82nd Airborne Division
The 82nd Airborne Division has had its share of famous soldiers from Sergeant Alvin C. York to General James M. Gavin. But that’s not what the 82nd is really about. The real story of the 82nd is the thousands of unnamed paratroopers in jump boots, baggy pants and maroon berets, who have always been ready and willing to jump into danger and then drive on until the mission was accomplished.
The 82nd has become so well known for its airborne accomplishments, that its proud World War I heritage is almost forgotten.
The 82nd Infantry Division was formed 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,” hence its famed “AA” shoulder patch.
In the spring of 1918, the Division deployed to France. In nearly five months of combat the 82nd fought in three major campaigns and helped to break the fighting spirit of the German Imperial Army.
The 82nd was demobilized after World War I. For more than 20 years the “All-American Division” would live only in the memories of men who served in its ranks during the Great War.
With 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.
On August 15, 1942, the 82nd Infantry Division became the first airborne division in the U.S. Army. On that date, the All-American Division was redesignated the 82nd Airborne Division.
In April 1943, paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division set sail for North Africa under the command of Major General Matthew B. Ridgway to participate in the campaign to puncture the soft underbelly of the Third Reich.
The Division’s first two combat operations were parachute and glider assaults into Sicily and Salerno, Italy on July 9 and September 13, 1943.
In January 1944, the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, which was temporarily detached from the Division to fight at Anzio, earned the nickname “Devils in Baggy Pants.” The nickname was taken from an entry made 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.
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 airborne 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 its depleted state following the fighting in Italy, the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment did not take part in the invasion.
On June 5-6, 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. They were among the first soldiers to fight in Normandy, France.
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 read, “…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.
In September, the 82nd began planning for Operation MARKET-GARDEN in Holland. 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 rejoined the 82nd, while the 507th went to the 17th Airborne Division.
On September 17, the 82nd Airborne Division conducted its fourth combat jump of World War II into Holland. Fighting off ferocious 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.
The gateway to Germany would not open in September 1944, and the 82nd was ordered back to France.
Suddenly, on December 16, 1944, the Germans launched a surprise offensive through the Ardennes Forest which caught the Allies completely by surprise. Two days later the 82nd joined the fighting and blunted General Von Runstedt’s northern penetration in the American lines.
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 known as “America’s Guard of Honor.”
The 82nd 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.
Life in the 82nd during the 1950s and 1960s consisted of intensive training exercises in all environments and locations to include 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 raging in the Dominican Republic. Spearheaded by the 3rd Brigade, the 82nd deployed to the Caribbean in Operation POWER PACK. Peace and stability was restored by June 17, when the rebel guns were silenced.
But 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, the brigade was enroute to Chu Lai. The 3rd Brigade performed combat duties in the Hue-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 tiny 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 deploy 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 paratroopers’ goal was to oust a ruthless dictator and restore the duly-elected government to power in Panama. The 1st Brigade task force made up of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, parachuted into combat for the first time since World War II. In Panama, the paratroopers 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.
But 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 comprising 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.
The adage, or battle cry picked up by the paratroopers was, “The road home…is through Baghdad.”
On January 16, 1991, Operation DESERT STORM began when an armada of Allied war planes pounded 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 vehicle mounted 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.
Following the Division’s return and subsequent victory parades, the troopers began to re-establish some of the systems that had become dormant during their eight months in the desert. On top of the list was the regaining of individual and unit airborne proficiency and the continuation of tough and realistic training.
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 a grateful Florida population, instilling a sense of hope and renewed confidence in the military.
On the 50th anniversary of the Operation MARKET-GARDEN, the 82nd again answered the nation’s call and 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 defacto regime capitulated, and the Division was turned back to Fort Bragg.
82nd Airborne Division paratroopers were among the first ground troops sent into the war-torn Kosovo region of the Balkans in Summer 1999, when the 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment moved in from neighboring Macedonia. They were followed shortly by the 3d Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, who themselves will be followed by the 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment in January 2001 as part of regular peacekeeping operation rotations.
When America was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush called upon the American military to fight global terrorism. 82d soldiers deployed to Afghanistan and the Central Command Area of Responsibility to support combat operations.
In June 2002 the 82nd Airborne’s Task Force Panther, comprised of elements from the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment and other 82nd units, deployed to the Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Task Force Devil, comprised of the 504th PIR and other 82nd elements, replaced Task Force Panther in January 2003, where they currently maintain the division’s mission until further notice.
In February of 2003, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT), deployed along with the Division Headquarters to Kuwait in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Division conducted sustained combat operations throughout Iraq and the CENTCOM area of operations. In May 2003 the Division Headquarters returned to Fort Bragg. The 2nd BCT remained in Iraq attached to the 1st Armored Division and continued to conduct combat operations. The Division Headquarters along with the 3rd BCT and elements of the DIVARTY, DISCOM, Aviation, and separate battalions returned to Iraq in August of 2003 to continue command and control over combat operations in and around Baghdad. In January 2004 the 1st BCT deployed to conduct combat operations in OIF. The 2nd BCT redeployed to Fort Bragg, North Carolina in February. The Division Headquarters was relieved by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Division in March of 2004 and the remaining 82nd forces in Iraq redeployed to Fort Bragg, NC by the end of April 2004. For the first time in two years all of the Division’s units were returned to home station.
In September of 2004, the 82nd’s DRF-1, 1-505 was deployed to support OEF 6 in support of JTF-76 and the Afghnistan elections. The TF redeployed in October 2004.
In December 2004, the 82nd’s 1-17th Cav, TF 2-325 and TF 3-325 deployed to Iraq in support of the Iraqi national elections. They started their redeployment to Fort Bragg in March 2005.
Today, as they have in recent deployments and throughout the division’s history, the troopers who wear the red, white and blue patch of the 82nd Airborne Division continue to form the cutting edge of the United States strategic combat force.