82nd Airborne Division “America’s Guard of Honor”
As many of you know, the 82d Division was activated on August 17, 1917 during WWI. This is our 90th Anniversary. Ironically, our troops are fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan 90 years later. You should also know that the 82d took about 7,000 casualties in 3 months during 1918 and that the most famous soldier of the war was an 82d man – Sgt Alvin York.
Virtually everyone reading this has seen Gary Cooper,s famous movie shot in 1939 – 1940 portraying Sgt (then Cpl) York accomplishing the most famous feat of arms of anyone in the 20th Century.Â In October, 1918 Sgt. York single handedly killed 25 enemy soldiers and captured 132 others. He won one of the few Medals of Honor awarded to enlisted men of that period. He did this only with his rifle and .45 cal pistol. Ironically, he donated all of the royalties from that movie to a school for children in his home state of Tennessee.
The birthday of our Division was August 17, 1917 and we are celebrating our 90th Anniversary in 2007. Did you also know that we have had 3 unit designations?Â The 82d Division of WWI, the 82nd Infantry Division in the early days of WWII, commanded byÂ none other than the future 5 star General, Omar Bradley and finally the 82nd Airborne Division from August, 1942 to the present day.
In WWII, the 82nd made 4 combat jumps and glider assaults, fought against tremendous odds in the Battle of the Bulge and fought all the way into Germany. The Division accepted the surrender of a 121,000 man German Army. It was assigned to Berlin at the end of the war and was noted by General Patton as America’s Guard of Honor. The Division lost thousands of men in WWII and fought in some of the most horrific battles in Europe.
Although the Division did not fight in the Korean War, it supplied many of the paratroopers for the 187th Regimental Combat Team.Â The 187 made 2 combat jumps there and suffered almost 1,700 men killed in action.
The 82nd served in the Cold War as the country’s forward ready reaction force. It sent units all over the world on various deployments. In 1965, it deployed to the Dominican Republic to quell the civil war raging there. Paratroopers were also sent to the Congo in 1967 to protect the Embassy and American citizens. The Detroit riots came in the fall of 1967.
In February, 1968, President Johnson sent 3,500 paratroopers to assist in the fighting around Hue during the Tet Offensive. The Brigade lost 227 men killed and 1,250 wounded before coming home in December, 1969.
Grenada was next, then it was Panama, then Desert Storm. It was the first unit to “draw a line in the sand” when ordered there by then President George Bush. In the meantime, when it wasn’t doing anything better, elements served in the Sinai and the Balkans. It has responded to hurricanes in Florida and lately in New Orleans during Katria. It also donned its parachutes for a jump in Haiti. Knowledge that the 82nd was in flight to Haiti brought about the immediate end to a corrupt dictatorship in that impoverished country.
It has been deployed several times to Afghanistan and Iraq in the Global War on Terror. Currently, the Division has about 15,000 Paratroopers in Iraq and 5,000 in Afghanistan. The current Division Commander, Major General David Rodriguez (Also Commander of the Combined Joint Task Force 76) is in Afghanistan leading his Paratroopers in the fight in the mountains along the Pakistan border. Losses in both theatres have been very heavy but these young Paratroopers soldier on to protect America.
Few other divisions in the US Army can trace their lineage back so far, with so many battle streamers.
With all of this activity, it is no wonder that the 90th Anniversary has not been commemorated in the fashion that it should be. Some sort of recognition needs to be given to these young and old heroes, past and present, living and dead, for their valiant service to our nation.
During WWII, General Jim Gavin once said that â€œA man who will jump out of a plane will certainly fight for his country. No truer words have ever been spoken!
Happy Birthday, Heroes!
Richard F. O’Hare