The 82nd Airborne “All American” Division
By Kevin Born and Alexander Barnes
The iconic double “A” patch has represented the 82nd Airborne Division for nearly 100 years. From the Argonne and Normandy to Vietnam, Kabul, and Baghdad the division has a long and distinguished combat history.
The 82nd Division, was originally comprised solely of drafted men from Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. Organized on 25 August 1917, it was quickly stripped of soldiers to fill some understrength National Guard divisions. The next influx of men gathered now from some northern and Midwestern states members would eventually expand to soldiers from all 48 states which led to the 82nd’s nickname of the “All Americans”. They were trained at Camp Gordon, Georgia; a training camp named in honor of a Confederate Civil War leader, Major General John Brown Gordon.
Major General Eben Swift was selected to command the 82nd. Swift was born at Fort Chadbourne, Texas, and had an interesting career with campaigns against the Indians on the western frontier, service in the Spanish-American War, service in the Philippines, and is also considered the inventor of the tactical instruction technique known today as the “staff ride.” In November 1917, Swift relinquished command of the Division. Major General William Burnham took over the 82nd to complete its training.
World War I
The 82nd deployed to France in April 1918, and received combat credit for actions in St. Mihiel, the Meuse-Argonne, and the Lorraine (1918) campaigns. By October 1918, in the midst of heavy fighting in the Argonne, Major General George Duncan took over the Division and led it through to end of the war.
In thirty days of combat, the 82nd was credited with liberating some 11 miles of France at a cost of 1,411 dead and 6,664 wounded. Two division soldiers earned the Medal of Honor; the most notable being Sergeant Alvin York who became the most famous and recognized Doughboy in the AEF. The 82nd returned to the U.S. in May 1919 and was demobilized at Camp Mills, New York.
World War II
Inactive between the wars for more than 20 years, the 82nd was brought back into service on 25 March 1942 at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. On 15 August 1942, the 82nd was designated as the Army’s first airborne division. The exploits of the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II are legendary. Three generals who would become household names commanded the Division during the war, Major Generals Omar Bradley (1942), Matthew Ridgeway (1942-44) and James Gavin (1944-45).
In 1943, divisional units fought in North Africa and conducted combat jumps into Sicily and Salerno, Italy. In five days, the division moved 150 miles and took 23,000 prisoners in Sicily, and after the jump into Salerno, was the first unit to enter Naples.
The Division’s 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment later fought as a detached unit at Anzio and earned the nickname “Devils in Baggy Pants” from their German adversaries.
After a period of training in England, the 82nd Airborne Division parachuted and rode gliders into the drop zones behind Utah Beach in Normandy on the night of 5-6 June 1944. This action, in conjunction with the 101st Airborne Division and the British 6th Airborne Division, spearheaded the D-Day invasion as part of the largest airborne assault in history. In 33 days of intense combat in France, the Division suffered 5,245 killed, wounded, or missing before returning to England.
The 82nd conducted its fourth combat jump on 17 September 1944, this time into Holland to secure the bridges at Grave and Nijmegen for advancing British armor. Returning to France for training and reconstitution, the All Americans were rushed forward to the Ardennes Forest by General George Patton on 16 December 1944. There, they blunted the northern penetration of a surprise German offensive during the Battle of the Bulge.
After moving through Belgium and the Hurtgen Forest, they penetrated the Siegfried Line. The Division ended the war at Elbe River near Bleckede, Germany, where it accepted the surrender of 150,000 troops of the German 21st Army.
The All Americans then moved to Berlin where they served on occupation duty. General Patton was so impressed by the 82nd’s honor guard, that the Division also became known as “America’s Guard of Honor.”
During WWII, the All Americans served in six campaigns totaling 442 days in combat sustaining 1,619 soldiers killed, 6,560 wounded, and another 332 who subsequently died of wounds. Four 82nd Division paratroopers earned the Medal of Honor.
