Wisconsin began preparing for war more than one year before Pearl Harbor. In addition to the many Badger men already serving in the regular armed forces, the 32nd Division (made up of Wisconsin and Michigan National Guardsmen) was called to active duty in October 1940 and began training at Camp Beauregard, and later Camp Livingston, in Louisiana. The Division’s tank company (largely from Janesville, Wisconsin) was detached, made Company D, 192nd Tank Battalion, and sent to the Philippines. There, they were attacked by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941, were eventually captured at Bataan and forced on the Bataan Death March, and held prisoner by the Japanese for three years.
The December 7 attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines accelerated the pace of the 32nd Infantry Division’s training. By February 1942, they moved to Massachusetts in preparation for duty in Europe. A month later, they traveled cross country to California and instead deployed to the South Pacific, arriving in Australia in May 1942. Beginning in September, the Wisconsin men in the 32nd Division saw 654 consecutive days of combat at places like Buna, New Guinea, Leyte, and Luzon. They were the first American division to fight an offensive action against Japanese forces and earned countless citations and awards through their bravery.
The remainder of the 332,000 Wisconsin men and women who served during World War II were scattered among the different branches of service and served all over the world. Richard Bong, a Poplar, Wisconsin native, gained national fame as America’s top ace, shooting down forty Japanese aircraft from his P-38 Lightning. Antigo native John Bradley took part in the historic flag raising on Iwo Jima. Over 8,000 Badgers lost their lives during the war and another 13,000 were wounded.
The Wisconsin Veterans Museum preserves the stories of Wisconsin’s role in World War II. An annotated bibliography of published works relating to Wisconsin’s role in the war includes first-hand accounts, memoirs, regimental histories, and books about the home front. Remember to search the museum’s collections to find artifacts, books, oral history interviews, letters, photographs, and more from Wisconsin Civil War veterans. Contact us if you have any questions or comments.