History of The Iowa National Guard
Sgt. 1st Class Carolyn Tenney
Floods... tornadoes,.. blizzards,.. civil disturbances.... State activations of the Iowa National Guard read like a list of what’s gone wrong in Iowa. But the timely intervention of the Guard has averted some serious situations and kept others from becoming worse. During war and times of peace, Iowa Guard members have stood ready to protect their fellow citizens.
Natural disasters have been the most common reason for state call-ups, thanks to Iowa’s weather. The social climate has caused state activations, as well.
In 1863. citizens in Iowa’s less settled regions were alarmed about the possibility of Indian attacks. Meetings with settlers in remote counties revealed that Iowans wanted a small force of mounted men stationed on the east and west forks of the Des Moines River. These were to be seasoned men who were familiar with the area, and the habits and customs of the Indians. Almost immediately, 40 men were on duty—half at Chain Lakes, half at Estherville. Companies also were raised Sioux City. Denison, Fort Dodge and Webster City. Portions of companies were kept in smaller towns. Each man furnished his own horse and equipment "Subsistence and forage" were furnished by the state.
The year 1864 saw a company of the State Militia from (Grinnell and Montezuma ordered to the site of the murder of two U.S. marshals by a band of bushwackers, about 14 miles south of Grinnell on the road to Oskaloosa. The men responsible were draft dodgers from Sugar Creek Township in Poweshiek County. Six members of the gang were arrested, along with a previously captured perpetrator, and escorted to jail in Oskaloosa.
The next year. Davis County was victimized by a mounted band of guerillas dressed in federal uniforms that robbed, terrorized, kidnapped and murdered many of the county’s citizens. In the chaos that followed, Col. J.B. Weaver, formerly of the 2nd Iowa Infantry, assisted by Col. Trimble, took command of a hastily formed militia and set off in pursuit of the raiders. Lieutenant James Jackson and other officers planned the defense of the Davis County seat Soldiers patrolled the roads and the Missouri border. Over 100 "suspicious persons" were arrested and turned beck to Missouri. Several weeks later, the militia captured the rebel bushwhackers’ horses and equipment Thirteen members of the gang were arrested and returned to Missouri authorities.
Detachments of two companies from Des Moines were sent to Council Bluffs in November 1873 to aid in the suppression or prevention of a threatened prizefight in the vicinity. Trainloads of "roughs" were arriving to watch. Colonel F. Olmsted, commander of the state troops, complained to the Adjutant General that the Pottawattamie County sheriff, to whom they reported, was "weak and wavering" and making no attempt to arrest the participants and seize fight paraphernalia. Adjutant General N.B. Baker then ordered the troops home, criticizing Potawattamie County officials in his annual report.
He also wrote that "officers and soldiers called out on such occasions should be paid at higher rates than now provided by law," noting that "in nearly every case the private does not receive one-fifth of the amount he would have been paid had he remained at his usual labor."
Adjutant General John Looby discussed the pay situation at length in his 1877 report to the governor. "As the Iowa law now stands, no aid of any character whatever is granted to the militia. The officers and men must pay for their own uniforms, they must pay freight charges on arms shipped to them from the Arsenal, they must tax themselves to meet all contingent expenses for rent of armories, for ammunition, and for all other expense—and do all this for the privilege of standing as a reserve power in the hands of the Executive for the enforcement of law where the civil power proves inefficient or powerless. It is a large tax upon the pocket as well as upon patriotism to expect our citizen soldiery to give their time, their money and their lives, perhaps, without any aid or recognition of their services in a practical, business-like way—a patriotism that does not promise to keep together our present active organizations very long. There is a limit to the efforts of citizen soldiery where they are compelled to bear the whole brunt of expense, save the arms, which are issued to the State by the Federal Government for the militia, and cost the State nothing."
Looby went on to recommend that the state compensate the militia’s soldiers, and bear the expense of armories, uniforms and contingencies—following study of the issue by a properly appointed Committee of the National Guard of Iowa.
In the next decade, several companies were warned to be ready for duty. Only a few received orders to take up arms. In March 1885, members of the Third Regiment in Des Moines cleared the courthouse yard after a mob wounded two deputies while seeking to release a prisoner from the county jail. In 1886, companies in the Second arid Third Regiments were activated in anticipation of mine troubles at What Cheer and Angus.
In June 1903, the Guard responded to a request by the sheriff of Dubuque County to help preserve the peace because of a strike. The mere presence of the Guard for several days averted serious trouble.
In April 1912, members of the 54’ Infantry were activated (including Company C of Muscatine) because of a strike at various Pearl Button Manufacturers plants in Muscatine. Troops spent four days clearing the streets and maintaining order, only to be recalled later that month. Adjutant General Guy Logan praised the Guardsmen in his annual report to the Governor: "The troops on duty performed their duty in an orderly, soldierly manner, absolutely enforcing law and requiring order at all times and should be highly commended for such service as the conditions were in a state of anarchy. The rich, the poor, the employer and the employee were made to obey the same rule."
