The 158th Infantry Regiment "Bushmasters" are a pretty big deal around here, in fact December 3rd is "Bushmasters' Day" here in AZ. The Bushmasters weren't too different from the Rangers we emulate here, but have more in common with the Rangers of Vietnam.
They were a Regiment part of the Arizona National Guard, and their story starts way back in 1862, when Company A, Arizona Rangers were raised by Arizona Territory Governor, John Robert Baylor to fight for the Confederacy in the US Civil War. These Rangers had little in common with their WW2 counterparts, really more accurately described as a gang of cowboys raiding Union lines with guns they stole... from the Union. After the Civil War, they saw plenty of action in the Apache wars (1849-1924, perhaps the most well known figure of this war is "Geronimo" who staged his war in the mountains not far from my home.)
During the Spanish-American War (1898-1898) the Bushmasters picked up their motto "Cuidado" Spanish for "Take care", better translated to the modern term "Stay Frosty".
Despite their rad new motto, the Bushmasters had yet to prove themselves. During John Pershing's expedition into Mexico (1916) to give Pancho Villa a bloody nose, the Bushmasters were stuck patrolling the border. They had arrived too late to see any action on the Western fronts of WW1 as well. On December 7th 1941, they got their chance.
The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor the 158th Infantry Regiment (1st Arizona Infantry) was detached from the 45th Infantry Division, who's story I'm sure I will share another time, and sent to the Panama Canal zone for Jungle training and protection of the canal. Yeah that's right, this unit comprising of men who had lived in the desert their whole life, this unit who had essentially served its entire existence in the desert, was being re designated as a jungle warfare unit. How did that turn out? Well... Not too bad actually.
Bushmaster's on patrol in the jungle.
In Panama the 1st Arizona Infantry honed their skills. Daily practice of knife fighting, hand to hand combat, jungle survival tactics and more had turned them from cowboys to deadly stalkers. They picked up a nickname "Bushmasters" after the deadly pit vipers that infested where they trained. Where most regiments were linked to new divisions, the Bushmasters were left alone. Most line commanders did not want the Bushmasters. To them, the Bushmasters were a bunch of dumb white boy rebel hick cowboys leading a bunch of Mexicans and Indians around using tactics that weren't exactly "Gentleman-like". (It should be noted that while this is outrageous today, back then many commanders had fought against both the Mexicans and Indians and had lost friends to them. Not to mention conflicts between Mexican banditos, Native warriors, and American settlers had been raging for generations at this point)
Eventually they were attached to the 6th Army and sent to Australia before transferring to New Guinea. Now they made a name for themselves. in a 1943 article for Popular Mechanics one journalist writes:
"One of America's most colorful and least known soldiers of World War II is the Bushmaster...His tactics are borrowed from native jungle fighters, the American Indian, British commandos, exponents of judo and the Shanghai underworld...He uses machetes, curved knives, Tommy guns, high-powered rifles, and hand grenades...His average age is 22 and his favorite weapon is the long-bladed machete...With his fellow Bushmasters, he disappears from civilization for weeks at a time. The men know how to sustain themselves on wild fare supplemented by jungle rations carried in their packs. When they are not testing their camouflage against aerial observers, making camp in a swamp, or working out an intricate code of communications, they are practicing jujitsu or improving on the native's technique with the machete. The Bushmaster bows to no man in the art of hand-to-hand fighting and any unwary enemy who crosses his path would probably never know what hit him."
The Bushmasters jumped around the Dutch East indies, specifically New Guinea and it's surrounding islands until January 1945 when they were redeployed for the invasion of the Philippines. The Bushmasters landed at Lingayen gulf and took heavy casualties from dug in Japanese defenders along the Damortis-Rosario road. Around this same time Company G was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for knocking out a 14 inch gun that was directing fire at allied ships.
G Company admiring the prize that would win them a PUC
Their next task was to clear Balayan Bay and Batangas Bay on the island of Luzon with assistance from local Philippine forces, the effort would take about three weeks. Then on 1 April, the regimental combat team invaded the Bicol Peninsula, landing at Legaspi. F Company was made up mostly of Native Americans from the main tribes of the Salt River Valley (Located near Phoenix, AZ), but was led by white officers. Many of these officers, who survived combat, later recounted participating in Native American rituals; such as becoming blood brothers and purifying their warrior's spirit before battle.
"Cuidado! - Take Care, Bushmasters!" A painting depicting the 158th during the Bicol Campaign on Luzon, Philippine Islands, 3–4 April 1945.
After being relieved from the Philippines the Bushmasters were selected to invade the Japanese island of Tanegashima in preparation for Operation Downfall, the invasion of Japan, but the atomic bombings put an end to this plan. General MacArthur gave the Bushmasters the accolade, "No greater fighting combat team has ever deployed for battle"
The Bushmasters most recent campaign was a tour in South-Eastern Afghanistan in 07-08.
Distinctive Unit Insignia, featuring the Bushmaster's motto
I hope at least one person can enjoy this rather long post, the story of the Bushmasters interests me quite a bit and I hope it interested you as well!