U.S. 82nd Airborne Division
The 82nd Airborne Division of the United States Army was formed originally as the 82nd Infantry Division on August 25, 1917, at Camp Gordon, Georgia. Since members of the division came from all 48 states, the unit was given the nickname "All-Americans," the basis for its famed "AA" shoulder patch. Famous soldiers of the division include Sergeant Alvin C. York and General James M. Gavin.
In the spring of 1918, the division deployed to France to fight in World War I. In nearly five months of combat the 82nd fought in three major campaigns and helped to break the German Imperial Army. After the Great War, the 82nd was demobilized and ceased to exist for more than 20 years.
After the outbreak of World War II, the 82nd was reactivated on March 25, 1942, at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, under the command of Major General Omar N. Bradley. During this time spent in training, the division brought together three officers who would ultimately steer the US Army during the next two decades: Matthew B. Ridgway, James M. Gavin, and Maxwell D. Taylor.
On August 15, 1942, the 82nd Infantry Division became the first airborne division in the U.S. Army, and was redesignated the 82nd Airborne Division. In April 1943, paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division deployed to North Africa under the command of Major General Matthew B. Ridgway to participate in the campaign to invade Italy. The Division's first two combat operations were parachute and glider assaults into Sicily on July 9 and Salerno on September 13, 1943. The initial assault on Sicily, by the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was the first regimental sized combat parachute assault conducted by the United States Army.
In January 1944, the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, which was temporarily detached from the division to fight at Anzio, adopted the nickname "Devils in Baggy Pants," taken from an entry in a German officer's diary. While the 504th was detached, the remainder of the 82nd was pulled out of Italy in November 1943 and moved to the United Kingdom to prepare for the liberation of Europe. See RAF North Witham.
With two combat jumps under its belt, the 82nd Airborne Division was now ready for the most ambitious airborne operation of the war, Operation Neptune — the invasion of Normandy. The operation was part of Operation Overlord, the amphibious assault on the northern coast of Nazi-occupied France. In preparation for the operation, the division was reorganized. Two new parachute infantry regiments, the 507th and the 508th, joined the division. Due to a need for integrating replacement troops, rest, and refitting following the fighting in Italy, the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment was not assigned to the division for the invasion. On June 5, 1944 and June 6, 1944, the paratroopers of the 82nd's three parachute infantry regiments and reinforced glider infantry regiment boarded hundreds of transport planes and gliders and began the largest airborne assault in history.
By the time the All-American Division was pulled back to England, it had seen 33 days of bloody combat and suffered 5,245 paratroopers killed, wounded, or missing. The Division's post-battle report, authored by Ridgway, stated in part, "...33 days of action without relief, without replacements. Every mission accomplished. No ground gained was ever relinquished."
Following the Normandy invasion, the 82nd became part of the newly organized XVIII Airborne Corps, which consisted of the U.S. 17th, 82nd, and 101st Airborne Divisions. Ridgway was given command of XVIII Airborne Corps, but was not promoted to Lieutenant General until 1945. His recommendation for succession as commander was Brigadier General James M. Gavin. Ridgway's recommendation met with approval, and upon promotion Gavin became the youngest two-star general since the Civil War to command a US Army division.
On August 2nd 1944 the division became part of the First Allied Airborne Army. In September, the 82nd began planning for Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands. The operation called for three-plus airborne divisions to seize and hold key bridges and roads deep behind German lines. The 504th, now back at full strength, was reassigned to the 82nd, while the 507th was assigned to the 17th Airborne Division. On September 17, the 82nd conducted its fourth combat jump of World War II into the Netherlands. Fighting off German counterattacks, the 82nd captured its objectives between Grave, and Nijmegen. Its success, however, was short-lived because the defeat of other Allied units at Arnhem. After a period of duty on the Arnhem front, the 82nd was relieved by Canadian troops, and sent to France.
On December 16, 1944, the Germans launched a surprise offensive through the Ardennes Forest which was known as the Battle of the Bulge. Two days later the 82nd joined the fighting and blunted General Gerd von Rundstedt's northern penetration in the American lines. After helping to secure the Ruhr, the division ended the war at Ludwigslust past the Elbe River, accepting the surrender of Lieutenant General Kurt von Tippelskirch's 21st Army Group. Over 150,000 troops surrendered to the division. General Omar N. Bradley's reaction is worth an aside; he claimed in a 1975 interview with Gavin that Montgomery told him German opposition was too great to cross the Elbe. When Gavin's division crossed it, it moved 36 miles in one day and captured over 100,000 troops, causing great laughter in Bradley's 12th Army Group headquarters.
Following the surrender of Germany, the 82nd was ordered to Berlin for occupation duty. In Berlin General George Patton was so impressed with the 82nd's honor guard he said, "In all my years in the Army and all the honor guards I have ever seen, the 82nd's honor guard is undoubtedly the best." Hence the "All-Americans" became also known as "America's Guard of Honor."
The division returned to the United States January 3, 1946. Instead of being demobilized, the 82nd made its permanent home at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and was designated a regular Army division on November 15, 1948. The 82nd was not sent to the Korean War, as both Presidents Truman and Eisenhower deemed it necessary to keep the division as a strategic reserve in the event of a Soviet ground attack anywhere in the world. Life in the 82nd during the 1950s and 1960s consisted of intensive training exercises in all environments and locations, including Alaska, Panama, the Far East and the continental United States.
