"The First Team"
The 1st Cavalry Division, the "First Team," is a heavy
armored division assigned to the U.S. Army's III Corps. The First Team is the
largest division in the United States Army with nearly 17,000 soldiers
assigned. Their home base is Fort Hood, Texas but 1st Cavalry Division troopers
have fought around the world pursuing the Division's motto of "Live the
The 1st Cavalry was established as a permanent division
with its own Table of Organization and Equipment on April 4, 1921. However, the
1st Cavalry Division was formed out of the 1st Cavalry Regiment that was
designated when the Army made "Cavalry" an official branch in 1855.
Furthermore, the 1st Cavalry Regiment can trace its lineage to the First
Regiment of Dragoons which existed as early as 1833. The 1st, 7th,
and 10th Cavalry Regiments, who would form the future "First Team,"
participated in major battles of the Civil War, the Indian Wars, the Spanish
American War, and the Punitive Expedition to Mexico.
The First World War proved that armored vehicles and
aircraft would be the weapons of the future. But when the First Team was
activated in 1921, these machines were still not reliable enough for the harsh
conditions encountered patrolling the Mexican border. When the Division first
assembled for maneuvers at Camp Marfa, Texas in the fall of 1923, the troopers
still rode horses. The First Cavalry Division added its first aerial assets in
October of 1928 with the assignment of the 1st Observation Squadron, Air Force.
The next month began the arrival of armored vehicles with the 1st Armored Car
Squadron. The 1st Cavalry Division continued throughout the 1930s to patrol the
border, field new equipment, improve their home base at Fort Bliss, near El
Paso, Texas, and prepare for the war to come.
Although the First Team was born out of the need for large
horse-cavalry formations, by 1940 many officers of the Army thought the horse
was outdated. The reason the Army continued to maintain a unit of horse cavalry
was the concern for the defense of the Southwest United States. The less than
ideal terrain of the Southwest during these years included rocky hills,
deserts, and a lack of good road networks. Mounted cavalry would be ideal to
defend this terrain, since horses could move through it faster than wheeled
vehicles. Also, cavalry in the 20th Century usually fought dismounted and the
1st Cavalry Division would be supported by their own artillery and armor. When
the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and the United States
was thrown into World War II, the first wartime mission of the 1st Cavalry
Division was to continue surveillance of the Mexican border.
In May of 1942, over twelve hundred troopers from the
First Team were assigned as cadre for the organization of the 91st Infantry
Division at Camp White, Oregon. By the end of 1942, the 1st Armored Car
Squadron, the 62nd Armored Field Artillery, and the 161st Engineers had left
the Division for the European Theater. The remainder of the Division continued
to train with their mix of machines and horses. By 1943 the threat to our
southern border had diminished and the 1st Cavalry Division was alerted for
overseas assignment in February. The cavalrymen, however reluctantly, turned in
their horses and saddles. By July the bulk of the Division were on troop ships
bound for Australia and the Pacific Theater.
The remainder of 1943 was used for training and
organizational training in Australia. As a side note of military history, the
1st Cavalry Division had Native American "Code Talkers." Like the more famous
Navajo Code Talkers who served with the Marine Corps, the radio platoon of the
302nd Reconnaissance Troop recruited, at the direction of General MacArthur,
Lakota and Dakota Indians who used their Sioux language to communicate to other
Divisional Headquarters troops. The Japanese never broke this "code." In
January of 1944, the First Team moved out to stage in New Guinea for their
first combat action.
On February 27, 1944, the Division sailed from New Guinea
to "island hop" through the Japanese held island chain of the Admiralties. The
first landing occurred on the morning of February 29th on the island of Los
Negros. On March 15th the First Team landed on Manus Island. By May 18th the
Admiralty Islands campaign was officially over. The 1st Cavalry Division had
killed over 3,300 Japanese soldiers while suffering only 290 killed in action,
977 wounded, and 4 troopers missing in action.