The Adjutant’s General Report of 1914-15 mentions the Guard’s performance of security at the lowa State Fair, a special duty that continued off and on through the 1970s. The Guardsmen who assisted the Iowa State Patrol in this mission were widely praised for their performance.
Fear of violence caused the mayor of Sioux City to telephone the Governor for help in the fall of 1919. W.D. Haywood, president of the Industrial Workmen of the World, was to give an address to the citizenry—ironically, at the invitation of the mayor himself. Companies D and F of the Fourth Infantry remained on duty until the emergency passed. No arrests were made.
November 1921 saw the Guard ordered to Ottumwa four weeks into a strike at Morrell Packing Company. The situation was worsening and 150 men were deputized in that town to patrol the streets until members of the 168" Infantry arrived. After the troops went on duty, virtually no attempts of violence toward employees still working at the plant were reported and the situation remained calm after the soldiers left.
One of the best-known state activations was the "Cow Wars" or "Milk Wars" in 1931. The Governor called Iowa troops into state service to enforce the law concerning the bovine tuberculin test conducted by agents of the State Agricultural Department. About 1,700 troops were sent to Tipton on Sept. 22.
Considerable opposition had been shown to these tests for months. When active resistance was shown against veterinarians in Cedar County, the Governor took action. By late afternoon on Sept. 22, a Guard camp had been established at the fairgrounds just west of Tipton. The force, commanded by Brig. Gen. Park Findley, included most of the 168th Infantry and 113th Cavalry, and about half of the 133th Infantry. Testing of cattle resumed with a minimum of trouble two days later.
Several days later, the 133th Infantry was sent home. On Oct. 3, all of the units returned home, except for about 300 Guard members who volunteered for additional duty. The 300 who remained fanned a provisional battalion and stayed on duty until the testing in Cedar and Muscatine Counties was completed. They moved to Mount Pleasant when serious opposition was experienced in Henry County. They moved to Des Moines County, where the situation worsened. The 133th Infantry, 168th Infantry and 113th Cavalry were mobilized again.
A staff correspondent for The Iowa Guardsman wrote, "Iowa soldiers often were on duty from early morning until evening, subjected to taunts and insults.. .but the discipline and self-discipline taught and practiced caused them to emerge from the campaign with all credit and honor. In but one instance was violence used, and that in self defense"
The unnamed writer went on to describe how Cavalry troops once spent 22 hours in the saddle in Lee County because the roads were impassable to motor vehicles. "They accomplished their mission, and established, as far as is known, a record unique in the peacetime annals of the National Guard," he noted.
Not all activations could be called "official." In 1948, Des Moines units were canvassed for volunteers to portray Roman soldiers, wise men and prophets in the local Junior Chamber’s "Passion Play." In this instance, "staging of troops" took on a whole new meaning.
The Guard’s first post-World War II civil disturbance mission occurred on May 20, 1948. Governor Robert Blue ordered about 1,000 Guardsmen to duty because of strike-related rioting at the gates of the Rath Packing Company in Waterloo. During the 21-day activation, soldiers with fixed bayonets encircled the plant while others escorted truckloads of livestock and patrolled streets in the area. Order was restored without serious incident.
Clinton bore the brunt of an Easter Day ice storm in 19~). Limbs, utility poles, entire trees, communication and power lines, were all downed by a heavy coating of ice. Streets were blocked and communications and power were cut off. Governor Beardsley called for the Iowa Guard to assist in cleaning up the city and restoring order. Approximately 285 Guard members from Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Davenport and Dubuque took part in "Operation Limb Lift" for 14 days.
The Iowa Guard fought weather-related problems on two fronts in 1952, when both the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers flooded. More than 2,400 Guard members spent 30 days patrolling and reinforcing levees, ferrying supplies, restoring communications, and keeping order in flood-threatened communities.
The Iowa Air National Guard aided 200 students and nuns, left homeless by a fire that destroyed the principal building of Ottumwa Heights Academy, in October 1957. A detachment of Guardsmen took much-nec4ed bedding and kitchen supplies from Des Moines to the Academy’s temporary quarters at the old Ottumwa Naval Air Station. Governor Herschel Loveless, himself an Ottumwan, called the fire a disaster and noted that "in the case of a disaster it is the duty of the state to do everything in its power to help."
One of the Army and Air Guard’s most extensive security efforts occurred in 1959, when 1,000 Guard members were chosen to "provide aid to civil authorities, handle traffic and safeguard and protect Premier [Nikita] Krushchev and his party. Operation K" was comprised of three task forces: one for the highways, one for the Roswell Garst farm and adjoining areas at Coon Rapids, and a third at Iowa Sate University in Ames.
Khrushchev, Chairman of Ministers of the USSR was on a 13-day visit to the U.S. Only in Iowa did be travel any great distance over public highways. A half-hour before Khrushchev’s party passed any given point, Operation K made sure the area was sealed off completely. Abandoned buildings, clumps of bushes, bridges, culverts, towers, and more all were checked. The Soviet Premier rarely saw a Guardsman; the purpose of Operation K was one of security, not "show,"
The early ‘60s brought more weather-related duty to the Iowa Guard. Guard members and equipment were mobilized to fight flooding on a broad front in April1960.
