ing the Algerian war. The
Philippine Insurrection had reached serious
proportions, and the regiment sailed aboard the
transport Grant from Brooklyn to Manila, by way of the
Wearing of a red breast cord for members of
the regiment's band was authorized after an incident
in the Mexican war. During the battle of Monterey, in
1846, members of the band threw aside their
instruments and joined in the battle. They captured a
Mexican field battery and turned the guns on the
fleeing enemy. The red breast cord was authorized to
show that they were good artillerymen as well as
MARCHED ON PENSACOLA
In 1817 the regiment, as part of a force under Gen.
Andrew Jackson, marched on the independent,
Spanish-controlled town of Pensacola, Fla. It was
that Spanish citizens and officials of the town
were abetting the Seminole Indians in their war
against the Americans. After a short but fierce
campaign, the town was taken and many Indian villages
The regiment played an active role
in the campaign of 1841-42, in which the Seminole wars
were ended with the capture of Indian Chief Helleck
Tustemuggee and occupation of his most important
village, which housed most of his stores of food and
Five officers of the Fourth, of Southern
birth and sympathies, resigned their commissions at
the outbreak of the Civil war and joined the
SUFFER HEAVY CASUALTIES
In the thick of the fighting at many of the
major battles of the Civil war, the regiment suffered
heavy casualties, and in June, 1864, with but three
officers and 143 enlisted men remaining, this gallant
organiza�tion was selected by General Grant, as a
token of appreciation for its services, as guard for
IN DEFENSIVE ACTION
The German army was at its crest and The
Allies were staggering under ifs blows in World War I
when most of the regiment disembarked from the
Transport ship Great Northern at historic Brest,
The regiment participated in The defensive
actions of Aisne, Chateau-Thierry and Champagne Marne,
and in The Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne
offensives. The entire regiment wes decorated with The
French Crolx de Guerre.
Having lost approximately 80 per cent of ifs
men, under constant and grueling fire during 30 days
on The line, The regiment was relieved by The 60Th
Infantry. After a rest during which The organization
received 600 replacements, it was marched To a
position in The Forst de Beese, and on Nov. 9, 1918,
received orders to be ready to move at a moment's
The men knew They were To Take part in the
final drive to encircle Metz, in The event The Germans
did not accept Terms of The proposed armistice which
had been Tendered The Germans. Preparations were being
made for The departure on The morning of November II
when The end of The war was heralded by French
vil�lagers' shouts of "Vive la France! .... Vive
l Amerique!" "Vive les Allies! ...Fini la
(Provided courtesy of Mack Collings and http://www.hlswilliwaw.com/aleutians)
A Poem about the 4th by Charlie Harris
Last Updated: 04 Jan 2013 12:02