World War II, Texans in

By: Ralph A. Wooster

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: January 5, 2022

The Japanese attack on American military installations in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, brought the United States into World War II. Although the aerial bombardment of Pearl Harbor was a surprise, American entry into the war raging in Europe and Asia was not totally unexpected. The United States had opposed the expansionistic moves of Japan in the Far East and Germany and Italy in Europe and Africa throughout the 1930s. The invasion of Poland in 1939, followed by the fall of France in the summer of 1940, increased American concerns for national security. While the majority of American people opposed direct involvement in the foreign conflict, they supported efforts to aid those nations opposing aggression and to strengthen our own defenses. Texans strongly supported President Franklin Roosevelt's steps to aid the British, French, and Chinese and to strengthen national defense. Texas congressmen, with the exception of Martin Dies and Hatton W. Sumners (who abstained), voted for the Burke-Wadsworth Selective Service Act of 1940, which instituted the first peace-time draft in American history. Texas congressmen, particularly Senator Thomas T. Connally, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, played leadership roles in the debate over the Lend Lease bill to provide needed war supplies to nations resisting aggression. The entire Texas delegation, except Joseph J. Mansfield, voted for the bill, which passed the House by 260 to 165 and the Senate by 60 to 31 in early 1941. Texans reacted quickly to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Connally introduced the joint resolution for a declaration of war with Japan on December 8. Several days later he introduced similar resolutions for war with Germany and Italy, Japan's allies who had declared war on the United States.

Texas governor Coke R. Stevenson urged support for the war effort, denouncing the "cowardly Japanese attack." He predicted accurately that Texans would respond enthusiastically to defend their country. Long lines of men gathered at recruiting stations to volunteer for military service. Texans enlisted or were drafted in excess of the percentage of the nation's population. Although the state had 5 percent of the United States population, it provided 7 percent of those who served in the armed forces. Texas A&M University alone provided more officers for the armed forces than both of the military academies combined. Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox later declared that Texas had contributed a larger percentage of men to the armed forces than any other state. By the end of the war 750,000 Texans, including 12,000 women, served in the armed forces. The majority were in the Army and the Army Air Force, but nearly one-fourth served in the navy, marines, or the coast guard. During the war 22,022 Texans were killed or died of wounds. One-third of these fatalities were in the navy, marines, or coast guard.

Texans served with distinction in various theaters of operations in World War II. Among the first to see action were members of the Second Battalion, 131st Field Artillery of the Thirty-sixth Infantry Division, the Texas National Guard. Detached from the division in the fall of 1941, the battalion was rushed to the Far East, where artillery was badly needed. The battalion was captured on Java when the Japanese overran the Dutch East Indies. Together with captured survivors of the cruiser Houston, sunk in the Sundra Strait on March 1, 1942, members of the unit came to be known as the Lost Battalion because for a year no one at home knew what had happened to them. The men of the Lost Battalion spent the rest of the war in Japanese prison camps. The 112th Cavalry Regiment, another Texas unit to see service in the Pacific, was stationed at Fort Bliss and Fort Clark before the war. The regiment, made up mainly of Texans, was the last American unit to serve on horseback in the war. After being sent to New Caledonia to guard an air base, the 112th took part in heavy fighting in New Britain, Leyte, and Luzon, along with the First Cavalry Division, another regular army unit stationed in Texas before the war. The First Cavalry, dismounted for jungle fighting, captured Los Negros in the Admirality group in February 1944. A year later the First Cavalry was the first American division to reach Manila in the reconquest of the Philippines. The 103rd and 144th Infantry regiments were other Texas units to see extensive action in the Pacific.