In April 1965, the "All-Americans" were alerted for action in response to the civil war in the Dominican Republic. Spearheaded by the 3rd Brigade, the 82nd deployed to the Caribbean in Operation Power Pack. Peace and stability were restored by June 17.
Three years later, the 82nd Airborne Division was again called to action. During the Tet Offensive, which swept across the Republic of Vietnam in January 1968, the 3rd Brigade was alerted and within 24 hours, was enroute to Chu Lai. The 3rd Brigade performed combat duties in the Hué – Phu Bai area of the I Corps sector. Later the brigade was moved south to Saigon, and fought battles in the Mekong Delta, the Iron Triangle and along the Cambodian border. After serving nearly 22 months in Vietnam, the 3rd Brigade troopers returned to Fort Bragg on December 12, 1969.
During the 1970s, division units deployed to the Republic of Korea, Turkey, and Greece for exercises in potential future battlegrounds. The division was also alerted three times. War in the Middle East in the fall of 1973 brought the 82nd to full alert. Then in May 1978, the division was alerted for a possible drop into Zaire, and again in November 1979, the division was alerted for a possible operation to rescue the American hostages in Iran.
On October 25, 1983, elements of the 82nd were called back to the Caribbean to the island of Grenada. The first 82nd unit to deploy in Operation Urgent Fury was a task force of the 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment. On October 26 and 27, the 1st Battalion, 505th Infantry, and the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry, with support units deployed to Grenada. Military operations in Grenada ended in early November.
Operation Urgent Fury tested the Division's ability to act as a rapid deployment force. The first aircraft carrying division troopers touched down at Point Salinas 17 hours after notification.
In March 1988, a brigade task force made up of two battalions from the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment conducted a parachute insertion and airland operation into Honduras as part of Operation Golden Pheasant. The deployment was billed a joint training exercise, but the paratroopers were ready to fight. The deployment of armed and willing paratroopers to the Honduran countryside caused the Sandinistas to withdraw back to Nicaragua. Operation Golden Pheasant prepared the paratroopers for future combat in the increasingly unstable world.
On December 20, 1989, the "All-Americans," as part of Operation Just Cause, conducted their first combat jump since World War II onto Torrijos International Airport, Panama. The goal of the 1st Brigade task force, which was made up of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment as well as the 4th Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, was to oust a dictator and restore the duly-elected government to power in Panama. They were joined on the ground by 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, which was already in Panama. After the night combat jump and seizure of the airport, the 82nd conducted follow-on combat air assault missions in Panama City and the surrounding areas. The victorious paratroopers returned to Fort Bragg on January 12, 1990.
Seven months later the paratroopers were again called to war. Six days after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, the 82nd became the vanguard of the largest deployment of American troops since Vietnam. The first unit to deploy to Saudi Arabia was a task force including the division's 2nd Brigade. Soon after, the rest of the division followed. There, intensive training began in anticipation of fighting in the desert with the heavily armored Iraqi Army.
On January 16, 1991, Operation Desert Storm began when Allied war planes attacked Iraqi targets. The ground war began almost six weeks later. On February 23, the vehicle-mounted 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers protected the XVIII Airborne Corps flank as fast-moving armor and mechanized units moved deep inside Iraq. A 2nd Brigade task force was attached to the 6th French Light Armored Division becoming the far left flank of the Corps. In the short 100-hour ground war, the 82nd drove deep into Iraq and captured thousands of Iraqi soldiers and tons of equipment, weapons, and ammunition. After the liberation of Kuwait, the 82nd began its redeployment back to Fort Bragg with most of the Division returning by the end of April.
In August 1992, the division was alerted to deploy a task force to the hurricane-ravaged area of South Florida and provide humanitarian assistance following Hurricane Andrew. For more than 30 days, division troopers provided food, shelter and medical attention to the Florida population.
On the 50th anniversary of the Operation Market Garden, the 82nd prepared to conduct a parachute assault in the Caribbean nation of Haiti to help restore democracy. With the troopers aboard aircraft heading towards the island, the de facto regime capitulated, and the division turned back to Fort Bragg.
82nd Airborne Division paratroopers were among the first ground troops sent into the Kosovo region of the Balkans in June of 1999, when the 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, moved in from the neighboring Republic of Macedonia. They were followed in September by the 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, who themselves were followed by the 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, in January 2001 as part of regular peacekeeping operation rotations.
After the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001, the 82nd's 49th Public Affairs Detachment and several individual 82nd soldiers deployed to Afghanistan and the Central Command Area of Responsibility to support combat operations.
In June, 2002, elements of the Division Headquarters and 3rd Brigade deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. In January, 2003 1st Brigade relieved 3rd Brigade, and continued the Division's support of Operation Enduring Freedom. During 1st Brigade's tour in Afghanistan, 70 Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry conducted a combat jump into western Afghanistan. The first combat jump for the division since Operation Just Cause in Panama during the 1989 Invasion.
The 2nd brigade of the Division took part in Operation Iraqi Freedom in early 2003. The brigade returned to the US by mid-February, 2004. The 3rd brigade of the division deployed to Iraq in the summer of 2003, redeploying to the US in Spring, 2004. The 1st brigade deployed briefly to Iraq in January, 2004. The last units of the division left Iraq by the end of April, 2004. The division lost 36 soldiers in Iraq, and 400 were wounded, out of about 12,000 deployed in total.
The 1st brigade of the division is now scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in the fall of 2004.