Thursday, April 23, 2020

April 1955: Operation Minuteman Demonstrates Effectiveness of National Guard

By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

A 57 mm recoilless rifle squad from the Rome-based Company E, 122nd Infantry Regiment secures an intersection during exercises as part of
Operation Minuteman April 20, 1955. Georgia Guard Archives
In April 1955, the National Guard’s 400,000-strong force responded to an unprecedented activation exercise. Operation Minuteman, conceived by Maj. Gen. Edgar Erickson, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, successfully mobilized nearly 320,000 National Guardsmen in an age long before e-mail, social media and smart phones.

This 1955 Cartoon by Bill Canfield illustrates the reach
of Operation Minuteman. Georgia Guard Archives.
“Considering this was the first time that a nationwide alert has been held by a reserve component of the armed forces, the National Guard made a great showing,” said Maj. Gen. George Hearn, Adjutant General of the Georgia National Guard following the conclusion of Operation Minuteman. “The people of the state and nation became instantly aware of the potent force we mobilized in such a short period of time.”

The purpose of Operation Minuteman was to test the speed and efficiency with which the National Guard could be mobilized in the event of a national emergency. Additionally, the operation was intended to demonstrate to the public the efficiency and readiness of the National Guard.

At 3:30 on the afternoon of April 20, 1955, the alert notification was dispatched from Washington D.C. to the adjutants general of the 48 states and Alaska Territory. In towns across the country, local armories were flooded with National Guardsmen responding to the exercise alert. A company commander in the California National Guard reported 70 percent of his personnel had reported within one hour of the alert, ninety percent had reported by the second hour and all were present within three hours of the alert notice.

After assembling, the Guardsmen were dispatched on simulated missions. Units of the Atlanta-based 122nd Infantry Regiment established protective cordons around vital infrastructure including power stations, water works and radio stations. The 215th Medical Battalion of the Tennessee National Guard set up four hospital tents near their Memphis Armory and ambulances were dispatched to receive simulated patients.
Georgia Army National Guard Soldiers rush to the Atlanta Armory during Operation Minuteman. The Soldiers are from
the 122nd Infantry Regiment, 179th Field Artillery Regiment, 48th Signal Company and 878th Engineer Aviation Battalion. Georgia Guard archives.
In addition to the myriad of Army unit movements, the Air National Guard also responded in force. Georgia Air National Guardsmen of the 116th Fighter Bomber Wing launched 24 aircraft within the first hour of the alert. While he declined to give official numbers due to operational security concerns, Brig. Gen. Winston P. Wilson, Chief of the Air National Guard, noted that hundreds of aircraft participated in the exercise.
Trucks of the 179th Field Artillery Regiment, 48th Armored Division, Georgia Army National Guard move out from the Atlanta Armory during
Operation Minuteman April 20, 1955. Georgia Guard Archives. 

Operation Minuteman represented the first time in the history of the National Guard that a national level alert was executed. While the National Guard had previously conducted large-scale mobilization efforts, such as those for Mexican Border service in 1916 and for WW II service, those mobilizations were incremental.

Erickson, formerly the adjutant general of Massachusetts, chose April 20 as the date for Operation Minuteman as it was the date that the Minuteman Companies of the Hampshire County Militia Regiment began marching to Boston following the battles of Lexington and Concord.

Georgia Guardsman Magazine, March-May 1955 edition 
Healdsburg Tribune, Enterprise and Scimitar, Number 32, April 28, 1955
Madera Tribune, Number 317, 21 April 1955
On This Day in Memphis History, G. Wayne Dowdy

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