Texans also played an active role in the war in Europe. The Thirty-sixth Division was the first American division to invade Europe. Mobilized at Camp Bowie (Brown County) on November 25, 1940, the division trained in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida before landing in North Africa in April 1943. The division stormed ashore at Salerno on September 9, 1943, participated in the ill-fated and controversial attempt to cross the Rapido River, and took part in the liberation of Rome, the invasion of southern France, and fighting in Alsace and the Ardennes. When the war ended the division was in Austria. In all, the Thirty-sixth was in combat nineteen months, fought in five major campaigns, engaged in two amphibious assaults, and captured more than 175,000 prisoners. The division suffered among the highest casualties for any American unit: 3,717 killed, 12,685 wounded, and 3,064 missing in action, or 19,466 total. Men from other states served in the division as the war went on, but it continued to be identified as a Texas unit. Displaying the Lone Star flag and wearing the famous T-patch on their shoulders, men of the Thirty-sixth were proud to be known as the "Texas army." The Ninetieth Division, composed originally of national guardsmen and draftees from Texas and Oklahoma, also saw much action in Europe. Activated at Camp Barkeley near Abilene in March 1942, the division landed on Utah beach on D-day, 1944. As a part of Gen. George Patton's Third Army, the Ninetieth took part in Operation Cobra, the Allied breakout in northern Europe. The Ninetieth drove across France in the summer of 1944, participated in heavy fighting at Metz and in the Saar, and played a role in relieving besieged American forces in the Ardennes. The division was in Czechoslovakia when the war ended. Like the Thirty-sixth Division, the Ninetieth sustained heavy casualties, especially in the savage struggle in the Bocage hedgerow country of Normandy. The Second Infantry, a regular army division, was another unit that had strong ties with Texas. The division was headquartered at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio before World War II. Identified by its Indian-head shoulder patch, the Second Division landed at Omaha beach the day after the initial American assault. It formed a part of the United States First Army, first under Omar Bradley and later Courtney Hodges. Like the Ninetieth Division, the Second fought its way across France in the summer and fall of 1944. It crossed the Rhine at the Remagen bridgehead in March 1945 and was in Leipzig when the war ended.

Individual Texans distinguished themselves in various theaters of the war. Thirty-three Texans won the Medal of Honor—twenty-five in the army or air force and eight in the navy or marines. One of these, Lt. Audie L. Murphy of Farmersville, was the most highly decorated American in the war. Commander Samuel D. Dealey of Dallas, another Texas recipient of the Medal of Honor, was the most highly decorated man in the United States Navy. James Earl Rudder was decorated for his service as commander of the Second Ranger Battalion at D-day. More than 150 generals and twelve admirals were either natives or residents of Texas. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme Allied commander in Europe, was born in Denison and was stationed at Fort Sam Houston when the war began. Chester W. Nimitz, appointed commander of the Pacific Fleet after the Pearl Harbor disaster, was a Fredericksburg native and descendant of a pioneer Texas German family. William Simpson, commanding general of the Ninth Army, which fought its way across France and Germany under Eisenhower's command, was the son of a Confederate veteran and a native of Weatherford. Jonathan M. Wainwright, who surrendered American forces at Corregidor after Douglas MacArthur's departure to Australia, was a native of Washington but spent much of his military career stationed in Texas and made his home in Texas after the war. Walter Krueger, a native of Germany who became commanding general of the Sixth Army, which served under MacArthur in the liberation of the Philippines, considered San Antonio his home. Commerce native Claire L. Chennault, former high school teacher and fighter pilot, organized the American Volunteer Group, the legendary Flying Tigers, which fought with the Chinese against the Japanese. He was recalled to active duty when the United States entered the war, and commanded Army Air Forces in China. Oveta Culp Hobby, wife of former Texas governor William P. Hobby, was appointed to develop and command the Women's Army Corps.

