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The Air Defense Artillery Association (Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas), a private organization formed in 1980 as the replacement for a non-appropriated fund activity formed in 1975, provides support for Air Defense Artillery soldiers and retirees. The ADAA commissioned the “First to Fire” painting by Don Stivers in the early 1990s to honor the heritage of the Air Defense Artillery. For more information, click here.

Don Stivers Limited
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FIRST TO FIRE

 

The 200th Coast Artillery in defense of Clark Field,

the Philippines, 8 December 1941.

 

Painting by Don Stivers

The 200th Coast Artillery (Anti-aircraft), originally the 111th Cavalry — a New Mexico National Guard unit — had been sent to the Philippines to provide air defense for Clark Field. Typical of American Guard units, it was a hodgepodge of races and colors with Mexican and Native American blood running through the men's veins. There was a certain pride in this uniquely American mixture; while overseas dictators preached the dominance of a master race, they served for the freedom of all.

 

In the summer of 1941, while American attention was directed to Europe, the Japanese out blitzkrieged their Nazi allies by suddenly occupying nearly 1/4 of the globe. They struck America at Pearl Harbor. At 5:00am on 8 December 1941 (10:00am December 7 in Hawaii) the men in the 200th CA were notified that the United States was officially at war with Japan; just six and a half hours later, Japanese bombers and fighters attacked. Now, it was an entire planet at war with itself.

 

The men rushed to their weapons as the first bombs fell. Although only one in six of their ancient shells exploded, they brought down eight enemy fighters with their fierce anti-aircraft fire.

 

The next four months would bring determined rearguard fighting as American and Filipino defenders retreated into the Bataan Peninsula. On 9 April 1942, the 200th and 515th Coast Artillery, along with the rest of the Bataan defenders, began the march of death to prison camps where they would be interned for three and one half years.

 

And while their war ended after just a few months of fighting, the men of the 200th forged a legacy — and left a military maxim — for all those who would serve as air defenders in World War II: “First to Fire.”