Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Profiles in Georgia National Guard Leadership: Lt. Gen. Joseph B. Fraser

By Major William Carraway

Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

 

Lieutenant General Joseph Fraser commanded the 108th Cavalry Regiment, 101st Antiaircraft Artillery Brigade, 48th Infantry Division and 48th Armor Division
in nearly four decades of service. Georgia National Guard Archives.

Lieutenant General Joseph Bacon Fraser was one of the most influential leaders of the Georgia National Guard in the post-World War II era. With active service in World War I, World War II and the Korean War, his career spanned 38 years and culminated with command of the 48th Armored Division in 1956.

 

Joseph Fraser with his brother Layton in 1904.
Joseph Bacon Fraser Jr. was born July 15, 1895. He was the sixth of seven children born to farmers Joseph and Clara Fraser of Hinesville, Ga.[1] Fraser’s father was a deacon in the Flemington Presbyterian Church and his faith would have a life-long influence on the Fraser children, two of whom would serve as elders in the church while two others would enter the ministry.[2] Fraser Sr. also served as a sergeant in the Liberty Independent Troop, a Hinesville-based cavalry unit of the Georgia National Guard,[3] His son would follow him in faith and military service.

 

Fraser Jr. attended the Bradwell Institute, a private high school in Liberty County and upon graduation, matriculated at the Agriculture and Mechanical College of the 11th Congressional District in Douglas, Georgia.[4] He enlisted in the Liberty Independent Troop as a private April 20, 1915 while a student at A&M.[5] In April 1916, his two-year curriculum completed at A&M, Fraser enrolled in the reserve officer training corps program at the University of Georgia.

 

On July 16, 1916, The Liberty Independent Troop as Troop B, 2nd Squadron of Cavalry, Georgia National Guard was called to duty on the Mexican Border. As he was enrolled in the ROTC program, Fraser did not mobilize with the unit but his brother, 2nd Lt. Donald Fraser, traveled with the troop to Texas where it served on border duty through the winter of 1917.[6] Traveling with Troop A, the Georgia Hussars, was Private Lester Henderson who would later serve as Fraser’s executive officer in the Pacific.

 

The Georgia Cavalry on the Mexican Border in 1916. Georgia National Guard Archives.

Upon its return to Georgia, the Liberty Independent Troop remained in Federal service and in September 1917 was redesignated Company B, 106th Signal Battalion.[7] But Fraser would not rejoin the unit until after the war. Entering federal service Sept. 12, 1917, Fraser completed Officer’s Training Camp at Leon Springs Texas and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant of artillery. Fraser mobilized overseas April 23, 1918 and was assigned to Battery B, 129th Field Artillery Battalion, 35th Infantry Division, the same unit as future president Harry Truman. The 129th served in various locations in France until September 26 when it entered action during Meuse Argonne Offensive. Fraser would again see action near Conflans and Metz on November 9. Fraser returned to the United States with the 129th Field Artillery arriving in New Jersey April 20, 1919.[8] He left federal service as a 1st lieutenant May 17, 1919.[9]

 

On Sept. 20, 1920, the Georgia National Guard reactivated the Liberty Independent Troop as Troop B, 1st Squadron of Cavalry and appointed Fraser 1st lieutenant of the troop.[10] Fraser served as 1st Lt in Troop B for seven months before promotion to captain May 4 1921 whereupon he assumed command of Troop B.

 

Fraser married Pearl B. Collins November 14, 1923.[11] Three years later, the couple welcomed their first child, Joseph B. Fraser Jr.

 

The 1st Squadron, 108th Cavalry Regiment on parade in Savannah in the 1930s. Georgia National Guard Archives.

Fraser was placed in command of the 1st Squadron 108th Cavalry with the rank of major Sept. 30, 1927. [12] In 1929 Fraser founded the Fraser Lumber Company in McIntosh, Ga. That same year Pearl gave birth to a second son, Charles Elbert Fraser, who would eventually take the reigns as president of the lumber company.[13]

 

The 108th Cavalry Regiment, Georgia and Louisiana, at Fort Oglethorpe. Ga. in 1930. Georgia National Guard Archives.

With his lumber business flourishing Fraser was promoted to lieutenant colonel and appointed executive officer of the 108th Cavalry Regiment January 18, 1934. He assumed the colonelcy of the regiment June 29, 1936. The 108th was split between two states with 1st Squadron in Georgia and 2nd Squadron in Louisiana.

