NEWS | April 10, 2017

World War I centennial: Ohio National Guard played pivotal role

By Sgt. 1st Class Josh Mann Ohio Army National Guard Historian

COLUMBUS, Ohio — On April 6, 1917, Congress declared war on Germany, ending the 2 1/2-year effort by President Woodrow Wilson to keep the U.S. neutral. Today, 100 years later, the Ohio National Guard commemorates the contributions and sacrifices our predecessors made to help make the world safe for democracy during World War I.

Most of the Ohio National Guard had just returned from a successful nine-month deployment to Texas for Mexican Border service when war was declared. However, some regiments remained in federal service guarding key infrastructure across the state. On July 15, the remaining units of the Ohio National Guard were called into federal service and began recruiting to wartime strength. Ohio also began organizing the necessary units to complete the formation of an all Ohio division, which eventually became the 37th Division.

On Aug. 5, the entire National Guard was drafted into the Army. This permitted the federal government to deploy Guard members outside of the U.S., an act that was meant to circumvent the militia clause of the Constitution. The clause stated that Guard members could only be used to "execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrection and repel invasions" and not be deployed overseas. To sidestep this restriction, the Army’s Judge Advocate General determined that it would be necessary to draft each Guard member into federal service, thus severing his ties to the state militia and freeing him for service overseas. Ohio would send 25,187 officers and men into the Army with a stroke of a pen.

The majority of the Ohio National Guard was sent to Camp Sheridan, Alabama, in September for training and was reorganized shortly after as the 37th Division. Known as the "Buckeye Division," they reached France in June 1918 and received credit for participation in the Lorraine, Meuse-Argonne and Ypres-Lys campaigns. The 37th would be rated one of the top five American divisions by the German general staff and had the honor of escorting the King of Belgium back into his country after years of German control.

Additionally, 2nd Lt. Albert Baesel, a native of Berea and a member of Company B, 148th Infantry, would earn the Medal of Honor for sacrificing his life trying to carry a wounded Soldier back to friendly lines near Ivory, France in September 1918.

The 4th Infantry Regiment, made up of units from central and south-central Ohio, was picked to join the 42nd Division and was soon renamed the 166th Infantry. The 42nd was made up of National Guard units from 26 states and earned the nickname "Rainbow Division" based on a comment attributed to Douglas MacArthur, who said that such an organization would "stretch over the whole country like a rainbow." The 166th Infantry reached France in November 1917 and participated in the Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, Lorraine and Champagne campaigns.

Finally, the 9th Infantry Battalion, which was organized across Ohio as a segregated unit, was consolidated with other black organizations from the National Guard to form the 372nd Infantry, an element of the 93rd Division. Serving with the French 157th Division, the regiment earned the French Croix de Guerre with Palm during the Meuse-Argonne campaign for attacking an enemy position under a "violent machine-gun and artillery fire" and "capturing numerous prisoners, cannons, machine guns and important materiel."

Today, 44 Ohio Army National Guard units perpetuate the lineage of World War I ancestors. Units proudly display credits with streamers, in the colors of the World War I victory medal and inscribed with the name of the campaign, on their flags, organizational colors or guidons, depending on the size of the organization. Their service is attested on lineage and honors certificates, issued by the U.S. Army Center of Military History.

This summer also marks the centennial anniversary of three major subordinate commands of the Ohio Army National Guard: the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT), 16th Engineer Brigade and 371st Sustainment Brigade. In addition to their World War I service, all three organizations fought in the Pacific during World War II and have deployed multiple time during the War on Terrorism. Over the past 100 years, these organizations have also mobilized countless times in response to the needs of Ohioans for state active duty. The 37th IBCT continues the nickname "Buckeye" and proudly wears the shoulder sleeve insignia of its parent unit that was adopted at the end of World War I — a red and white circle, taken from the flag of Ohio.

Adding to their unit's historic lineage, the 37th IBCT is currently deployed in support of Operation Joint Guard-Kosovo Force (KFOR), tasked with maintaining a safe and secure environment for people living along Kosovo's southeastern border, and will return home later this year; the Soldiers of the 371st Sustainment Brigade are currently preparing for a mission to the Middle East later this spring.