Today: Feb 29 , 2020

Prescott Welcomes Home Charlie Company 1-158 Bushmaster

10 September 2019   Pete Walter

Bushmasters have served their country for decades.

Some older readers might remember how warriors returning during the Vietnam conflict where treated upon arriving home from the battlefields of South East Asia; it wasn’t pretty, but that was a different time. America has come a long way in reversing this error to the extent that it is common today for publicly noticeable veterans to hear, “Thank you for your service,” as they pass through airports, malls, grocery stores and even just walking along a sidewalk in downtown Prescott, Arizona. 

 Saturday, Prescott and Yavapai County took it to a new level when our own National Guard Unit: “Charlie Company 158 Infantry Battalion” returned from Afghanistan after 12 months of overseas service by way of Kuwait. The “Bushmasters” were deployed in July of 2018, and, although heavy rains had threatened to disperse the crowds even before the event began, the moment came when Yavapai County Supervisor Craig Brown called’s attention to Whiskey Row. 

 It began with a solemn march around the Courthouse Plaza. Many spectators, unable to see, could only hear the soft drumming of boot heels as cadence calls echoed off century old brick edifices around the square. An impressive display of military rank and file quietly took their places upon the north steps while a large crowd covering the plaza in all directions anticipated their moment to honor our protectors with cheers of appreciation. That moment came and was repeated throughout the ceremony as local and state representatives for the City of Prescott, Yavapai County, the offices of Congressman Paul Gosar, US Senator Martha McSally and various Veteran service organizations spoke words of praise and appreciation for the soldiers of Charlie Co. 1-158… The Bushmasters! Former Mayor Marlin Kuykendall, who served three terms in Prescott, was also a Commander in the Bushmasters organization during the 1960’s. Kuykendall was honored with a standing ovation after he spoke eloquently of his days in the unit that he holds dear to this day. In one humorous moment, another former three term Mayor, now Supervisor Rowle Simmons laid claim to stopping the rain, however one couldn’t help notice the sun break through the clouds while Commander Kuykendall spoke!

The US Army Infantry Battalion “Charlie 1-5-8, as I was told to speak it by Prescott resident; Specialist Ari J. Quinonez, is a storied fighting unit of the Arizona National Guard having fought in the Indian Wars, WW1, WW2 and Afghanistan. 

Group photo of Charlie Company 158th Infantry Regiment “Bushmasters” named
after the venomous pit vipers found in Central America.
Guadalupe “Lupe” Lopez (Second row from the top, Sixth person from the right)
was awarded a Silver Star for fearless actions on Jan. 14, 1945, which became
known to the Bushmasters as “Bloody Sunday” and was the largest number of
casualties sustained by the 158th in any battle during the regiment’s history.
(Photo Courtesy of the Lopez Family/Released)

 A brief history, found on the Department of Emergency Managements website, reads: “Born September 2, 1865, as the First Arizona Volunteer Infantry; the Regiment was drafted into Federal Service for World War I, 5 August 1917. In January 1942 the Regiment embarked to the Canal Zone. It was in Panama where they trained in jungle warfare. Becoming famous for newly acquired jungle-fighting skills. 

Members of the 158th Infantry Regiment conduct jungle warfare battle drills in
Panama in 1942. Frequent dealings with the deadly snakes of the jungle,
lead to the unit adopting the name “Bushmasters” after the venomous pit vipers 
found in Central America.
(Photo Courtesy of the Arizona State University Libraries Collection/Released)

   "The Regiment took the name of the Bushmasters after the deadly bushmaster snake, then becoming the distinguishing shoulder patch of the fighting 158th Regimental Combat Team. General MacArthur, himself, personally selected and requested that the Bushmasters be sent to his command in the Southwest Pacific Theater where they fought the Japanese 6th Tiger Marine Division from 17 May to 12 June 1944. The Regiment traded 77 [casualties] for 3000 of the enemy and was relieved on 12 June by the 6th Infantry Division (which spoke well for the regiment as it took an entire division to replace them). It was at the battle at Lingayen Gulf, where Co G from Safford, Arizona was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for their action in capturing the 14-inch coast gun which was bringing heavy fire on the invasion force. 

  "After being relieved by divisions in campaign after campaign across the Pacific, the 158th Infantry was selected to spearhead the final invasion of Japan. The Bushmasters were under orders to proceed two days ahead of America's crushing D-Day, to silence Japanese air warning stations south of Kyushu. Timely capitulation of Japan saved the 158th Infantry from what many believed would have been a certain suicide mission.

 "On 13 October 1945, the 158th Infantry landed in Yokohama, Japan. The great odyssey was over; FROM ARIZONA TO JAPAN - IN FIVE YEARS!” 

Image in Public Domain.

  The Adjutant General of Arizona, Major General Michael McGuire, a professed Airman and a former F16 Fighter pilot, was the guest of honor for Saturday’s ceremony. Highly animated in his appreciation for the strong support given his unit, he thanked the community for making him feel, “welcome and at home.” Noticeably touched, he went on to give a brief history of America’s and Arizona’s patriotic march to military security, highlighting the Bushmaster’s stellar “ten arduous months in Kabul, Afghanistan without a single combat loss and no major injuries.” In acknowledging the poor treatment of veterans from the 60's and to bring a clearer view of how America really felt about the returning troops of that era, he noted Gallup’s tracking of public trust in American public sector entities, both political and civilian. McGuire noted, “The United States Military has never not lead that poll since 1950… not one time," thus undermining past thinking that any veterans, ever, were not truly supported since such polls have been taken. In closing, the Commander once again expressed his appreciation for Yavapai County being the leader in a state that is among the leaders of the nation in its support for the Armed Forces of America.

In the words of General Douglas MacArthur, “No greater fighting combat team has ever deployed for battle.” Arizona… and Prescott itself should be proud of such a tremendous legacy. Thank you again, and welcome home Bushmasters!  by Spc. Wesley Parrell