 

Soldiers of the 108th Cavalry conduct a saber charge during annual training at Fort McClellan circa 1922. Georgia National Guard Archives.

By 1938, Fraser, was among the most influential members of the Georgia National Guard. In September he was named to the executive council of the National Guard Association of Georgia. The council was comprised of key leaders including Col. Sheftall B. Coleman, commander of the 118th Field Artillery; Col. Lewis Pope, commander of the 121st Infantry Regiment and Col. T. L. Alexander, commanding the 122nd Infantry Regiment.[14] These units were destined for service in World War II, and their commanders would play a significant role in shaping the Georgia National Guard for combat in the coming years.

 

By the end of the 1939, the 122nd Infantry Regiment had converted to form the 179th Field Artillery Regiment and Fraser’s 108th Cavalry was assigned to the 55th Brigade, 23rd Division.[15] But the future of horse cavalry was uncertain. In 1939, the chief of cavalry proposed a restructuring of the branch.[16] In the ensuing months, Fraser would have cause to wonder whether the legacy of horse cavalry in Georgia would be preserved by the 108th or whether the War Department would see fit to mechanize the unit.

 

In August 1940, the War Department communicated to Georgia’s Adjutant General its desire to convert the 1st Squadron 108th Cavalry to form an anti-tank unit.[17] Objecting to the reorganization plan, Fraser led a delegation of officers to Washington DC to confer with War Department officials. On Sept. 3, 1940, all parties agreed to a plan which would see the squadron form an independent battalion of Coast Artillery.[18] This arrangement was perhaps more in keeping with Fraser’s background as an artillery officer and Georgia’s tradition of Savannah Artillery which preceded the American Revolution.[19]

 

Fraser was assigned as commanding officer of the 101st Separate Battalion Coast Artillery (antiaircraft) Oct 11, 1940.[20] In addition to headquarters, the 101st was comprised of four batteries and a medical detachment. Battery A was formed from the Savannah-based Georgia Hussars while the Soldiers of the Liberty Independent Troop constituted Battery B. The Atlanta-based Governor’s Horse Guards formed Battery C while Battery D, a new unit, was organized in Bainbridge.[21]

 

The 101st was inducted into federal service Feb. 10, 1941[22] and dispatched to Camp Stewart for initial training. Fraser directed the unit through a 13-week mobilization training program at Stewart followed by a series of maneuvers and firing problems in Florida.

 

Before dawn, September 20, the 101st departed Camp Stewart bound for the Carolina Maneuvers. Passing a dismally cold night in Augusta the Soldiers were roused by reveille at 4:00 am and continued their convoy on to Chester, S.C. where they went into camp. The 101st engaged in maneuvers and field problems serving for a time with the 1st Armored Division under Brig. Gen. George Patton. By the end of the maneuvers the 101st was credited with shooting down 104 enemy aircraft of the blue forces.[23]

At the conclusion of the maneuvers, Fraser was commended by Brig. Gen. C. M. Thiele, commanding general of the 34th Coast Artillery Brigade who noted:

Colonel Joseph B. Fraser, who commands the 101st Sep CA Bn (AA), demonstrated a high professional knowledge, a willingness and desire to cooperate with other units, and possessed such a pleasant personality, that it was a distinct pleasure to have him in my command. [24]

 

The 101st returned to Camp Stewart December 2 and on Saturday, December 6, Fraser issued weekend passes to Soldiers who had spent nearly 11 weeks in the field. In less than 24 hours, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Fraser recalled the men to camp. The next several days passed like a whirlwind as the President requested and received a declaration of war from Congress and Camp Stewart remained locked down with patrols guarding the perimeter at all ours.

