State Duty

1920 - 1940

Kentucky military activities from the close of World War I to the passage of the National Defense Act in 1920 was nominal, having been confined to police duty within the State. Such duty was limited to the protection of prisoners and maintaining of order during industrial disturbances. However, this situation was altered by the National Defense Act, which established a definite progressive military policy for the Kentucky National Guard. Part of this was that Kentucky remain as a component of the 38th Division but changed what had once been three regiments of Infantry to the 138th Field Artillery, the 149th Infantry, and the 53rd and 54th Machine Gun Squadrons and other auxiliary troops which were designated.

At the Fort Knox encampment of the Kentucky National Guard in August 1922, Colonel Shaw, inspector of the Fifth Army Corps Area, pronounced Cavalry as the best looking in the National Guard area. Cavalry horses were equipped with white saddle cloths, yellow bow bands, and white halter ropes, all of which were made at the State Reformatory. With 29 out of every 100 men qualifying as marksmen and sharpshooters, regular Army Officers declared the Kentucky Infantry could outshoot all other National Guard Infantry in the United States.

On March 3, 1924, the Legislature appropriated $60,000 to provide armories in all counties in the State where National Guard home stations were maintained. Other funds subsequently became available, and by 1938, a number of excellent structures had been obtained. With good quarters and accouterments the leisure of the regiments turned to heraldry and resulted in the adoption of a regimental Coat of Arms, which embodied symbols of the regiment's services in the various wars in which they had been engaged. In 1937, because of severe floodwaters, which covered Louisville, the Governor called out the Guard for a period of seven months to perform rescue work, Guard duty and even the unusual duty of evacuating 2,906 prisoners from the flooded prison at Frankfort.

During the 1930's there were numerous violent mine strikes in southeastern Kentucky. Because there was no organized state police, the National Guard was called out to maintain domestic tranquility between the striking miners and the mine owners. Specifically, in 1938, units of the Kentucky National Guard were ordered to Harlan County for a nine-month period to quell a prolonged strike that had been spread by professional pickets sent to Kentucky to inspire chaos within the miners. Headquarters were set up in the Levellyn Hotel from where General Ellerby Carter commanded the units. The detachment consisted largely of young men who were in high school at the time of activation. When the chaos had been guided to order the young troops were immediately sent home to complete school and graduate. Then, as today, the National Guard was placed in a precarious position in its attempt to keep peace. The Guardsmen were often targets of both sides of the dispute; in a few instances the Guardsmen were forced to use rough tactics to protect themselves. The men served on a 300-man rotation basis with a total of 900 men being called to serve within the nine-month period.

An interesting sidelight was that, when the disturbance had been quieted, many Guardsmen were reluctant to return home. They had made the most of their active duty by establishing themselves in the community. The 1930's had been economically devastating years and consequently many of the men were provided with a method of economic subsistence. Between 1938 and 1940 there was much state duty of the Kentucky Guardsmen. They participated in many state and local festivities. With U.S. involvement in World War II imminent, the Kentucky National Guard was sent to the Wisconsin Maneuvers at Camp McCoy to sharpen its skills in case of Federal activation. The maneuver was the largest peacetime assembly of troops in the history of the U.S. The maneuvers provided a great learning experience for the Kentucky National Guard. It was learned that if a Guard unit was activated it had to become a fast moving, modern strike force. To facilitate such rapid movement it was necessary that wire communications be abandoned because of the slow process of retrieving the wire. Radio signal type communications were necessary. The maneuvers also provided a cultural education to many mountain boys who had never been away from home or seen a streamlined train.

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