All the Wiser: They played the game in spite of hell

By Joy Burgess-Carrico | Published Saturday, March 30, 2019
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Rosalie Gregg asked me to find out about the Lost Battalion’s motto “We Play the Game.” She wanted to know what it means.

I wish to begin by begging your patience. I know little to nothing about the military, so, when talking about military organization, my ignorance will show. I apologize up front.


Joy Burgess-Carrico

There are several lost battalions: one during World War I (that I know of) and two during World War II (Pacific and European). The one we’re talking about was the WWII, Pacific Theater Lost Battalion.

Our Lost Battalion is composed of the men of the 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery Regiment of the 36th Infantry Division. Many, if not most, of these men were from this area.

The 2nd battalion of the 131st Field Artillery Regiment was sent to the Pacific in November 1941.

They were taken prisoner in March 1942 when the Japanese overtook Java. They were prisoners of war for 42 months.

No one heard from any of these men for almost three years, and they began being referred to as “the Lost Battalion.”


INSIGNIA AND HONOR – At left is an image of the 131st Field Artillery Regiment’s insignia and motto, which has been used by the Regiment since 1923. At right is an image of the Sheriff’s Office patch worn on uniforms since April 2001. Bottom center of the patch there is a red fleur-de-lis to honor the Lost Battalion.


In order to discuss the insignia and motto for the Lost Battalion, I have to go back to 1917.

The 131st Field Artillery Regiment was created from the Second Texas Field Artillery Regiment Oct. 15, 1917. It was eventually deployed to France.

According to my new friend, Lisa Sharik, of the Texas Military Forces Museum, most mottos were created around 1919 or 1920, and “usually related to something that happened during WWI.” In the case of the 131st Field Artillery Regiment, the soldiers were inspired by the flamboyant insignias of the French units, and their “flair for organizational banners and badges.” Capt. Ed Yinger of Waxahachie “combined the colors of artillery and the fleur-de-lis, denoting service in France.” Underneath it read the motto “First In Spite of Hell,” I’m assuming due to something that happened during WWI.

By the time the 131st came home, the soldiers were wearing their insignia with “First In Spite of Hell” on their lapels and hats.

The motto was short-lived. In the early 1920s, there was a major reorganization of the military, and the National Guard divisions were put under the microscope. The war department thought the insignia was fine, except for the motto. In 1923, “We Play The Game” was approved as the replacement motto for the less palatable hell reference.

Given what the 2nd Battalion of the 131st was destined to endure, the first motto certainly suited them.


As usual, I could not find a definitive answer but I have a theory, and I think it’s a solid one.

We all now know that the 131st was created Oct. 15, 1917. On Oct. 25, 1917, the Lawrence Chieftain of Mount Vernon, Mo., published a letter from a soldier in the newly formed regiment. He stated, “The recent reorganization of the army places us at the 131st Field Artillery instead of the 2nd Texas Field Artillery…. The spirit of our men is great for you know they are all volunteers…and they enter into this war game in earnest, digging pits and trenches, etc.”

Earlier in the year, two high-ranking military men gave an address in New York City that made the papers. In the article, General Leonard Wood was quoted as saying, “Unless you play the game of war like a real man, you will disappear. Rome disappeared because its men were too intellectual to play the game of harsh war.”

During WWI, the general attitude seems to have been that real men played the game of war, the harsh game of war. They met the enemy and beat them at their game of war.

I could quote you dozens of such sentences, but you get the point.

Doing a search for “game of war” in U.S. newspapers in January 1917, I found 15 independent references to war as a game. One story that was repeated in 30 different newspapers was only counted once in that count of 15. So I actually saw it 45 times. My search from 1917 to 1923 returned so many results – more than 11,000 – that I gave up after January 1917.

Given my current information, I believe “We Play The Game” was intended as a statement that the regiment was a group of manly men who weren’t afraid and were well equipped for whatever the enemy could think to throw at them.


In April 2001, Wise County Sheriff Phil Ryan changed the patch worn by his officers to include a red fleur-de-lis to honor the Lost Battalion. It’s still on there. If you look at the patch on the Sheriff’s Office’s uniforms, you can see it at the bottom center.

In fact, for the past week, I’ve noticed a sheriff’s deputy sitting on the side of the road on my way to work, and I’ve been tempted to speed on purpose so I could ask to see the deputy’s patch. I have refrained. There are probably easier ways.

Although the fleur-de-lis has been incorporated into their patches, the motto has not. Neither Ryan nor the current Sheriff Lane Akin had any idea where the motto came from or what it meant.

Joy Burgess-Carrico is a Messenger graphic artist. Email her your questions at jcarrico@wcmessenger.com

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