 

On December 11, Fraser, speaking before his soldiers commended the performance of the unit during the maneuvers and shared with them Thiele’s letter of commendation. Fraser concluded his remarks by noting “With a spirit as you have shown, our country can face the future with every confidence in the American soldier and with a feeling of assurance in our ultimate triumph.”[25]

 

The next several weeks were filled with disastrous reports from the Pacific. Kwajalein fell December 9 followed in rapid succession by Guam, Thailand, Wake Island and Hong Kong. In the wake of these and other reports the 101st departed Camp Stewart arriving at Camp Dix by train February 2, 1942. Boarding the Queen Mary, the 101st sailed from Boston Harbor February 18. Sailing southeast, the 101st arrived at Sydney Harbor March 28, 1942.[26] and embarked by train for Brisbane where joined a force of 25,364 U.S. Army personnel coalescing under command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

 

At Brisbane, Fraser was ordered to divide his command. While he retained command of Battery B, C and D his executive officer, Maj. Lester Henderson, took Battery A, the medical section and a platoon from Battery B to provide air defense over Lowood Airdrome as the 1st Provisional Coast Artillery. Fraser meanwhile took his command to Ipswich and secured the air above Amberly Field. The 101st remained thus dispersed until April 26 when orders were dispatched to consolidate and prepare for movement to New Guinea. Fraser gathered his officers and informed them they were bound for Port Moresby, not as part of a larger task force, but as the sole American unit inbound to join Australian militia personnel stationed there. Fraser concluded his briefing with “Gentlemen, we’re on the spot. Keep your gun crews especially alerted from now on and, men, be prepared to fight your way off. That’s all, and God bless you.”[27]

 

The 101st reached Port Moresby May 3, 1942 aboard the Dutch ship Cremer. Fraser ordered the men to maintain vigilance over sky and waves. An unidentified aircraft was sighted and for several hours an unidentified submarine moved in parallel with the Cremer adding to the trepidation and dread of the voyage.

 

Situation in New Guinea upon the arrival of the 101st AAA. Graphic by Maj. William Carraway.

The 101st had not completely disembarked at Port Moresby before the first Japanese attack scattered bombs over the location where Battery A was to be established. Within days, the 101st had established firing positions and accounted for their first downed aircraft May 7. Through the rest of the month, Japanese aircraft made 17 separate attack runs on Port Moresby.[28]

 

On May 20, Fraser relinquished command of the 101st to Henderson and assumed command of the Antiaircraft Brigade, New Guinea.[29] Fraser led the brigade which was comprised of American and Australian forces through April 1943 whereupon he was recalled to the United States to assume command of the 23rd Antiaircraft Artillery Group. The 23rd AAAG served in the European Theater of Operations as part of the XV Corps and Fraser concurrently served as the corps anti-aircraft officer. In two days, units under Fraser’s command were credited with shooting down 42 enemy planes in the skies over France.[30]

 

Released from active duty in December 1945, Fraser was an active force behind the reorganization of the Georgia National Guard helping to organize the 108th Antiaircraft Artillery Brigade. Fraser was assigned as brigade commander with the rank of brigadier general May 12, 1947. Called into active federal service August 14, 1950, Fraser deployed the units of the 108th AAA to provide air defense for cities in the American Midwest.[31]

 

Brig. Gen. Joseph Fraser (center left) briefs Maj. Gen. Ernest Vandiver, Georgia's Adjutant General on the mobilization of the 108th AAA
at Fort Bliss, Texas in 1950. Georgia National Guard Archives.

In April 1952, having returned from active duty, Fraser was appointed commander of the Georgia National Guard’s 48th Infantry Division with a promotion to major general. He led the division for the next four years shepherding the organization through its conversion to armor in 1955.

 

CAMP STEWART, August 15-29, 1954 - Observing tank fire on the range at Camp Stewart where the Georgia National Guard's 190th Tank Battalion
had their annual summer maneuvers are, left to right: Lt. Col. Wesley D. Willingham, commander, 190th Tank Battalion; Maj. Gen. Joeseph B. Fraser,
 commanding general, 48th Infantry Division; Maj. Gen. George Hearn, Georgia's Adjutant General and Brig. Gen. Richard Mayo, commanding general,
of Camp Stewart. Georgia National Guard Archives.

On the last day of annual training 1956, following the review of troops and presentations of awards by the governor, Fraser received the Georgia Distinguished Service Medal from Maj. Gen. George Hearn, Georgia’s Adjutant General. He retired as a lieutenant general July 31, 1956.[32]

 

Maj. Gen. Joseph Fraser receives the Georgia Distinguished Service Medal from
Maj. Gen. George Hearn, Georgia’s Adjutant General in 1956.
Georgia National Guard Archives. 

