With The 41st Division In The Southwest Pacific — A Foot Soldier’s Story, By Francis B. Catanzaro

by Francis B. Catanzaro (Indiana University Press, 2002; 198 pp., $27.95 — ISBN 0253341426)

My first reaction was that this was yet another of the recent stampede for a last gasp or grasp for immortality by a dying generation. But, this rises above the herd. Catanzaro does a good job of placing his excellent recollection of rather mundane events within a framework of the broader picture — drawn from reputable sources. No participant really knows what is going on around him — let alone on the larger stage.

The chapters on Basic Training, Overseas Movement, and, later, Occupation Duty, and finally, the long voyage home, should appeal to those who shared similar experiences — and maybe their descendants. The meat of the story is the time the author spent in Co. I, 162 Inf., 41st Div., from March ’44-December ’45, rising from Rifleman to the exalted grade of T-5 as Co. Armorer Artificer. The Sunset Division (from Shoulder Patch) was one of the best of the 18 National Guard Divisions. The quality of a division comes from several factors. Leadership at all levels is vital, but that by the CG is pre-eminent. The first Commander of the 41st was MG George A. White, who was BG Oregon NG before our entry in WWI and had been State AG 1920-40. He was a good soldier who led his division through mobilization and army maneuvers, but was beyond his scope of ability for jungle warfare. After a brief interregnum by the FA Brigade CG (who then also left AD because of age), MG Horace H. Fuller, USA, assumed command December ’41-June ’44. With the limited number of divisions at this point and the probability of early deployment, this was a key selection and great care was taken by the Chief of Staff himself in making it. Fuller was born in August 1886 and Cavalry WP 1909 so was at the upper edge in grade at that time, and moreso when they entered combat. He was probably not in shape to live up to the high expectations from his previous job as Cmdt C&GSS. He was followed (June ’44 to inactivation December ’45) by MG Jens Anderson Doe, USA. born June 1891 and WP Inf. 1915 (the Class on which the Stars fell — Ike, etc.). I encountered him when he was PMS&T UC ROTC 1937-40. He went on to command a regiment in the 41st Div. until he made BG as Asst. Div. Comdr. February 1943. He did well to warrant his promotions.

The next factor for the quality of a division was preparation for combat: how maneuvers related to the real thing; whether the level of efficiency already achieved was set back by the need to retrain because of losses for cadres and replacements; whether the edge of readiness had been dulled by overly long times on unproductive security missions. The 41st was fortunate in these things and was ready when elements were committed to defend Port Moresby 02 January 1943.

Then comes the nature of the initiation to, or early experience under, fire. Some may have the trauma of a Kasserine, Buna, Rapido, Hurtgen Forest, or Bulge and have their confidence and morale damaged, as well as suffering heavy casualties. Again, the 41st was lucky in having a series of successes during their “blooding.” In the year plus before Catanzaro arrived to replace one of those so “blooded,” the Division had shaken down and was in good operating shape for the subsequent operations in which he participated at Hollandia, Biak, Zamboanga and Mindanao.

There are relatively few of the errors that creep into the best edited of publications. There might have been more, and clearer maps to clarify the story. The 12 pages of pictures are the random, family-album type, but some serve a purpose. The book is short and the pages small and his tale well told. Worth reading!