The Division rotated back to its new home at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in January 1946. Authorization to wear the airborne tab was rescinded from 29 January 1947, until 23 December 1948. The tab was restored once the 82nd was designated as a Regular Army division in 1948.
Dominican Republic and Vietnam
As part of Operation Power Pack, a division task force led by the 3rd Brigade was rushed to the Dominican Republic in April 1965. The provided stability after a raging civil war ended.
With short notice, the 3rd Brigade and supporting divisional units were airlifted to Vietnam on 14 February 1968, where they fought with distinction during the Tet Offensive. The brigade performed combat duties in the I Corps sector around Hue.
Later, the brigade moved to Saigon, where it engaged in combat in the Mekong Delta, the Iron Triangle, and along the Cambodian border. Divisional units returned to Ft Bragg in December 1969, after 22 months in combat and earning a Medal of Honor.
Combat Operations in Grenada and Panama
The Division’s next combat operation would be 16 years later in October 1983, when elements of the 82nd were air-landed at Point Salines Airfield in support of the 1st and 2nd Ranger Battalions during operation Urgent Fury in Grenada. The All Americans engaged in the rescue of American students and captured the commander of the People’s Revolutionary Armed Forces, General Hudson Austin.
During Operation Just Cause in Panama, elements of the division conducted a night combat jump into Omar Torrijos International Airport on 20 December 1989. It was the 82nd first combat jump since World War II. The division later conducted air assault missions into the Panama City area. The division lost two paratroopers killed in action in Grenada and six in Panama.
THE BUSY 1990
Just six months after returning from Panama the 82nd deployed to Saudi Arabia to draw the “Line in the Sand” against Saddam Hussein’s aggression. There, they served as the vanguard of forces that would liberate Kuwait from the Iraqis. In 100 hours of ground combat that commenced on 23 February 1991, the 82nd drove deep into Iraq and captured numerous Iraqi soldiers as well as their equipment and weapons.
The division later supported Hurricane Andrew relief of South Florida in 1992. In 1999, they took part in peacekeeping operations in Kosovo and Macedonia.
The first elements of the 82nd were deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in June 2002. Divisional units saw frequent rotations to Afghanistan, and in June 2009, the Division headquarters assumed responsibility for Regional Command – East (RC-E), as CJTF-82, responsible for an operational area of 124,675 square kilometers with 14 provinces, as well as 570 miles of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
The division headquarters returned Afghanistan again in October 2011. This time, they served as the Regional Command South (RC-S) headquarters overseeing nearly 10,000 paratroopers throughout Afghanistan stretching from Kandahar to Afghanistan’s eastern border.
In February 2003, the division headquarters and 2nd Brigade conducted a short deployment to Kuwait and Iraq to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. The division headquarters and other elements of the 82nd returned to Iraq again in August to provide command and control of combat forces in and around the Baghdad area.
Elements of the division saw numerous rotations to Iraq in the following years which included election support and participation the troop “surge” operations in Baghdad. In early 2007, the division headquarters and several of its units returned to Iraq for a 15-month assignment as the Combined Joint Task Force 82 (CJTF-82).
In May 2011, The 2nd Brigade deployed a final time to Iraq to support Operation New Dawn. It was the last combat brigade to redeploy from Iraq after it successfully relinquished responsibility of the Anbar Province. The 82nd lost 106 soldiers in Afghanistan and 139 in Iraq.
More disaster Relief
In September 2005, the 82nd deployed more than 3,600 soldiers to support search-and-rescue and security operations in New Orleans, Louisiana, after the city was flooded by Hurricane Katrina. In 2010, the 2nd Brigade executed a no-notice deployment to Haiti to conduct humanitarian relief. The Division provided food, water, medical aid, and supplies to the Haitian people, following an earthquake that devastated the island nation.
The daring and courage of the 82nd Division is represented in many ways. Perhaps, it is best represented in a private’s reassurance to a tank commander during the Battle of the Budge, “Well, buddy, just pull your vehicle behind me. I’m the 82nd Airborne Division, and this is as far as the bastards are going.”