By: Bob Frankenstein
Wisconsin National Guard 32nd (Red Arrow) Division Company “E” 127th Infantry Beaver Dam Armory
Fifty-three years ago on August 13, 1961, barbed-wire fence barriers were constructed to limit travel between East and West Berlin, and on August 14, 1961, the Brandenburg Gate was closed. By August 26, 1961, all crossing points were closed to West Berliners. Soviet and East German troops manned all crossing points, screening diplomats and other officials before they were allowed to enter or leave. The Iron Curtain that divided all of Europe between communism and democracy after World War II now included The Berlin Wall. Thousands of troops were pulled from the United States to beef up forces in Europe in retaliation. Cold War tension was so serious that President Kennedy decided to call up reserves. On October 15, 1961, he ordered the Wisconsin National Guard (Red Arrow Division) to active duty. This call-up hit Wisconsin hard. Armories in 72 cities and towns scrambled to activate and get ready to go to Fort Lewis, Washington for training. Equipment had to be loaded on 550 flatcars at 14 railroad sites in Wisconsin. It would require up to 20 freight trains. Some 10,000 men were ordered to duty from Wisconsin.
All members of the Beaver Dam Armory were ordered to report for duty on October 15, 1961 at 8:00 a.m. Captain Kordus announced a duty roster, which put the Armory on a 24-hour alert basis. Work details were set up to pack all equipment, gear and footlockers. Physical training would take place at Tahoe Park. They were told they would be in Fort Lewis, Washington on or about the 27th, so they would leave from the South Beaver Dam depot on October 24th or 25th. They were ordered to report each day at 7:30 a.m. for duty at the Armory, until departure. Public support and send-off programs by churches and the city encouraged them until they left.
Captain Kordus scheduled a company formation at 8:30 a.m. that Tuesday morning, October 24, 1961, and after a briefing of the trip to Fort Lewis, Washington, it was dismissed at about 9:00 a.m. for the rest of the day. Company E was to report at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday morning at the South Beaver Dam depot where a company formation would be held, after which the men would be able to visit with their families until it was time to board the troop train coming from the south. The train was to leave Milwaukee at 6:10 p.m. with stops at Racine at 6:35 p.m., Jefferson at 7 p.m., Fort Atkinson at 7:30 p.m., Monroe at 7:45 p.m. and Janesville at 8:30 p.m. and was then scheduled to depart from South Beaver Dam at 9:30 a.m. The Beaver Dam High School band was at the depot to send the company off. Waupun’s Company A would also leave on the same train as the Beaver Dam Company.
Writer’s note: I interviewed Captain Dan Kordus before he passed away and asked him to share his military experiences including this crisis. His memories…
Company A of Waupun and Company E of Beaver Dam all left from South Beaver Dam on the same train. They would eventually arrive in Fort Lewis, near Tacoma in the state of Washington, and were housed in the old North Fort. The main fort was located a couple of miles south of our location, he remembers. The 4th Division was stationed there. The North Fort had not been occupied for several years and was in poor and run-down condition. Poor living conditions and leaving home weighed on the men, he would confide. Morale of the men dipped. However, “we managed to improve on these conditions and with new busy training routines, morale improved considerably over the next few months.” There were about 80 men in Company E when they left Beaver Dam, but the company would be brought up to full strength with the use of “fillers.” Fillers were ordered to active duty from the military reserves in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and other Midwest states and several members of the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings were included. Ron Mayberry of the Vikings served in Company E.
Training was quite intense. They had a lot of field exercises where they went out in the field away from camp for several days, such as “Operation Bristlecone” in the Mojave Desert in California, where they maneuvered against the 1st Division from Fort Riley, Kansas. It was cold and the wind caused severe sandstorm-like conditions making it very difficult to carry out any kind of training exercises the first few days; however, they stuck it out for a full seven days, completing the exercise. He continued that they also took part in “Operation Mesa Drive” about 108 miles east of Fort Lewis, Washington for a two-week exercise against another unit from the National Guard. Physical conditioning was a priority! Many of their field exercises were long and hazardous and of an obstacle course nature, and their physical condition was very good by the time they returned home, he would state.
About 75% of the men were given ten-day furloughs to visit family in Beaver Dam for Christmas, and those whose families were living nearby, having followed them to Fort Lewis for the duration, were given five-day passes. A local Washington state brewery exclaimed that a six-month supply of beer disappeared within the first 60 days after the 32nd arrived. (He shares this information with a smile.)
As time went on, members of Congress and others began talking about an early release for the 32nd Division. The Berlin Crisis had cooled somewhat and it was felt the 32nd could stand-down. Captain Kordus said, “We were relieved of active duty in August 1962, after approximately 10 months of active duty, and returned to Beaver Dam.”
Meanwhile on the homefront, families in Beaver Dam were building bomb shelters in their backyards or in basements using blueprints designed by the Beaver Dam High School drafting class. Our schools held air-raid drills and Civil Defense placed stores of water, rations, and medical supplies in all major buildings. Evacuation routes from major cities were set up and emergency alert tests were tested on the radio and TV systems. Then it was time to welcome back the returning Beaver Dam area National Guard 32nd Division family members.
It was inconceivable at the time that the people of the United States would be confronted a few short months later with “The Cuban Missile Crisis.” This cruel shock would again disrupt our daily life and directly challenge the livability of this earth. We would discover powerful Soviet submarines lurking deep in the waters of the Gulf coast and a missile supply Soviet armada on its way to Cuba. Cuban nuclear tipped missiles were almost operational and would soon threaten the very heart of the United States of America. The Mississippi River route to the interior was also vulnerable and millions of people were at risk. Would this turn out to be a thermonuclear bomb war and the end of the world? This heinous threat had to be met head-on and is another historic moment to be written about at another time.
If you would like a full-guided tour of the Veteran’s Museum in the Dodge County Historical Society building, we would be pleased to do this for interested families, civic groups, and school children. Veteran’s groups are always welcome.