The 45th Infantry Division, comprised of National Guard units from Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, was one of the first four divisions ordered into Federal service by Congress' joint resolution in 1940. Initially stationed at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, the 45th was relocated to Camp Barkeley in early 1941. The "Thunderbirds" found Abilene's citizens welcoming, but Camp Barkeley was as yet little more than a tent city on undrained prairie. The new arrivals nicknamed their quarters "Camp Smokey Okie" and began rigorous training at once.
In April 1942 the 45th was order to Fort Devens, Massachusetts. After another year of training in three more states they departed for North Africa and Sicily. World War II took the 45th far from Taylor County. They saw fierce combat in Sicily, Italy, France, and Germany, culminating in the liberation of the concentration camp at Dachau in April 1945. After 511 days in combat and 3,650 men lost, the 45th Infantry was one of the most distinguished military units of the war. Eight Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded to its members, who won the admiration of Allies and Axis powers alike.
The division was released from active duty in November 1945. Hundreds of 45th Infantry soldiers came back to Abilene to marry and make their homes, their love for the city recorded in their letters and their lives. The 45th was again called to active duty during the Korean Conflict, suffering 834 casualties. One "Thunderbird" was posthumously awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor for his Korean service.