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Division has century-old tradition in California

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Posted: Friday, December 17, 2004 10:00 pm

Each year, when the soldiers of the National Guard's 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry Division get together for their annual dinner, a tastebud-searing cocktail known as the Grog is passed around -- for those brave enough to take a sip.

The drink features small touches from all the places the California-based division has served in the past 140 years. A little tequila for its time serving as the Mexican border patrol. Some wine for service in Northern France during World War II. The cocktail mixes juices and libations spanning decades of war and travel across the globe.

Soldiers from the 184th Infantry are now scheduled to ship out for a year-long stint in Iraq in January. They might want to avoid the drink when they come back.

"Now we've got something else to add," said Master Sgt. Dan Dorsa, a Lodi native and unofficial historian for the division. "A touch of sand to the Grog."

Though the division wasn't officially organized until the 1920s, the 184th Infantry has served California since gold miners first swarmed the state in the mid-1800s. Its earliest action came in 1863 when soldiers organized into the Fifth California Volunteer Column to battle Apache tribes in the New Mexico Territory.

The troops defeated the tribes, led by the Apache chief Cochise. An insignia still worn by soldiers of the 184th features an ax to commemorate that memorable battle, Dorsa said.

The crest also features the image of a cactus, a reference to the division's early 1900s service patrolling the Mexican border.

In its early days, soldiers from the division were stationed in the Presidio in San Francisco, Dorsa said. According to legend, a nearby railroad station became a nuisance to the point that some soldiers decided to take action.

"Every night, they would hear the bell on this train, and it kept them up," Dorsa said.

One night, one of the soldiers crept onto the train and stole the noisy bell, Dorsa said. It became a good luck charm that soldiers rang before each mission: Into Europe during both World Wars, a brief station in Korea and, more recently, Kuwait and Afghanistan.

The division's B Company, better known as Bravo, even has history in Lodi. Bravo soldiers trained near the American Legion in Lodi for a short period in the early 1990s, and local soldiers are historically assigned to the company.

The bell now sits in a museum in Old Sacramento. With soldiers from the 184th getting ready to head back into war, however, Dorsa wonders whether they might be able to bring it out of retirement and ring it on their way into Iraq.

"We need to get that bell and take it with us," he said.

Contact staff writer Greg Kane at gregk@lodinews.com.

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