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Document created: 20 November 02
Air & Space Power Journal - Winter 2002
Minuteman: The Military Career of General Robert S. Beightler by John Kennedy Ohl. Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. (http://www.rienner.com), 1800 30th Street, Suite 314, Boulder, Colorado 80301, 2001, 291 pages, $59.95 (hardcover).
Prof. John Kennedy Ohl’s Minuteman makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the role of the National Guard in World War II. Using a few letters, interviews with relatives, and official reports, Ohl performs yeoman’s work by piecing together the life of Gen Robert S. Beightler, a unique and interesting man. The author shows the National Guard at both its best and worst, highlighting the nature of America’s militia.
Despite the voluminous number of books about World War II, we have few biographies of division commanders. Numerous biographies and autobiographies (in the case of Gen Omar Bradley, two autobiographies!) of corps, Army, and Army group commanders have appeared. Granted, many of these men, like Bradley, commanded divisions during their ascent to flag rank, but we have very few biographies and studies of the anonymous men who led the 89 divisions that mobilized during World War II. A book about Beightler (pronounced “bite-ler”), one of only two National Guard adjutant generals to command divisions in combat, is long overdue. He commanded the 37th “Buckeye” Infantry Division from mobilization in 1940 through demobilization in 1945.
In many ways, Beightler was a typical guardsman. He enlisted in the Ohio National Guard in 1911 for many of the same reasons as did other turn-of-the-century militiamen: adventure, camaraderie, and socializing. Like many who remained in the Guard, Beightler rose rapidly in rank after his first enlistment and dedicated as much time to the military as his civilian career allowed. During World War I, he became adjutant of the 166th Infantry Regiment, but after the war, his career diverged radically from those of other guardsmen. A successful civil engineer in civilian life, he could afford to take unpaid leaves of absence from work to attend the Army’s Command and General Staff School in 1926 and the Army War College in 1930, as well as serve four years on the War Department staff, where he met many regular Army officers with whom he would work in World War II. Undoubtedly, this education helped him during mobilization, when he put theory into practice.
His active duty time during World War I and at the War Department did nothing to dampen his parochialism regarding the National Guard, however. Many times he fought decisions by the War Department that he felt adversely affected the “Ohio National Guard flavor” of his division. For instance, in 1942 the department assigned the 37th Infantry Division’s 147th Infantry Regiment to garrison duty. To the War Department, regiments were simply the building blocks of divisions- just as interchangeable as machine parts. But to guardsmen like Beightler, regiments were integral to the character and spirit of the division. He tried unsuccessfully for the rest of the war to regain his wayward unit. In other instances, Beightler hesitated to replace inefficient commanders due to his prewar association with them, and he often saw conspiracies by regular Army officers to overhaul the leadership of his division and replace his citizen-soldiers with West Pointers. Interestingly, the same charge could be levied against Beightler since he favored his own prewar Ohio acquaintances over more competent and experienced candidates.
Despite his shortcomings, Beightler proved a quick study and an efficient commander. Once during an exercise, the umpire quizzed him about the location of one of his battalions. Beightler, who at this time tended to tie himself to his headquarters and maps, was deeply embarrassed when no one could find the battalion. Thereafter, he went to the front frequently to check on his men, their conditions, and their commanders. He became one of the best division commanders in the war, leading his unit through the battles on New Georgia, Bougainville, and the Philippines, where the Buckeyes participated in the only true urban warfare in the Pacific theater when they helped capture Manila.
One finds only a few flaws in this short, readable biography. First, the maps are horrible. It is unfortunate that the author did not avail himself of a number of good maps that show the 37th Infantry Division’s movements and battles. Second, because Ohl relied heavily on Beightler’s family for letters and interviews, one senses that perhaps he pulls a few punches. He certainly could have explored the tension between the National Guard and regular Army that seemed to permeate his subject’s mind.
Professor Ohl has partially filled a void in our World War II scholarship, and one would like to see more biographies of division commanders- Gen Terry de la Mesa Allen and Gen Clarence Huebner, to name but two. Minuteman provides an answer to the question about why airmen should read biography: despite his parochialism, Beightler was successful due to his education, experience, leadership, and willingness to share his men’s hardships- qualities that all military officers should take to heart.
Maj James Gates, USAF
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.