Soldiers of the 187th Infantry Regiment (Airborne) have
the distinction of belonging to the only airborne regiment that has served in
every conflict since the inception of American airborne forces. Today, the
First Battalion (1/187) and Third Battalion (3/187) of the 187th carry on the
tradition while assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team (BCT) of the 101st
Airborne Division. The 3d BCT carries on the nickname "Rakkasans," the nom de
guerre of the 187 Airborne.
The Regiment was constituted on November 12, 1942 and
activated on February 25, 1943 as the 187 Glider Infantry Regiment (GIR) at
Camp MacKall, North Carolina. The two-battalion regiment was assigned to the
11th Airborne Division for the duration of World War II.
The first major milestone for the 11th Airborne Division,
which along with the 187th Glider Infantry included the 188th Glider Infantry
and the 511th Parachute Infantry, was to convince the War Department that the
divisional airborne concept was viable. Airborne operations during 1943 in
Sicily and the Italian mainland had not gone well. The 11th and 17th Airborne
Divisions conducted the Knollwood Maneuvers in late 1943 and early 1944 that
demonstrated to observers that an airborne division could be flown at night,
land on their planned drop zones, be resupplied by air, and hold their
objective until relieved. The success of the Knollwood Maneuvers was a major
factor in the approval of future parachute operations during WWII.
The 187th Glider Infantry and the rest of the 11th
Airborne Division embarked for the Pacific Theater out of Camp Stoneman,
California in May of 1944. Their first combat action was to join the campaign
in New Guinea on May 29, 1944. The regiment joined the fight in the
Philippines, landing on Leyte on November 18, 1944. The 187 GIR then landed on
Luzon on January 31, 1945. The regiment, along with the 188th GIR, entered
Luzon by making an amphibious landing on the enemy-held Lingayen Gulf in order
to flank the Japanese lines. The 187th Glider Infantry fought in other notable
actions on Luzon, like "Purple Heart hill," Tagatay Ridge, Nichols Field, and
Mount Macelod. As part of the 11th Airborne Division, the 187 GIR was one of
the units instrumental in liberating the Philippine capital of Manila. The
regiment was given the honor of garrisoning the city. Moreover, the 187th was
awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for action at Tagatay Ridge and later a
Philippine Presidential Citation for valorous combat performance in the
liberation of Luzon and Manila.
At the end of WWII, the 11th Airborne Division was
selected as the first troops to enter Japan on occupation duty. On August 30,
1945 flew to Atsugi Airfield in Yamamoto, Japan. The 187th Infantry was the
first American occupation troops, and the first foreign military force to enter
Japan in more than 2,000 years. It was in Japan that the regiment earned its
nickname. The regiment had been converted from glider infantry to the 187th
Airborne Infantry Regiment. The Japanese had no word to describe these soldiers
falling from the sky, so they used the made up Japanese word "rakkasan" to
describe what the American soldiers did. The literal translation means "falling
down umbrella men." The locals started calling the troopers "Rakkasans," and
the name stuck.
The 11th Airborne Division, along with the 187th Airborne
Infantry Regiment, was returned to the United States in 1949. The 11th Airborne
Division was stationed at Camp Campbell, Kentucky. Along with the 82nd Airborne
Division, the 11th was part of the strategic reserve of the American Armed
Forces. In February and March of 1950, the Rakkasans took part in Operation
Swarmer, the largest peacetime airborne maneuvers ever to be conducted. Their
performance in these maneuvers was instrumental in being redesignated an
Airborne Regimental Combat Team on August 27, 1950. The 187 Airborne RCT
returned to Japan to serve as General MacArthur's airborne forces during the
Korean War. While attached to the 1st Marine Division, the 187 RCT followed up
on the success of the Inchon Landing, clearing the Kimpo Peninsula between the
Han River and the Yellow Sea.
On October 20, 1950 the 187 Regimental Combat Team made
combat jumps near the towns of Sukchon and Sunchon in North Korea in the
attempt to cut off fleeing communist forces. The Rakkasans fought named
engagements at Suan, Wonju, Kaesong, and Inje. In Operation Tomahawk the 187th
Airborne made the second combat parachute jump of the Korean War at Munsan-ni
on March 23, 1951. The regiment returned to Japan to serve as the strategic
reserve in June 1951. In May 1952, the Rakkasans were ordered to quell a North
Korean and Chinese Communist prisoner of war (POW) uprising on the Japanese
island of Koje-do. The 187 was inserted to the line on two other occasions, in
October 1952 and June 1953, as a stop gap against Chinese offensives at
Wonton-ni and Kumwha.