Fraser remained active in Georgia National Guard affairs after retirement. A resolution introduced and passed unanimously at the 1956 Georgia National Guard Association convention recognized Fraser as one of the most outstanding and influential officers in the history of the National Guard and lauded him for his “superior and outstanding active duty and National Guard Service and for his spiritual qualities which he instilled in the Georgia National Guard by virtue of his leadership.” Following a standing ovation, Fraser expressed appreciation for the resolution saying, “nothing can take away from me the cherished memories I have for the Georgia National Guard.”[33]

 

Lieutenaqnt General Joseph Fraser presents the colors of the 48th Armor Division to Maj. Gen. Patrick Seawright who succeeded Fraser
as division commander in 1956. Georgia National Guard Archives.



[5] Secretary of the Army. Official National Guard Register (Army) January 1953. (Washington D.C: Government Printing Office, 1953) 371.

[6] The Adjutant General of Georgia. “Muster-in Roll of Troop “B” Cavalry Ga. N.G. 2nd Sq. Called into Service 16 July 1916.” 530. Georgia National Guard Archives.

 

[8] “Record Group 31: Records of Battery D, 129th Field Artillery. Harry S. Truman Library. Retrieved October 31, 2021 from https://www.trumanlibrary.gov/library/federal-record/record-group-391-records-battery-d-129th-field-artillery.

 

[9] Ancestry.com. Georgia, World War I Service Cards, 1917-1919, Fraser, Joseph B. [database on-line]. (Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc.) 2013.

 

[10]The Adjutant General of Georgia. Annual Report of the Adjutant General State of Georgia for the Year 1920. (Atlanta: Byrd Printing Company, 1920) 172.

 

[11] Ancestry.com. Georgia, U.S., Marriage Records from Select Counties, 1828-1978 [database on-line]. (Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013). 

 

[12] Military Department of the State of Georgia. Pictorial Review of the National Guard of the State of Georgia. (Atlanta: 1939) 196.

 

[13] Jack Nelson Averitt. Families of Southeastern Georgia. (Baltimore: Clearfield Company, 2009) 219.

[14] “Major C. H. Cox heads National Guard Body.” Atlanta Constitution. Sept. 6, 1938, 7.

 

[15] Military Department of the State of Georgia. Pictorial Review of the National Guard of the State of Georgia. (Atlanta: 1939) 194.

 

[16] Robert S. Cameron. Mobility, Shock, and Firepower: The Emergency of the U.S. Army’s Armor Branch, 1917-1945. (Washington D.C: Center for Military History, 2008) 289.

 

[17] “State Cavalry May Be Made Antitank Unit.” Atlanta Constitution. August 24, 1940, 1.

 

[18] “108th Cavalry is to Become Antiplane Unit.” Atlanta Constitution. September 4, 1940, 8.

 

[19] Gordon Burns Smith. The Chatham Artillery 1786-2011. (Savannah: Gordon Burns Smith, 2011) 6-7.

 

[20] Marion Williamson. “General Order No. 240.” (Atlanta: Military Department, State of Georgia, Oct. 11, 1940).

 

[24] Lindsey P Henderson. Come What Will: A Military History of the 101st AAA Automatic Weapons Battalion, 15 October 1940 to VJ Day 1945. (Berlin: U.S. Army, 1966) 8.

[25] Lindsey P Henderson. Come What Will: A Military History of the 101st AAA Automatic Weapons Battalion, 15 October 1940 to VJ Day 1945. 9.

 

[26] Gail Parnelle. “Interview with Brig. Gen. (Ret) Donald E. Mees, September 1992, Atlanta, Ga. Georgia National Guard Archives.

[27] Lindsey P Henderson. Come What Will: A Military History of the 101st AAA Automatic Weapons Battalion, 15 October 1940 to VJ Day 1945. 24.

 

[29] Headquarters, 101st Separate Coast Artillery Battalion (AA) New Guinea Forces. “Special Order Number 43.” May 24, 1942.

[30] “Brilliant Military Career of Lt. General Joseph B. Fraser ends after 38 years’ service.” The Georgia Guardsman, July August 1956, 12.

 

[31] William Carraway. “The Georgia National Guard and the Korean War” Georgiaguardhistory.com. June 25, 2021. http://www.georgiaguardhistory.com/2021/06/the-georgia-national-guard-and-korean.html.

 

[32] “Brilliant Military Career of Lt. General Joseph B. Fraser ends after 38 years’ service.” The Georgia Guardsman, July August 1956, 12.

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