Troops Marching at Camp

Military Beginnings
Oregon has a long and distinguished military history of selfless volunteerism and notable "firsts" described later in this text.  Oregon's provisional government passed the first militia law on July 5, 1843, almost sixteen years before Oregon became a state.  Soldiers of Oregon's military were not paid for training until 1916, and prior to the Spanish American War, were not paid at all.  

The Civil War
The story of the Oregon volunteers during the Civil War was not one of glory and adventure. For them it was long years of constant marching through winter snows of the high desert and the summer heat of the plains. At best, issued equipment was poor for the use intended. The wool uniforms were agony in the summer, and sodden, cold dampness in the winter. Boots were good for only a few weeks on the trail. Rations consisted of hardtack, green coffee beans, salt pork and beans.  The Oregon volunteer troops were demobilized in 1866 when federal troops moved back into the northwest. From that time on, the status of the Oregon militia forces declined. No longer did the citizens of Oregon nor did the state legislature consider the need for a well-armed and disciplined reserve force.

The Oregon militia found a new champion to carry its cause when Civil War veteran and Portland businessman Owen Summers was elected to the State legislature in 1887. Among his first actions was the successful introduction of a new military code that was enacted by the legislature, which became known as the Summers Law. This law, not only reestablished the position of the State Adjutant General and his headquarters, but also authorized a State National Guard. According to the law, the new National Guard was to consist of regiments and districts with a minimum strength of 1,320 men each. 

Many problems still plagued the organizers of the new National Guard. Paramount was the shortage of arms and equipment. Most of the weapons on hand were out-of-date Civil War muskets. Despite these early handicaps and the fact that service in the National Guard was without pay, the Oregon National Guard rapidly grew into an efficient, disciplined force. The lack of funds prevented annual camp training until 1891, after which annual camp training became a regular part of the National Guard training schedule.

Spanish American War
Early in 1898, Oregon was called upon by the U.S. Secretary of War to furnish a regiment of infantry as soon as possible for the Spanish American War.

On May 24, 1898, the Second Oregon, along with the First California, five companies of the 14th US Infantry and a detachment of California artillery, sailed as the first of the United States Forces heading into the Pacific.  The heritage of the Second Oregon who fought so valiantly in the Philippines rests today with the 162nd Infantry, Oregon Army National Guard. Three battle streamers won during these hard times now fly on their regimental flag.

In 1916, Congress passed the National Defense Act which established a system of armory instruction that required all members of state militia organizations to assemble for drill not less than 48 times each year. For the first time, National Guardsmen were to be paid.  Monthly reports were to be kept and semi-annual payrolls forwarded to the National Guard Bureau from each unit receiving federal pay.

World War I
Six short months after being mustered out of service at Camp Withycombe from duty on the Mexican Border, Oregon troops again were called upon. The Oregon National Guard garnered another "first." The 1st Oregon Infantry Regiment became the first National Guard unit to be mobilized for service during World War I and the first to recruit to full wartime strength. The distinctive unit insignia of the 162nd Infantry bears the motto "First to Assemble" to commemorate this achievement.

ORSDF Lineage
During the mobilization of World War I a void was left in homeland defense so local governments and businesses petitioned the state to form a Home Guard, the first Oregon State Defense Force.  On November 19, 1917 a Battalion of State Militia, largely composed of Spanish War Veterans was mustered to protect Oregon citizens and property from possible enemy sabotage.

On January 21, 1918 a detachment was activated to guard shipyards and public utilities along the Portland water front.  They were relieved in April of 1918 by the newly organized Military Police Battalion, the predecessor to the Oregon State Police.  The Home Guard trained throughout World War I and was activated on several occasions conducting security missions.  On June 30, 1919 the purely "State Defense Forces" were changed to the Federal National Guard under the provisions of the National Defense Act of 1916 effectively merging the Home Guard into the Oregon National Guard.


World War II
Following the attack of Pearl Harbor, Governor Sprague ordered the immediate organization of a State Guard.  The legislature passed Oregon Law Chapter 91, 1941 and formed the Oregon State Guard (OSG) to assume the local role of the departing Oregon National Guard.  Oregon National Guard's 41st Infantry Division accomplished another Oregon "first" by being the first National Guard Division deployed over seas. 

By the time the 41st deployed overseas, the OSG had grown to over 5,000 men.  According to General Cowgill, OSG Commander, the mission of the OSG was to "keep our state free of enemy invaders and saboteurs, and to keep up our military training and the production of food and war materials." 

Governor Sprague published a message to the OSG that stated "It may be no occasion will arise to mobilize the Guard for duty.  But it is of high importance that our State Guard be trained so that it can perform competently the duties it may be called on to perform."  By 1944 all National Guard Armories except for Ashland and Woodburn which had no OSG units were under control of the State Guard.

The OSG trained throughout World War II in infantry tactics and became a competent military organization. The OSG also contributed trained soldiers to the war effort as many officers and enlisted men from the OSG went on to serve in the United States military.

General Rilea, the Oregon Adjutant General, mustered out the remaining units of the Oregon State Guard 30 June 1948 and stated "The invaluable service these war-busy citizens on the home front gave on a voluntary basis will be long remembered by the State of Oregon."

The Korean War
In view of the possible induction of the Oregon National Guard into federal service, General Rilea took steps to organize the Oregon National Guard Reserve (ORNGR) in 1949.  Three regiments of Infantry and an Air Wing were established and all members served without pay and were motivated only by patriotism and a strong sense of public duty.  The Oregon National Guard was not activated during the Korean War and as a result the ORNGR was deactivated except for a headquarters in 1952.  The purpose of maintaining the headquarters unit was so if the need arose to reactivate the ORNGR it could be done so in an expedited manner.

As a result of the "cold war," the ORNGR was reactivated in September 1961 and has been active ever since.  The ORNGR was organized as headquarter cadres so that the ORNGR could rapidly expand to a full strength compliment of 4,900 soldiers if the National Guard was called into service.

By 1970 the ORNGR had over 500 members, 99% of which were prior service.  They were training for the mission of internal security of the state and boasted a unit in each city where there was an armory.   Throughout the 70's the ORNGR trained to provide support to civil authorities and assisted the state during floods in Tillamook County and Multnomah County.

In 1983, the ORNGR underwent a major reorganization with increased numbers and new missions providing support to Oregon's Emergency Services Division and security teams for Bonneville Power and the Corp of Engineers dams and power stations throughout Oregon.  During the same year, 1LT McTavish of the ORNGR was awarded the Oregon Distinguished Service Medal for his heroism in saving a family of four whose car had rolled off a boat launch into the Snake River.

In 1987 the Oregon Army National Guard conducted a statewide mobilization exercise in which ORNGR units trained to secure all equipment at the armories if the National Guard was deployed.

In 1989 the name of the ORNGR was changed to the current Oregon State Defense Force (ORSDF) by the Oregon Legislature to better coincide with federal laws.

In 1997 the Military History Detachment (MHD) was created to assist the Oregon Military Museum  in its mission to stimulate scientific, literary and educational matters as they relate to State and National Military Departments, and the preservation of events concerning the Oregon Army and Air National Guard and Oregon's citizen members of all State and Federal Military Departments.

In November 2002 the ORSDF was reorganized to better mirror units of the Army National Guard with smaller company field units and two Battalion Headquarters.  Today the ORSDF is tasked with being prepared for homeland security missions and assisting the 1-186 Infantry and 1-162 Infantry of the Oregon Army National Guard in accomplishing their state missions and training for their federal missions. 

Click here for more about the ORSDF Mission. 

Click here for more history of the Oregon Military Department



Last updated 06/05/08

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