John E. Dahlquist


Name John E. Dahlquist
Born March 12 1896
Died June 30 1975
Birth Location Minneapolis, MN

World War II commander of one of the most highly decorated units of the army, the 36th Division, who was also criticized for his leadership decisions and over-utilization of Japanese American soldiers.

Early Life

John Ernest Dahlquist, the youngest of four children born to Swedish immigrants, was born on March 12, 1896, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. At the age of twelve, after his father was killed by a steel girder, he worked small jobs while attending school. Dahlquist earned good grades and went on to graduate from the University of Minnesota, where he served as editor of The Gopher, the university annual. He joined the military service as second lieutenant on August 15, 1917, and served as a lieutenant with the Allied Occupation Forces in Germany after World War I, where he became familiar with provinces along the Rhine River. Following a three-year tour of duty in the Philippines, Dahlquist rose through a variety of desk positions, including deputy chief of staff to General Dwight D. Eisenhower in England. He was recognized for his logistical skills, especially for writing a manual on operating machine guns and for reorganizing the army post office.[1]

World War II Commander

Forty-eight year old Major General John Dahlquist assumed his first command of combat troops when he led the 36th "Texas" Division in the invasion of southern France. After his division failed to advance aggressively on Montelimar, a hilltop town, Maj. Gen. Lucian K. Truscott Jr., corps commander, almost relieved Gen. Dahlquist. His initial lack of decisiveness and inexperience with infantry tactics would be tested in later military maneuvers, after the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team of Japanese Americans joined Gen. Dahlquist's 36th Division on October 13, 1944.[2]

The 36th Division had been ordered to break the German stronghold in the Vosges Mountains between France and Germany, a feat no known army had accomplished. On October 15, 1944, their first target was the town of Bruyeres, a rail and road intersection surrounded by four hills held by the enemy (labeled A, B, C, D). Maj. Gen. Dahlquist, assuring troops that there was no sign of the enemy, insisted that the 100th/442nd advance ten kilometers a day in thick fog and drenching rain. The camouflaged Germans, however, had seeded the forest with mines and booby traps and barraged the troops with heavy artillery, mortar fire, and rocket launchers.[3]

Officers criticized the general's orders, which discounted plans they had made based on intelligence reports and personal knowledge. These added risks, they believed, cost many more casualties.[4] The 100th's Capt. Young Oak Kim deliberately cut off communication with headquarters to avoid the commander’s "wrong information and crazy orders." After that the 100th, using their own time table, captured 100 Germans with only two wounded when overtaking Hill A.[5] Once troops finally occupied Hill C and captured fifty Germans, Dahlquist's subsequent order to withdraw from the hill negated their success and required a battalion of the 3rd Division's 7th Infantry to retake it, at a cost of 100 casualties.[6] In another account, Capt. Christopher Keegan complained that, although the 3rd Battalion had captured Bruyeres on October 18, Gen. Dahlquist ordered the 2nd Battalion to retake it so that cameras and the press could take movies.[7]

After the 100th Battalion returned from overtaking Hill C, Maj. Gen. Dahlquist sent them to high ground overlooking Bruyeres then ordered them to descend that steep ridge to capture the village of Biffontaine. This isolated the 100th seven miles behind enemy lines and beyond the range of artillery support and radio contact when they were already low on supplies. Many questioned the rationale behind abandoning a strategically sound position to capture the small farming town of 300. Surrounded by Germans and involved in house to house combat, the troops still beat back the enemy, though they suffered 3,000 casualties, nearly half their regiment.[8]

Rescue of the Lost Battalion

After ten days of fierce fighting to liberate Bruyeres and Biffontaine and barely a day of rest, the 100th/442nd received a new order: to rescue 275 Texans trapped on a steep ridge and surrounded on all sides by Germans. The 1st Battalion of the 141st Regiment had advanced several miles into German territory without rear backup, following assurances from Gen. Dahlquist that no Germans were in the area.[9] Now Gen. Dahlquist ordered the 100th Infantry and the 2nd and 3rd Battalions to push forward at all costs to rescue the "Lost Battalion." Through freezing rain and dense fog, the men trudged up nine miles of heavily wooded ridges on mined, serpentine paths as Germans fired artillery and machine guns from fortified positions above. The 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, the 232nd Engineer Company, and their Cannon Company supported them. After five days and nights of continuous combat, the 100th/442nd rescued the Lost Battalion.[10]

At the November 12 dress review to thank the troops, only a few hundred of the more than 4,000 men and officers stood in line. When Gen. Dahlquist maintained that he had ordered all men to assemble, Lt. Col. Virgil Miller responded simply, "That's all that's left."[11] To rescue the 211 Texans—all that remained of the originally trapped 275—the 100th/442nd had suffered more than 800 casualties. In one month of fighting, the regiment had dwindled to one-third of its strength.[12] Still, the day after the honor parade, Dahlquist ordered the ravaged troops back for patrol duty. Not until November 17 did the depleted 100th/442nd finally gain reprieve, after Lt. Gen. Jacob L. Devers, the 6th Army Group commander (four levels of command higher in rank), ordered their return.[13]

Reactions and Legacy

Major General Dahlquist gained accolades from the Department of Defense for successfully opening passage through the Vosges Mountains into Germany.[14] As a two-star general, he distinguished himself as one who repeatedly showed up on the front lines to issue orders, rather than from headquarters miles away.[15] Many officers, however, questioned his demanding and short-tempered orders, driving forward, never consolidating a position, chastising commanders, and continuously rallying, "Keep them going and don't let them stop." During the Battle of the Lost Battalion, Lt. Col. Alfred Pursall, commander of the Nisei 3rd Battalion, contradicted the general, "Those are my boys you're trying to kill...I won't let you kill my boys..."[16] One war correspondent observed that General Dahlquist "used the Nisei more ruthlessly than his own troops, pushing them into death traps, day after day, to reach the Lost Battalion of his 36th Division."[17] At a 1982 military ceremony, then Col. Gordon Singles, the 100th's commander, refused to publicly shake the hand of Gen. Dahlquist (by then a four-star general) and years after he retired, reportedly could still not mention his name without shaking in anger.[18]

