PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — On this Veteran’s Day we remember one of the most important fighting divisions of World War Two — the 41st Infantry Division.
The 41st Infantry Division was comprised of Army National Guard soldiers from the Northwest. Their courage defeated the Japanese in the Pacific Theater and was critical to winning the war.
Westbound Highway 26 is called Sunset Highway not only because of its direction but also because it’s officially dedicated to the 41st Infantry Division — also known as the Sunset Division.
“When we were picked to go overseas, we were the first Infantry division to be sent overseas in World War Two,” said Leland “Bud” Lewis. “We were located in the Northwest, and that was the closest place to Australia.”
Australia was the training and staging area for the allies in the Pacific Theater, including New Guinea, Biak and the Philippines — that meant jungle warfare and brutal hand-to-hand combat.
That gave the 41st Infantry Division another nickname: The Jungleers.
“If we had not been there, it would have been another world — because that whole area would have been Japanese,” said Lewis.
Lewis joined the 41st Infantry Divison in 1942. He was just 16-years-old, handling ammunition for more than 3,300 troops.
“Small arms, mortars, bazookas, all of the small arms. I handled all of that for roughly 2 years,” he said.
The soldiers in the Northwest’s Sunset Division were critical in the allies’ winning WWII. It’s why there’s a monument dedicated to the 41st at Fort Benning, Georgia. A little closer at Camp Withycombe in Clackamas, streets on the base are named for Oregon soldiers who served in the 41st during the war.
All of those soldiers have passed on, although there are about 60 survivors in other states.
“I’m the only person alive out of 160 people in my unit,” said Lewis.
Lewis eventually became a Portland police officer and a security chief for a local corporation.
He doesn’t consider himself a hero — but others do.
“If we had not won the war of the Pacific with the 41st there, we wouldn’t be here,” said retired Army Staff Sergeant David Funk. “We wouldn’t be talking today.”
Bud Lewis is 99-years-old now but stays active by working out at the Multnomah Athletic Club.
“People say we’re the greatest generation,” he said. “It’s just that we were there at that time and that place and we had to do something — and we did it.”