Many of the Texans who fought in World War II were members of minority groups who faced discrimination and segregation at home. Doris Miller, a Black mess attendant from Waco, serving on the USS West Virginia, became one of the first American heros of the war at Pearl Harbor. At the time, African Americans in the Navy could serve only in the Steward's Branch. As a messman, Miller had not received the gunnery training given White sailors, but when members of the gun crew were wounded, he manned a machine gun, with unknown results. Although Miller was awarded the Navy Cross, he was still a steward two years later when his vessel, the USS Liscome, was lost with all hands. Another Black mess attendant from Texas, Leonard Roy Harmon from Cuero, received the Navy Cross posthumously for bravery in caring for the wounded while his ship, the USS San Francisco, was under attack in the Solomon Islands. The majority of the 80,000 Black Texans who saw military service in World War II were assigned to segregated units usually commanded by White officers. Most of them received basic military training in camps located in Texas and other Southern states with entrenched segregation. Separate and inferior facilities for African-American soldiers existed at many military installations. Black resentment at racial injustice at Fort Bliss led to a fight between White and Black soldiers. Mexican Texans also faced various forms of discrimination in military life. Even so, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Tejanos from across the state responded to the nation's call for military service. Five Tejanos, Lucian Adams of Port Arthur, Macario García of Sugar Land, José M. López of Brownsville, Silvestre S. Herrera of El Paso, and Cleto L. Rodríguez of San Antonio, received the Medal of Honor. Another Mexican Texan, Dr. Hector Garcia, won the Bronze Star and six battle stars while serving in North Africa and Italy. After the war Garcia founded the American G.I. Forum of Texas to help veterans fight against discrimination in housing, education, and employment.

Military installations of every type were located in Texas during World War II. Some of these, such as at Fort Sam Houston at San Antonio and Fort Bliss at El Paso, existed before the war and served as headquarters for various army commands. Others, such as Camp Wolters near Mineral Wells, Camp Fannin near Tyler, Camp Howze near Gainesville, Camp Bowie near Brownwood, and Camp Hood near Killeen, were opened immediately before or during the war. Twenty combat divisions comprising more than 1,200,000 troops trained at the fifteen major army camps in Texas between 1940 and the end of 1945. Texas was the center for training army and naval airmen during the war. Randolph Air Field at San Antonio, dedicated in 1930, was known as the "West Point of the Air" and served as a major base for pilot instruction. Kelly and Brooks Fields, located nearby, were enlarged, and Ellington Field near Houston was reactivated. The national headquarters of the Air Force Training Command was located at Carswell Field in Fort Worth. The largest naval flight-training center in the world, the Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, was opened just before Pearl Harbor. An estimated 200,000 airmen, including 45,000 pilots, 12,000 bombardiers, 12,000 navigators, and thousands of aerial gunners, photographers, and mechanics, were trained at the forty military airfields in Texas.

More prisoners of war were housed in Texas during World War II than in any other state. More than 50,000 prisoners, mainly Germans but also including 3,000 Italians and 1,000 Japanese, were held in twenty-one prisoner base camps and more than twenty branch camps located throughout the state. The largest camps were at Mexia, Hereford, Hearne, and Huntsville. Early in the war maximum security for the prisoners was maintained but gradually this was changed to allow utilization of prisoners as badly needed agricultural workers. Many prisoners replaced American personnel at military bases as clerks, bakers, carpenters, electricians, groundskeepers, machinists, and mechanics. In addition to the prisoner of war camps there were three camps opened in Texas to house enemy aliens. Operated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the World War II internment camps were located at Seagoville, Kenedy, and Crystal City. The majority of Texas internment-camp prisoners were Axis nationals from Latin America.

Arnold P. Krammer, "When the Afrika Korps Came to Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 80 (January 1977). Ronald E. Marcello, "Lone Star POWs: Texas National Guardsmen and the Building of the Burma-Thailand Railroad, 1942–1944," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 95 (January 1992). Robert L. Wagner, The Texas Army: A History of the 36th Division in the Italian Campaign (Austin, 1972). James Lee Ward et al., eds., 1941: Texas Goes to War (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1991).

Time Periods:
  • World War II

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

Ralph A. Wooster, “World War II, Texans in,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 09, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 5, 2022