Story by Chief Warrant Officer 3 Janet Schmelzer, Texas State Guard
When World War II erupted in Europe in 1939, the National Guard was called into active service on September 16, 1940. Once the National Guard was federalized, states felt unprotected and argued that they needed military units to serve within each state’s boundaries and protect their property and residents.
Congress responded by amending the National Defense Act of 1916. The 1940 “State Guard Amendment” authorized states to create and maintain defense forces for protection and enforce territorial police power. The mission of state guards was to provide an adequately trained force for deployment within the boundaries and jurisdictions of their respective states as directed by the state executive or legislature, maintain laws, suppress disorders, protect the life and property of individuals within the state, vital industries, installations, and communication facilities, meet domestic emergencies including natural and war disasters, prevent and suppress activities of enemy agents, cooperate with federal military authorities in extreme emergencies and perform other duties as were assigned to the National Guard when not in federal service.
The types and numbers of each state guard was left to the decision of the states. The War Department would supervise and direct training, issuing weapons, jeeps, trucks, ambulances and other supplies as needed. State guards were to be demobilized or disbanded as National Guard units returned to home from the war. The War Department also placed the supervision of state guard forces under the National Guard Bureau, ensuring rules and regulations that applied to the National Guard, including courts martial and punishments applied to state defense forces.
Brig. Gen. L. F. Guerre, Director, Security and Intelligence Division, Eighth Service Command, Army Service Forces, stated that the Texas State Guard “was conceived as a wartime necessity and which serves a patriotic purpose to back the war effort with patriotic service on the home front.”
Following the passage of the “State Guard Amendment,” Texas Governor O’Daniel authorized the Adjutant General of Texas Brig. Gen. John Watt Page to formulate plans to organize the state defense force, including provisional appointment of commissioned officers and informal enlistment of personnel. By the end of 1940, Texas had 173 companies consisting of 500 officers and 6,000 enlisted men. Anticipating the passage of the Texas Defense Guard Act, O’Daniel named Page as the commander of the state defense force. The 47th Texas Legislature and O’Daniel quickly passed the requisite enabling law, the “Texas Defense Guard Act 1941,” which created and organized the Texas Defense Guard on February 10, 1941. This act authorized the governor to organize and maintain a state guard when deemed necessary to defend the state and to prescribe rules and regulations governing enlistment, organization, administration, uniforms, equipment, maintenance, training and discipline. The act also permitted the ability to secure arms, equipment or other government property for its protection. The emergency appropriation for the state guard was $65,000.
The guard was composed of officers and able-bodied males who were citizens of the United States. To keep from interfering with Army recruiting efforts, state guard enlistment focused on older citizens, World War I veterans, non-prior service civilians, businessmen, defense workers, merchants, farmers and young men not eligible for federal service. They enlisted for three years without pay, except when on state active duty, and all had to meet U. S. Army physical training standards. Anyone dishonorably discharged from a federal service or civilian organization was barred from enlistment.
Under the act, the governor requisitioned arms and equipment from the War Department and made state armories available to the state guard. Other funds, armories, equipment, material and transportation were supplemented by county courts, cities, communities and civic and patriotic organizations.
The state guard served only within the boundaries of Texas and could not be called or ordered into federal military service. The governor, however, had the authority to order the guard to assist military or police forces of another state in pursuit of insurrectionists, saboteurs, enemies or enemy forces into another state and to permit other states the right of pursuit into Texas by mutual agreement between the states.
The organization of the state guard quickly took shape. The state guard uniforms and ranks were identical to the U. S. Army, and State Guardsmen wore the Texas Defense Guard patch on their left arms.
The plan for the state guard was to establish battalions across the state. If a town or county wanted a unit, local organizations, such as the city council and veterans’ groups, submitted an application describing the strategic importance of locating a unit there and submitted an incident command structure. Denver City and Yoakum County pointed out the importance to protect vital war industries and installations, oil well fields, pipeline stations, a Texas-New Mexico power plant and tank batteries for oil storage in their area. By 1942 50 battalions were established.
