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165th Infantry Regiment, 27th Division Men Reunited
by Col (Ret) Russell V. Bierl, Director of Iowa Gold Star Museum

The last time Captain Aloysius Theodore Rolfes and Staff Sergeant Henry Gene Hull last saw each other was October 1945. Al and Henry met again on April 10, 2007 at the Gold Star Military Museum at Camp Dodge, IA.  Captain Rolfes, had served as commander of E Company, 165th Infantry and Staff Sergeant Hull was the Mortar Platoon Sergeant during the island campaign of the 27th Infantry Division. They trained together in Hawaii, made the invasion on Yellow Beach at Makin, fought together at Saipan, Tinian, and Okinawa from September of 1943 to October 1945. They also were together on the first plane the division sent into Japan for occupation duty.

COL (Ret.) Rolfes was drafted into the army from Le Mars Iowa in 1942 and initially trained at Camp Barkley, CA. He was chosen to attend Officers Candidate School and following graduation at Ft. Benning, GA, 2LT Rolfes was assigned to the 27th Infantry Division stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. Al fondly remembers his first Company Commander, Ben Ryan of the 27th Division, New York National Guard. CPT Ryan suggested that 2LT Rolfes attend the Ranger School at Schofield Barracks and Al considered that suggestion as a direct order.  2LT Rolfes successfully completed the Ranger training and also served as a trainer for some portions of the training. 2LT Rolfes first served as a platoon leader with E Company and following several Pacific island campaigns was eventually assigned as commander and promoted to Captain. CPT Ryan was wounded on Saipan and before leaving the island he told Lieutenant Rolfes that he would look up his parents back in Iowa. Al says CPT Ryan kept his word, looked up his parents and treated them to a night in Des Moines. Al found out about this event from a letter his mother sent him. She said they were very happy to visit with CPT Ryan and hear about their son.

COL Rolfes remembers well going ashore on Yellow Beach at Makin. When the front ramp of the landing craft dropped, he was thrown into the water. His soldiers followed and stepped off into water up to their chest. The crew that was manning the landing craft were all killed by machine gun fire and “I thought we were all goners” said COL Rolfes, when discussing this event.

“Sergeant Hull, who was on our mortar team, provided our only fire support.  They were really good at adjusting their fire. They could drop the round right on the enemy after the first couple rounds.” recalls COL Rolfes. Private Hull first served as an ammunition bearer and rose up through the ranks up to become a Staff Sergeant. “Each of the mortar men carried a shoulder pack with three 60mm mortar rounds in front and three at their back.” recalls SSG Hull.

SSG Hull remembers they were not ready for the snipers on Makin Island.  He said, "the Japs tied themselves into the tops of coconut trees and fired on our men. We soon fixed them with 20 rounds fired into the tree top from a BAR."

Following the Makin Island campaign the 27th Division returned to Schofield Barracks to refit and retrain before heading off to Saipan and Tinian.  COL Rolfes recalls that they were originally supposed to assault Tinian Island but the Japanese forces on Saipan were stronger than expected and his unit landed on Saipan before moving on to finish the task on Tinian.  Illumination was provided by Navy ships and in the night, the Division used that light with effect to kill some 2,500 Japanese moving on his flank in a Banzai attack.

Following the Saipan/Tinian campaign, the Division moved to the New Hebrides island group for rest and retraining prior to assaulting Okinawa. COL Rolfes remembers the Okinawan campaign as very hard fought, the final island before American forces would attack the home islands of Japan. During the battle for Okinawa, E Company was down to 38 men from 182 assigned when they were pulled off the line one morning, provided hot food, and 140 replacements. They were sent back on the line in the late afternoon with the replacements, having no training time to integrate the men for a combat environment.   

Once Okinawa was secure, COL Rolfes recalls the message traffic and the excitement when the first Atomic bomb was dropped on Japan.  Following word of the Japanese surrender several days later the 27th Division was informed they would be part of the first wave of American troops to land on Japan.  COL Rolfes said E Company was the first unit of the division to land by air on Japan and he was amazed at the lack of hostility by the Japanese. He recalls that all the men received 30 Yen and were spend it. COL Rolfes went on to say that “their experience on Japan was favorable.”

COL Rolfes declined an offer to stay on active duty and chose to return home to LeMars, Iowa and the farm.  He married, began farming with his father, joined the Iowa National Guard in 1947 and thereafter became the commander of Company K, 133rd Infantry in LeMars.  COL Rolfes went on to a full-time career with the Iowa National Guard, eventually becoming Chief of Staff. COL Rolfes retire in 1985 with 39 years of service.

"Looking back at my experience, I consider myself truly blessed," COL Rolfes adds.  "I lost a lot of friends. There were plenty of good guys who didn't make it out of there alive."  "I was never wounded," he says, "came close plenty of times though."

COL (Ret) Al Rolfes lives in Des Moines, IA and SSgt (Ret) Henry Hull is from Chillicothe, Mo. The found each other through a news article on Iowa Public Television.

Photo of Henry Hull, 1945 photo taken at end of WWII
Photo of Al Rolfes, 1942 photo as enlisted soldier prior to OCS

Photo of Henry Hull, 1945 photo taken at end of WWII
Photo of Henry Hull, 1945 photo taken at end of WWII

Photo of former Captain Al Rolfes and former Staff Sergeant Henry Hull
Photo of former Captain Al Rolfes and former Staff Sergeant Henry Hull proudly holding a copy of the 27th Infantry Division History from WWII. They fought in Company E, with the division, on MaMakin, Sipan, Tinian and Okinawa. The also served together on occupation duty in Japan after the surrender. This photo was taken on April 10th, 2007, almost sixty-two years after they had served together.
 

 

New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History
Last modified: December 14, 2010
URL: http://www.dmna.state.ny.us/historic/reghist/wwii/infantry/165thInf/165thInf_Article_Reunited_Bierl.htm

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