A typo in Gonzales’ name was corrected.
OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) -The 45th Infantry Museum takes visitors from the Oklahoma’s first recorded, military exercise, which was Coronado’s expedition in 1540, right through to the present day.
In between are thousands of photographs and artifacts that begin to tell the story of military actions in Oklahoma, and, insists museum director Mike Gonzales, Oklahoma soldiers.
On a short tour, he points out a display from a 1916 expedition into Mexico to capture Pancho Villa.
“This is the first mobilization of the Oklahoma National Guard.”
The famed 45th Infantry Division was born in peacetime 1923 combining units from 4 states.
It’s soldiers were activated in 1940.
“The mobilization was only supposed to be for 1 year,” he explains. “There was even a popular song at the time that went, ‘Goodbye dear. I’ll be back in a year.”
By 1943 they were in action in Sicily, then Italy, then Germany.
The 45th took part in the Anzio Beachhead landings, the capture of Rome, and the liberation of the concentration camp and Dachau.
Gonzales says, “General Patton gave a speech. As part of that speech he said, and I quote, ‘The 45th Infantry Division is one of the best, if not the best divisions, in the history of American arms. That’s high praise from a man who knew his history.”
The division was also one of the first National Guard units sent to the Korean Peninsula after WWII where they spent another 411 days of combat.
“They definitely did their duty,” Mike argues.
There were 10 Medal of Honor recipients who fought for the Thunderbirds.
Gonzales has talked to several of them who insisted they didn’t do anything more than other heroes who never made it home.
He relates, “They didn’t do anything that day that they didn’t see somebody else do the day before, except they were seen by the right person.”
The tools of war are on full display in the museum.
There are photographs and captured artifacts brought back that help tell the story of their exploits and heroism.
Mike, and others who walk these halls, are reminded every day of a sobering subtext that many of the participants gave the ultimate sacrifice.
“It’s a thought that’s always on my mind when I walk through a place like this. You just wonder how many of them made it back.”
For more information on the 45th Infantry Division Museum click here.
Great State is sponsored by WEOKIE Credit Union