When the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team detached from his 36th Division, Gen. Dahlquist noted in his letter that "the courage, steadfastness, and willingness of your officers and men were equal to any ever displayed by United States troops." Though he had no apparent public comment about the views of his ranks, he did write to his wife Ruth: "It astounds me how the men are able to stand the physical and mental strain under which they are constantly living. It is almost beyond comprehension that the human being can stand so much." Still, in another letter to her after the November 12 awards ceremony, General Dahlquist complained that, with the falling snow, his fingers turned numb from pinning so many medals on the men.[19]

After the war's end, Gen. Dahlquist served as deputy director of personnel and administration at the War Department for two years. He rose to four-star general in 1955 and commander-in-chief of the Continental Army Command before retiring a year later. Returning to Minnesota, he became department head for the New York investment firm of Harris Upham & Company then retired again. John E. Dalquist died on June 30, 1975 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.[20]

Authored by Linda Tamura

For More Information

Asahina, Robert. Just Americans: How Japanese Americans Won a War at Home and Abroad. New York: Gotham, 2006.

Chang, Thelma. "I Can Never Forget": Men of the 100th/442nd. Honolulu: Sigi, 1991.

Crost, Lyn. Honor by Fire: Japanese Americans at War in Europe and the Pacific. Novato, Calif.: Presidio, 1994.

Duus, Masayo Umezawa. Translated by Peter Duus. Unlikely Liberators: The Men of the 100th and 442nd. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1983.

Go For Broke National Education Center. http://www.goforbroke.org/history/history_historical_campaigns.php.

Military.com. Histories for 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry Regiment. http://www.military.com/HomePage/UnitPageHistory/1,13506,101235%7C967666,00.html.

Steidl, Franz. Lost Battalions: Going for Broke in the Vosges, Autumn 1944. Novato, Calif.: Presidio, 1997.

Texas Military Forces Museum: 36th Division in World War II, Division Commanders. http://www.texasmilitaryforcesmuseum.org/36division/archives/intro/divcmdrs.htm.

100th Infantry Battalion Veterans Education Center. http://www.100thbattalion.org.

Footnotes

  1. Texas Military Museum, Military.com, accessed on April 15, 2015 at http://www.military.com/HomePage/UnitPageHistory/1,13506,101235%7C967666,00.html; Lyn Crost, Honor by Fire: Japanese Americans at War in Europe and the Pacific (Novato, Calif.: Presidio, 1994), 176; Robert Asahina, Just Americans: How Japanese Americans Won a War at Home and Abroad (New York: Gotham Books, 2006), 105-06; Franz Steidl, Lost Battalions: Going for Broke in the Vosges, Autumn 1944 (Novato, Calif.: Presidio, 1997), 143-45.
  2. Asahina, Just Americans, 104-05, 112-17; Masayo Umezawa Duus, translated by Peter Duus, Unlikely Liberators: The Men of the 100th and 442nd (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1983), 168; Thelma Chang, "I Can Never Forget": Men of the 100th/442nd (Honolulu: Sigi, 1991), 25.
  3. Chang, "I Can Never Forget," 24-25; Duus, Unlikely Liberators, 164-66.
  4. Crost, Honor by Fire, 176-77.
  5. Chang, "I Can Never Forget," 30-31; "Community Focus: 100th Bn. Losses Attributed to Poor Leadership," Hawaii Herald, July 16, 1982, 3, accessed on April 14, 2015 at http://nisei.hawaii.edu/object/io_1149135356515.html.
  6. Duus, Unlikely Liberators, 180-81; Chang, "I Can Never Forget," 33.
  7. Asahina, Just Americans, 143-44.
  8. Duus, Unlikely Liberators, 182-83; Crost, Honor by Fire, 179-83; Chang, "I Can Never Forget," 36-37.
  9. Go For Broke National Education Center, accessed on April 14, 2015 at http://www.goforbroke.org/history/history_historical_campaigns.php; Chang, "I Can Never Forget," 38; Crost, Honor by Fire, 184; Asahina, Just Americans, 162.
  10. Chang, "I Can Never Forget," 40; Asahina, Just Americans, 178-83; Crost, Honor by Fire, 185-97.
  11. Asahina, Just Americans, 198; Chang, "I Can Never Forget," 59; Duus, Unlikely Liberators, 217; Crost, Honor by Fire, 199.
  12. Crost, Honor by Fire, 197; Duus, Unlikely Liberators, 217; Chang, "I Can Never Forget," 59.
  13. Asahina, Just Americans, 201; Crost, Honor by Fire, 199.
  14. This was the first time in military history that the passage from Saint-Die to Selestat and into Germany had been successfully attacked. Crost, Honor by Fire, 200.
  15. Asahina, Just Americans, 167-69, 178.
  16. Crost, Honor by Fire, 189-91; Duus, Unlikely Liberators, 201-02; Steidl, Lost Battalions, 146.
  17. Crost, Honor by Fire, 303.
  18. Chang, "I Can Never Forget," 59; Crost, Honor by Fire, 202; Duus, Unlikely Liberators, 219.
  19. Steidl, Lost Battalions, 132, 91, 130.
  20. Asahina, Just Americans, 239; Arlington National Cemetery Website (1994-2011), accessed on April 14, 2015 at http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/jedahlquist.htm; Steidl, Lost Battalions, 146-47.