In March 1961, the Cedar River was the location of their efforts.
State call-ups can be grim, particularly when downed aircraft are involved. A Continental Airlines jet blew apart over southern Iowa, near Centerville, on May 23, 1962. All 45 persons aboard were killed. About 60 Guardsmen searched for bodies and wreckage and kept unauthorized persons from the scene. They assisted federal and local authorities until relieved by regular Army personnel from Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
April and May 1965 saw the Iowa Guard perform an astonishing 27,480 mandays fighting flooding statewide.
"Road Runner" missions in the ‘60s enabled Guard members help police with traffic control during holiday weekends.
The threat of civil disturbances not related to striking workers became more prevalent during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. From June 10- Aug. 28, 1967, Guard members spent 2,667 mandays on alert, training with the Des Moines Police Department and the Iowa Highway Patrol. They never took to the street, but a Guard contingent provided security at the State Fair that year and the next. Drunkenness was the main problem.
Troops were assigned to Des Moines for four days in April 1968 when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. They were back a year later on the anniversary of his death.
Meanwhile, the extremes of Iowa weather kept up the demand for Guard assistance. Devastating tornadoes struck Charles City and Oelwein in May of ‘68. Iowa Guard units rushed in to help.
The 133th Infantry was mobilized when the Cattle Congress was held in Waterloo in September 1968. Agitators were looking for large audiences. The Guard was called out. No disturbances of consequence occurred.
Severe flooding took place in April and early May of 1969. The Guard helped communities along the Mississippi River and in the Cherokee area. Guard members also helped Oakville recover from flooding in July.
Des Moines firefighters went on strike April 28,1969. Guardsmen helped fire department supervisors and police man the trucks for a week. They stayed downtown at the Red Horse Armory.
Civil disturbances resurfaced in May 1970 at the University of Iowa. The entire 34th Military Police Battalion was ordered to Iowa City because of a student strike in the aftermath of the tragedy at Kent State. Highways were closed, property was damaged, and the University ended up shutting down for the year. The MPs were on duty for six days.
The Des Moines Police Department was bombed May 13.1970, with dynamite stolen from a Johnston business. MPs guarded the highway patrol communications tower (which wasn’t fenced in at the time) and Camp Dodge well into July.
From that point until the late ‘70s, state call-ups were largely in response to needs relating to weather, transportation, traffic control, the Iowa State Fair, and searches and rescues. Then came the historic visit of the Pope to Living History Farms in Des Moines.
One thousand Guard members, plus 1,000 law enforcement personnel, took on the incredibly complex task of providing security and controlling a crowd equal to the size of the greater Des Moines area population.
A 10-mile by 10-mile urban and rural area was sealed off at 6 p.m. the evening before the Pope’s visit, and access was strictly controlled until after the Pope left. Former Deputy Adjutant General Harold Thompson (then Colonel) was officer-in-charge of the undertaking. Brig. Gen. Richard Gieth was commander of troops, and Col. (now retired) Jerry Gorden served as operations officer.
Gorden reported no incidents. The only accident, he said, occurred when two police cars ran into each other. "The whole city was cooperative," Garden recalled. "The ecumenical feeling was strong."
The 1980s began with the Guard responding to windstorms in Burlington and Mount Pleasant (July 1980) and hostage situations at Fort Madison State penitentiary (Sept/Oct 1981). Toward the end of the decade, the Guard aided drought-stricken farmers across Iowa (1988, 1989).
Tragedy struck on July 19,1989, when United Airlines Flight 232 crashed at the Sioux City Gateway Airport. Guard members were on the scene immediately, helping save lives. More than 20 Iowa Guard units provided personnel to help officials with the grim aftermath. Members of the Air Guard’s 185th Fighter Wing and the Army Guard’s 2-133th (M) Infantry were immediate responders.
Gorden recalls the modesty shown by Lt. Col. Dennis Neilsen, 185th Fighter Wing, at being called a hero when he carried a child to safety—a moment caught on film and later memorialized in a bronze statue near the crash site. "God saved the child—I just carried him out," Neilsen said. Gorden says that rationale is typical of Guard members—that they perceive themselves as "just doing their duty," rather than as heroes.
Both floods and drought ushered in the spring of 1990. Intermittent flooding occurred in 1991 and 1992. Then came the infamous Rood of ‘93, a statewide operation that consumed more mandays and dollars than any other state activation.
None of the 30 operations I participated in ever gave me more satisfaction than the Rood of ‘93," said Gorden. "We found solutions for problems no one had ever heard of. The leadership, the management of troops, the logistics—it all was exciting and heart-filling. I always was proud of the Iowa Guard."
Gordon reflected over State Fair security operations, the Ankeny tornado, the Pope’s visit, and the Flood of ‘93: "All those faces that were there with me...! think they shared a ‘run to the fight’ attitude. There was no holding back. It was great to be with a bunch of people who felt that way.
The citizens we supported needed us, showed it. and appreciated it," Garden said. "When you’re dog tired, that’s what keeps you going, State activations are the Guard at its absolute best."