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THIRTY-SIXTH INFANTRY DIVISION

THIRTY-SIXTH INFANTRY DIVISION. The Thirty-sixth United States Infantry Division, also known as the Texas Division, saw action in Europe during both world wars. At the outset of its federal service the division was composed mostly of Texas National Guard troops and was therefore nicknamed "Texas Division." According to some sources, the arrowhead (point down) on the division's shoulder patch was thought to stand for Oklahoma, while the superimposed capital block-letter "T" was thought to stand for Texas. The "T-Patchers" mobilized at Camp Bowie, Tarrant County, in response to orders of the United States War Department dated July 18, 1917. Some national guardsmen from Oklahoma supplemented the division. After a period of training in Texas, initially under Maj. Gen. Edwin St. John Greble, the division was ordered overseas under the command of Maj. Gen. William R. Smithqv and arrived in France in stages between May 31 and August 12, 1918. The division completed additional training in September and engaged in the Allied Meuse-Argonne offensive during most of the month of October, fighting in the Aisne valley. The Thirty-sixth advanced thirteen miles against German resistance and suffered 2,601 casualties before being relieved on October 28–29, 1918. The division returned to America between April and June 1919 and was demobilized in June from federal service.

The division again entered federal service on November 25, 1940, a little more than a year before the United States entered World War II. Training began at the new Camp Bowie in Brown County under the command of Maj. Gen. Claude V. Birkhead. Additional soldiers came from several other states, but most top officers were Texans. Maj. Gen. Fred L. Walker, a regular army officer from Ohio, was posted to command the division in September 1941 and led the T-Patchers in maneuvers in Louisiana from September 15 to 28, 1941. One unit of the division, which became known as the "lost battalion," was shipped off to the Pacific soon after Pearl Harbor and was captured at the fall of Java. The men of the battalion spent the war in Japanese prison camps, and many died building the Burma Railroad. After more months of training, the division was sent to Africa, leaving New York for Oran, Algiers, in April 1943.

The Thirty-sixth participated in hard fighting between September 9 and 18, 1943, with other units of the United States Fifth Army under Gen. Mark W. Clark at a vulnerable beachhead at Salerno, Italy. The division was withdrawn after casualties considerably reduced its effectiveness. Subsequent personnel changes reduced the percentage of Texans to less than half. The Thirty-sixth made significant contributions to the Allied campaign in Italy and fought in two of the most controversial American actions of the war at San Pietro and the Rapido River. In December 1943 two battalions of the division attacked the German-held town of San Pietro. Director John Huston photographed some of this combat for his grim 1945 documentary film, The Battle of San Pietro. Historian Martin Blumenson concluded that the Thirty-sixth was "close to exhaustion" by the end of 1943; nevertheless, units of the Texas Division were selected to undertake one of the most difficult of all military operations: crossing a strongly defended river at night. General Clark needed pressure on the German defensive line below Rome to prevent the Germans from counterattacking the projected Allied beachhead at Anzio. Further advantage would be obtained if the attack could achieve an Allied breakthrough into the Liri valley and open the push on Rome itself. General Walker had serious doubts about the Rapido operation, given the current of the river, its muddy banks and approaches, and the lack of adequate boats or bridging equipment. One source called the attempts to cross the Rapido between January 20 and 22, 1944, a "two-day nightmare." The attack met stout German defenses, and the T-Patchers suffered heavy casualties, including 143 killed, 663 wounded, and 875 missing, but managed to participate in the continuing Italian campaign, including the capture of Rome. A fictional account by Harry Brown of one of the division's actions, entitled A Walk in the Sun (1944), was made into a major Hollywood movie of the same title released in January 1946 by Twentieth Century Fox.

Subsequently, the T-Patchers were designated one of three infantry divisions to go ashore in Operation Anvil-Dragoon, the invasion of southern France, scheduled for August 1944. General Walker was relieved in late June and replaced by Maj. Gen. John E. Dahlquist. In contrast to the bitter battles in Italy, the "French Riviera Campaign" seemed fast-moving and met with considerable success. In the spring of 1945 the division entered Germany, where it served for six months as an occupation garrison; it returned to America in December 1945 to be demobilized. According to official reports the Texas Division ranked seventh in casualties among all United States divisions; totals of killed, wounded, and captured exceeded 19,000.

When the War Department made national guard units available to the governors of the states in 1946, the Thirty-sixth Division was reactivated. The division grew until the Texas National Guard was reorganized in 1959, when the Thirty-sixth and Forty-ninth were exchanged to achieve better geographic alignment. The Thirty-sixth was called to active duty for twelve months during the Cuban Missile Crisis (1961–62). In 1965 a separate Thirty-sixth Infantry Brigade was formed, primarily of Thirty-sixth Infantry Division units, to serve as a high-priority unit of the selected reserve force with capability of mobilizing in seven days. With reorganization of the reserve forces, however, the Thirty-sixth Infantry Division was eliminated by January 1968. A portion became part of the Seventy-first Infantry Brigade (Airborne), the only reserve-forces air brigade in the United States Army. Both the Thirty-sixth Infantry Brigade (Separate) and Seventy-first Brigade (Airborne) succeeded the Thirty-sixth Infantry Division. Lineage and honors of the division are continued by the Thirty-sixth Brigade of the Fiftieth Armored Division of New Jersey in Houston. In 1946 veterans of the unit founded the Thirty-sixth Division Association, which still meets annually.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Martin Blumenson, Bloody River: The Real Tragedy of the Rapido (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970). Martin Blumenson, Salerno to Cassino (Washington: GPO, 1969). Jeffrey J. Clarke and Robert R. Smith, Riviera to the Rhine (Washington: Center of Military History, 1993). Historical and Pictorial Review: National Guard of the State of Texas (Baton Rouge: Army and Navy Publishing Company, 1940). Richard Huff, A Pictorial History of the 36th "Texas" Infantry Division (Austin: 36th Division Association, 1946). A River Swift and Deadly: The 36th "Texas" Infantry Division at the Rapido River (Austin: Eakin Press, 1989). Robert L. Wagner, "Rapido River Controversy: A Review," East Texas Historical Journal 28 (1990). Robert L. Wagner, The Texas Army: A History of the 36th Division in the Italian Campaign (Austin, 1972). Fred L. Walker, From Texas to Rome: A General's Journal (Dallas: Taylor, 1969).

Joseph G. Dawson III

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Joseph G. Dawson III, "THIRTY-SIXTH INFANTRY DIVISION," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qnt03), accessed August 22, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.