With enlistments skyrocketing to 17,497 in the first year, the Texas Defense Guard increased training to 150 hours in 1942. The Eighth Army Service Command provided training materials and films, while Army instructors held schools for officers and non-commissioned officers at Camp Mabry and Camp Bullis. Training covered military conduct, discipline, camp sanitation, personal hygiene, first aid and the use of chemical masks against chemical attack and toxic gasses. Guardsmen learned the basics of march and bivouacs, dismounted drill, interior and special guard duty, sentinel on post, extended order (whistle, hand signals, arm signals) and orderly deployment. They practiced how to care for equipment, pitch a tent, build and dig field fortifications, trenches and foxholes, create camouflage, read a map, guard vital installations, conduct night operations, form the squad edge and squad diagonal tactical formations and identify German, Japanese and Italian aircraft.
Weapons training for Guardsmen included an eight-hour course on the use of the Springfield .30-6 caliber M1903 five-round magazine-fed, bolt action repeating rifle and seven hours of M1928A1 Thompson .45 cartridge submachine gun, the famous “Tommy Gun,” which had a reputation for accuracy and high-volume fire.
Needing the Springfield rifles for the war in the Pacific, the War Department took back the rifles and distributed shotguns as replacements. In 1943 the shotgun became the principal State Guard weapon authorized for brush fighting, patrolling from cars or trucks during night, fog and rain operations and street fighting. Hand-grenade training included fake hairbrush grenades and potato mashers. At one point, the State Guard considered training with explosive devices made by a Boston fireworks factory but decided to use fake grenades instead for safety and economy.
Page stated that the importance of the Texas Defense Guard as a second line of American defense was “not be to underestimated. Our guard officers will be taught how to meet the same problems which beset the low countries of Europe preceding the Nazi invasion. Holland and France were taken unawares but we here in Texas will be prepared for any eventuality.”
The Texas Defense Guard, only months after being created and with many units still being organized, faced its first big test as a defense force during the Houston Gulf Coast Hurricane on September 22-23, 1941. Over 500 guardsmen rescued victims, transported people to safe locations, patrolled streets armed with rifles, prevented looting, directed traffic in flooded locations, provided first aid and assisted local authorities. The Texas Defense Guard was the sole agency to maintain radio communication with the public and local agencies throughout the storm. Located at Palacios, Texas, 1st Lt. J. C. Johnson of Houston, Radio Division, Texas Defense Guard, was the only source of communication along the Texas coast throughout the night. Broadcasting on his portable radio, he reported on weather conditions every 15 minutes as the storm approached and stayed in contact with Houston and Austin.
“If the Texas Defense Guard had not mobilized at 7 pm and contributed their services, we never would have been able to handle the situation alone,” stated the Houston police chief.
Once the storm had passed, the Texas Defense Guard Aviation Branch conducted an aerial survey of storm damage and flooding. On September 24, Texas State Guard Aviation Branch pilot, Capt. N. E. Meador, piloted the first airplane to leave any Houston airport. Meador, along with two additional Aviation Branch pilots, provided the first aerial photographs and damage reports from the hurricane strike area. This information was vital to how and where local emergency authorities responded.
In 1943 the 48th Texas Legislature and Texas Governor Coke Stevenson amended the Texas Defense Guard Act. The Texas Defense Guard was renamed the Texas State Guard. The official shoulder patch was the “T-Patch,” still worn today by the State Guard. The Texas Adjutant General during the Stevenson administration, Brig. Gen. A. B. Knickerbocker, was named the commander of the Texas State Guard. At this point, the Texas State Guard had 48 battalions, a rifle company, headquarters, service and medical detachments.
The Texas State Guard continued to provide support to civilian authorities until the end of World War II. Guardsmen responded to hurricanes, civil disorder and riots such as the Beaumont Riot in 1943, tornadoes, such as the one that struck Crowell in 1942 and remained ready to protect Texans from harm.
From the beginning of the Texas Defense Guard, Guardsmen volunteered as true citizen-Soldiers and served their fellow citizens in times of emergency. They were not seeking pay or glory but a sense of patriotism and service.