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Iconic pre-D-Day photo of Eisenhower has National Guard connection

By MAJ Thomas W. Mehl, U.S. Army | National Guard Bureau | June 6, 2013

ARLINGTON, Va. - The photograph of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower speaking to 1st Lt. Wallace Strobel of Company E, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division on the eve of D-Day, June 5, 1944, remains one of the most compelling and iconic images of World War II.

Perhaps what many people do not realize though is that Strobel originally mobilized with the Michigan National Guard's 125th Infantry Regiment in 1940.

Born on June 5, 1922, in Saginaw, Mich., Strobel enlisted in Saginaw's Company F, 125th Infantry, 32nd "Red Arrow" Infantry Division Sept. 1, 1940. The unit was inducted into federal service Oct. 15, 1940, and Strobel, along with thousands of other Citizen-Soldiers of the Michigan and Wisconsin National Guard, was sent to Camp Beauregard, La., for what was to be a year of intensive training.

The 32nd Infantry Division participated in the Louisiana Maneuvers during the summer of 1941 along with fellow Guard units, including the 34th, 37th and 38th Infantry Divisions. This training greatly enhanced the readiness of the National Guard in preparation for combat in World War II.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the rumors of war became a reality for the Citizen-Soldiers. At this time, the 32nd was organized as a square division, consisting of four infantry regiments, including two from Michigan and two from Wisconsin.

But new U.S. Army doctrine called for triangular divisions consisting of three infantry regiments instead of four. Thus, all of the 18 National Guard divisions had to release one of their four infantry regiments. Consequently, on Dec. 8, the 125th Infantry Regiment was relieved of assignment to the 32nd Division and sent to California in preparation for a possible invasion by the Japanese.

The invasion never happened, but Strobel and many other highly trained Citizen-Soldiers of the 125th Infantry became cadre for new U.S. Army units being activated, or volunteered for Officer Candidate School and/or the paratroopers, including Strobel.

Although he traded in his "Red Arrow" shoulder sleeve insignia for the "Screaming Eagle" of the 101st Airborne Division, the 14 months of training Strobel received as a mobilized Citizen-Soldier would prove invaluable as he prepared to lead a platoon of paratroopers in the greatest invasion in history the evening of June 5, 1944, his 22nd birthday.

Strobel survived D-Day and World War II, and was discharged from the Army May 1, 1946. He returned to Saginaw where he married his high school sweetheart, raised a family and was a successful businessman. Before his death on Aug. 28, 1999, Strobel prepared an article for the Eisenhower Birthplace State Historical Park in Denison, Texas, about the famous photograph of him talking with Gen. Eisenhower at Greenham Common Airfield in England on June 5, 1944.

"He (Eisenhower) asked my name and which state I was from," Strobel related. "I gave him my name and that I was from Michigan. He then said, "Oh yes, Michigan, great fishing there. Been there several times and like it.'"