During their time in the Korean War, the Rakkasans were
awarded a Presidential Unit Citation and two Korean Presidential Citations, as
well as earning five more Battle Streamers for their flag. Three soldiers from
the 187 were awarded the Medal of Honor: Lester Hammond, Jr., Rodolfo
Hernandez, and Richard Wilson. Their success in Korea re-energized the belief
in using paratroopers as a strategic response. Soon after, the XVIII Airborne
Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina was reactivated.
During the early 1960s, the Rakkasans were part of a
series of transfers and redesignations to help experiment with new division
formations for the Cold War. This included being part of the 11th Air Assault
Division (Test). By 1964, the 3/187th Airborne was the only battalion of the
regiment on active duty. They were assigned to the 3rd Brigade of the newly
reactivated 101st Airborne Division. The 3rd Brigade, which included the 1st
and 2nd Battalions of the 506th Airborne, deployed to Vietnam in December 1967.
The Rakkasans spent the next four years in Vietnam, fighting in twelve major
engagements. They earned two Valorous Unit Awards and two Presidential Unit
Citations for the battles at Trang Bang and Dong Ap Bia Mountain. The latter is
better known as "Hamburger Hill." Another Rakkasan, Captain Paul W. Bucha, was
awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions near Phuoc Vinh in March of 1968.
The 101st Airborne, along with the 3/187, returned to Fort Campbell in
By the Persian Gulf War in 1990, the 101st Airborne, along
with the Rakkasans of the 3rd Brigade had converted from airborne to air
assault troops. During that 100 days of ground combat, the 1/187 Infantry
conducted an air assault 155 miles behind enemy lines to Objective Weber
capturing over 400 Iraqi soldiers on February 25, 1991. The operation into the
Euphrates River valley cut off the retreating enemy out of Kuwait. The
Rakkasans had advanced further than any other Allied unit, proven the viability
of the air assault on the modern battlefield, and did so without a single
soldier killed in action.
As part of the Global War on Terror (GWT), the Rakkasans
deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in
December 2001. As such, the 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne became the first Army
brigade to deploy in the ongoing war on terror. The Rakkasans fought against
the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan, which included Operation Anaconda in March
Seven months after their return from Afghanistan, the 3rd
Brigade deployed to Kuwait for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF1). On March 20,
2003 the Rakkasans led the 101st Airborne Division into Iraq, establishing
Forward Area Refueling Points (FARPs) to support deep attacks into Iraq. They
seized the city of Hillah and participated in the liberation of Saddam Hussein
International Airport before going on to occupy portions of Baghdad. The BDE
then moved to western Ninewah province along the Syrian border for the
remainder of the deployment, establishing fledgling governance and
reconstruction projects for the betterment of the local population, while
continuing operations against insurgents.
The 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division returned to Fort
Campbell in early 2004 and was reorganized under Army Transformation as the 3rd
Brigade Combat Team (BCT). The 3BCT then began a train up for returning to
Iraq. They deployed in September 2005 for OIF rotation 05-07. During this
year-long deployment the Rakkasans fought the growing Sunni insurgency in Salah
Ad Din Province, which included Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.
The Rakkasans deployed again to Iraq for OIF 07-09 as part
of the Iraq Surge in September 2007. This rotation took the 3BCT to southwest
and southern Baghdad between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. This time the
brigade was deployed for 15 months and conducted operations against both Sunni
and Shia insurgents.
The Rakkasans returned home in November 2008. After their
fourth refit and re-training period since 9/11, the 3d Brigade Combat Team
deployed again in January 2010. This time they went to Afghanistan in support
of OEF 10-11 as part of Regional Command-East near the Afghan-Pakistan border.
The Rakkasans were home in early 2011, but redeployed to Afghanistan again in
September 2012. They came home to Fort Campbell in May 2013 and are again
preparing for their next deployment.
The banner under the distinctive unit insignia of the
187th Infantry Regiment (Airborne) bears the Latin words Ne Desit Virtus,
meaning "Let Valor Not Fail." The soldiers of the 187 Infantry from every era
have certainly upheld their motto.
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