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15th Regiment, United States Army

HistoryLink.org Essay 10353 : Printer-Friendly Format

The U.S. Army's crack 15th Regiment arrived in 1938 at Fort Lewis, where it would serve and receive training to maintain its reputation as one of the best regiments in the military. While there the regiment became proficient in amphibious operations. A detachment from the regiment trained in winter warfare at Mount Rainier and developed tactics and equipment designs. The regiment fought in eight major World War II campaigns. With sixteen Medal of Honor awards, it led regiments in that medal for extraordinary heroism. 15th Regiment Medal of Honor recipients include famed combat veteran Audie Murphy (1925-1971) as well as Victor Leonard Kandle (1921-1944) of Puyallup.

The Famed 15th Regiment

The 15th Regiment arrived from China to a huge greeting at the Tacoma docks on March 24, 1938. It was a celebration resembling those of World War I's returning veterans. The transport USAT Grant docked with 808 enlisted men and officers of the famed U.S. Army 15th Regiment aboard. Also on board were 417 wives and children. The latter included Lieutenant Edwin J. Messinger's (1917-2003) newborn daughter Diane Grant Messinger (b. 1938), given the ship's name for her middle name. As the transport pulled up to the dock, ships in the harbor, train locomotives, and factories blew their whistles. Overhead, 91st Observation Squadron planes flew in formation. A dirigible also flew above the waterfront. An army band played. The official welcoming party included Governor Clarence D. Martin (1884-1955), Tacoma mayor George Smitley (1872-1956), and Major General Thomas E. Merrill (1875-1943), the Fort Lewis commander. The 15th Regiment would be stationed at Fort Lewis in new barracks under construction. As one of the best regiments anywhere, its assignment helped turn Fort Lewis into a premier training and readiness installation. Influential army leaders such as Brigadier General George C. Marshall (1880-1959) lobbied for Fort Lewis. The presence of the 15th Regiment at Fort Lewis was one of the main reasons then-Lieutenant Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) requested an assignment to Fort Lewis.

The 15th Regiment was organized on May 3, 1861, during the Civil War and had a distinguished record in that war. It fought in the Indian Wars and in the Philippines. In 1900 the regiment was dispatched to Peiping (now Beijing), China, to protect American and other delegations during the Boxer Rebellion. With this accomplished the regiment went back to the Philippines for further battles there. In 1906 the 15th Regiment returned to the United States for service at the Presidio in Monterey, California. This stateside duty lasted only until 1912 and a return to China, where the regiment worked to protect Tienstin and keep open the railroad and transportation routes. It did this in cooperation with troops from Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan. The 15th's superior efficiency earned it the nickname "Can Do." It was considered one of the best regiments, not only in the U.S. Army, but of all military regiments. Surviving photographs of the regiment in China show a very sharp unit. Noticeable in the photographs are a distinctive sleeve insignia -- the "Chung" patch for those who could speak Chinese.

The 15th Regiment spent 26 years in China, an extremely long overseas assignment. Among the regimental commanders in China was Lieutenant Colonel George C. Marshall who was the executive officer 1924-1927, but who largely ran the regiment. Marshall proved effective at keeping the regiment at a high state of readiness. He made sure that the officers learned Chinese and encouraged enlisted soldiers to attend the classes. In 1937 Marshall became commander of the 5th Brigade, 3rd Division, at Vancouver Barracks. He later became Army Chief of Staff, General of the Army, and, after the war, Secretary of State.

The 15th Regiment at Fort Lewis

After the 1938 dockside welcome, the 15th Regiment moved into 200 pyramidal tents at Fort Lewis. Under construction were 19 semi-permanent barracks. They were finished in June 1938. Also, the regimental headquarters complex of of