DEAN MELVIN OTTERSHAW
Branch: U. S. Army
Status: Killed in action
Date of Service: WWII
Home Town: White Earth
1. 1st Cavalry Division Insignia 2. Dean Ottershaw’s headstone in Fort Snelling
Dean Melvin Ottershaw was born June 14, 1923 in the village of Ebro to Joseph John and Josephine “Josie” Durant Ottershaw. Josephine was the daughter of Charles and Mary Durant and both she and Joseph were members of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. Dean grew up in White Earth with his sister Mary Jane, brother Daniel and half-siblings George, Emery, Emma, James and Louisa St. John.
Dean registered for the draft in Bagley on June 30, 1942. He was 19 years old and employed by Henry Murray in Ebro. He was 5’7” with gray eyes and brown hair.
Dean was a skilled horseback rider so he was sent to Fort Bliss, Texas to be a part of the 112th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. The 1st Cavalry Division was created in 1921 as a result of a proven need for large horse-mounted formations, but by the late 1930s, many thought the need for cavalry had passed. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, however, the Division was assigned border surveillance of the Mexican border. The feeling was that if the U.S. was challenged on less than ideal terrain – such as an enemy landing in Western Mexico – mounted soldiers on sturdy, sure-footed horses could prove invaluable.
The cavalry units were unpopular with overseas commanders because their horses and equipment required shipping space and logistic support far more than other units, but General McArthur, in command of the Southwest Pacific, was so in need of units that he accepted the 1st Cavalry Division on the condition their horses be left behind.
In February of 1943, the entire 1st Cavalry Division was alerted for an overseas assignment. The 12th Regiment, along with the 5th, 7th, and 8th, held a dismount ceremony before they were stripped of their horses and began the emotional process of turning in horses, saddles and bridles. The majority of the horses were auctioned at bargain prices to owners of large ranches around the El Paso area, and the Division began retraining troopers to be foot soldiers with the support of mechanized vehicles. The 112th became the 112th Regimental Cavalry Combat Team.
The regiment landed at Woodlark Island in the Solomon Sea on June 23, 1943. They met Japanese opposition but rapidly secured the Arawe Peninsula. They then departed Aitape for Leyte, Philippine Islands, on October 31, 1944 and arrived on November 14th. The 112th was to operate in the mountains between Ormoc and Leyte Valleys and assist the rest of the 1st Cavalry Division in a drive to the southwest toward Highway 2. The 112th patrolled the Mt. Minoro area then was ordered to move southwest from Mt. Minoro toward the highway, where they met a strongly entrenched Japanese force.
Pvt. Dean Ottershaw did not survive the drive. He was killed in action on November 25th and his body buried in the USAF Cemetery on Leyte, Philippines. It was later disinterred and reinterred in Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis on September 24, 1948. Dean Ottershaw was 21 years old.
Josephine Ottershaw had already had a son, George St. John, wounded in action in North Africa in June of 1943. Three months after Dean’s death Josephine received word from the War Department that another son, Emery St. John, had been killed in action with the 87th Infantry Division in Germany. Josephine became a gold star mother with two stars.