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Elite Arizona World War II unit holds final reunion

PHOENIX — They were known for their jungle-fighting ability and were the first to use jungle warfare when deployed overseas.

The Bushmasters came from the Arizona National Guard in 1940 and disbanded in 1946 and in between played a critical part in the victory against Japan during World War II.

Only a handful from the group are still around. Eight of them attended the recent reunion and only 60-70 remain alive. Before the atomic bomb ended with war with Japan, 7,000 Bushmasters were scheduled to spearhead an invasion force of almost two million American troops over the course of a few weeks onto Japanese soil.

Jim Warbasse helped create the Fort Tuthill Military Museum near Flagstaff, which pays tribute to the elite fighting force, which trained at Fort Tuthill prior to the war and for two years afterward.

He believes the atomic bomb saved the Bushmasters from an almost certain suicide mission, had the invasion of homeland Japan taken place.

“They would have suffered losses of 80-100 percent,” he said. “The Japanese defense of their homeland called for every citizen to be armed, including children. They had incredible defenses set up.

“The Japanese didn’t have to defend and lose the majority of their population and the bomb saved many more people than it ultimately eliminated. The old soldiers were training for the invasion when they heard the bomb had been dropped and basically realized they had a new lease on life.”

Members were sent home and the unit was deactivated after their great odyssey from Arizona to Japan.

“No greater fighting combat team has ever deployed for battle,” said famed Gen. Douglas MacArthur of the Bushmasters.