The Soldiers of the Red Arrow Division - Image Gallery Essay | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

The Soldiers of the Red Arrow Division - Image Gallery Essay

Robert Robert Doyle emerges from a captured Japanese pillbox at Buna, New Guinea, (present day Papua New Guinea).

Robert Doyle, 1943

Papua New Guinea. Robert Doyle emerges from a captured Japanese pillbox at Buna, Papua New Guinea. View the original source document: WHI 100824

World War II Through the Lens of Milwaukee War Correspondent Robert Doyle

Robert J. Doyle started work as a young reporter for the Milwaukee Journal in 1939. In 1942, the Milwaukee Journal decided to send him overseas to cover the lives of the soldiers in the 32nd Infantry "Red Arrow" Division. The "Red Arrow" Division, a National Guard Unit made up of mostly Wisconsin and Michigan soldiers, had been training in Louisiana since February, 1941, and sailed for the Southwest Pacific Area in April, 1942. Robert Doyle caught up with them in Brisbane, Australia, in October. He started writing articles immediately and the Milwaukee Journal was pleased with the results.

"Anyone Here from Wisconsin?"

EnlargeLieutenant Colonel Philip F. La Follette and Captain William Kurkeet, of Madison, Wisconsin, chatting at Camp Cable, near Brisbane, Australia

Wisconsin Soldiers Chatting at Camp Cable, 1943

Brisbane, Australia. Lieutenant Colonel Philip La Follette and Captain William Kurkeet, of Madison, Wisconsin, chatting at Camp Cable. View the original source document: WHI 99500

Robert Doyle documented the everyday lives of the soldiers of the 32nd "Red Arrow" Division. The photographs cover everything from high-ranking officer's visits, Generals Douglas MacArthur and Dwight D. Eisenhower, to the daily duties of soldiers, officers and medical staff.

Doyle occasionally turned the camera over to others. There are photos of him interviewing, posing and kidding around. As he wandered among the soldiers, he would shout, "Anyone here from Wisconsin?" He would later stencil "Milwaukee Journal" on his shirts to save his voice.

His subjects include: soldiers, officers, medical staff, indigenous people, animals, barracks, scenery, aircraft and nose art, recreational activities and other camp activities. One of the hallmarks of Robert Doyle's articles were the names and addresses he included so the folks back home would know that their loved ones were safe, as he was often not allowed to identify the company or location. This made him a celebrity back home in Wisconsin. He was also frequently asked "how are things in the States?"

Robert Doyle's War Journey

EnlargeGeneral Douglas MacArthur greets a soldier during a tour on Goodenough Island, in the Solomon Sea, New Guinea (present day Papua New Guinea).

General Douglas MacArthur
Greets a Soldier, 1943

Papua New Guinea. General Douglas MacArthur greets a soldier during a tour
on Goodenough Island, in the
Solomon Sea. View the original source
document: WHI 100012

Robert Doyle began taking photographs in Australia in 1943, then moved on to New Guinea with the "Red Arrow" Division during the Battle of Buna. He occasionally visited other islands in the area and traveled back and forth to Australia.

After a vacation back home in 1944, Doyle was sent to Europe. He was in England during the D-Day invasion and in France, to report on the siege of Brest. In October he made a brief trip into Germany. The Milwaukee Journal anticipated that Christmas 1944 would be so quiet that Doyle went home for the holidays. Two days later the Battle of the Bulge broke out.

In January 1945 Doyle was once again island hopping in the Pacific, with his headquarters on Guam. He covered the invasion of Okinawa from a seat on a B-29 Superfortress equipped with a telephone and radio. When news of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki reached Doyle, he was aboard the USS Wisconsin. On September 2, 1945, Doyle was on the USS Missouri to watch the Japanese sign the formal surrender. The next month Doyle returned to Milwaukee. 

About the Collection

The Robert Doyle collection includes nearly 400 negatives, most of which were taken using a 2.25-inch x 2.25-inch twin lens reflex camera. In Robert Doyle's diaries he mentions having some of his film developed in an X-Ray developer. It can be assumed that he took advantage of whatever facilities he could find to develop his film. The gallery below displays scans of more than half of the negatives. Of the over 80 photographic prints in the collection, half have been scanned and displayed.

More information about Robert Doyle can be found in his diaries and correspondence in the collection, including the years after he returned from World War II. A reprint of the newspaper clipping scrapbook assembled by Doyle's mother is also available.

Note: The Robert Doyle diaries and other paper records are available to the public during regular Archives hours. The audio recordings require advanced notice. See information on Visiting the Library and Archives. See the ArCat listing for the Robert Doyle collection.

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