By October 20, 1944 the 1st Cavalry Division was landing
on Leyte Island as part of MacArthur's return to the Philippines. The Leyte
Campaign wrapped up at the end of December and on January 26, 1945 the First
Team was on board convoys headed for Luzon to continue the recapture of the
Philippines. On February 3rd elements of the 1st Cavalry won the race to the
Philippine capitol of Manila. There they had the honor of capturing the capitol
building before retreating Japanese troops could burn it and also rescuing
almost 4,000 civilian prisoners being held at an internment camp at Santo Tomas
University. The fight for Manila was hard and the 37th Infantry Division joined
the First Team February 5th to take on the Japanese holding the western side of
the city. At that time, Manila was a city of 800,000 residents and one of the
largest in Southeast Asia. It took until March 3, 1945 to end organized enemy
resistance in Manila.
By June 30th the fighting on Luzon was declared completed
and the Division began training for its part in the invasion of the Japanese
mainland. The invasion, dubbed Operation Olympic was set for November 1, 1945.
However, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the
subsequent surrender of Japan ended that surely costly mission. On September 5,
1945 elements of the 1st Cavalry Division moved into Tokyo, the first official
movement of troops into the Japanese capitol.
Easy duty as occupation troops in Japan was suddenly
interrupted on the morning of June 25, 1950 when North Korea invaded the
Republic of Korea to the south. The United States, determined to support their
South Korean allies, immediately sent troops from the 24th Infantry Division.
To bolster the low strength units of the peacetime army, the 24th deployed with
many members of the 1st Cavalry Division. Also, A Company, 71st Heavy Tank
Battalion, which was previously part of the First Team, deployed to Korea
attached to the 24th Infantry Division. The remainder of the 1st Cavalry
Division landed at Pohangdong, Korea on July 18th to join American and South
Korean forces in holding the "Pusan Perimeter." After weeks of bloody fighting
in the hilly terrain, the perimeter held. On September 15th General MacArthur
launched the famous Inchon Landing in Korea. The 1st Cavalry Division broke out
of the Pusan Perimeter and started fighting north to join the United Nations
forces coming inland from Inchon. During this offensive Task Force Lynch
comprised of units from the 1st Cavalry Division led the Pusan Perimeter
Breakout covering over 106 miles through enemy territory to link up with the
7th Infantry Division coming from Inchon. On October 9th the First Team crossed
the 38th Parallel into North Korea and on October 17th was the first unit into
the North Korean capitol of Pyongyang.
It started to look like the Korean War was coming to a
close. The second week of October, 1950 found the North Korean Army pushed into
a pocket on the Yalu River, North Korea's border with China. However, the
tables turned on the United Nations Forces on October 14th when Communist
Chinese Forces entered the war on the side of the North Koreans. Eventually,
China would commit approximately 780,000 troops to the fight. During the
remaining weeks of 1950, U.N. Forces, including the 1st Cavalry Division were
pushed back below the 38th Parallel. In the onslaught of Chinese Communist
Forces, the 8th Cavalry Regiment of the First Team was surrounded near the
North Korean town of Unsan while fighting to hold approach routes to the south.
In what became known as the Battle of Unsan, elements of the 1st and 2nd
Battalions broke through the Chinese roadblocks. But the 3rd Battalion, 8th
Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division was destroyed as a fighting unit. More
than 600 troops were lost making this the most painful episode in the long
history of the 1st Cavalry Division.
During 1951 the United Nations forces fought their way
back to the 38th Parallel and the 1st Cavalry Division was an integral part of
that effort. By the end of the year it was time for a rest. The 1st Cavalry
Division was replaced in the line by the 45th Infantry Division of the Oklahoma
National Guard. The last elements of the First Team were re-deployed to Japan
in mid-January 1952, after eighteen months of almost continuous combat. In
Japan, the 1st Cavalry Division was tasked with occupation duty, the defense of
the Japanese Island of Hokkaido, and to prepare Regimental size combat teams
for sixty day tours on the line in Korea. Elements of the Division continued to
serve in the stalemated Korean conflict until the war was over in July of
Occupation duty ended August 29, 1957 when, in accordance
with a treaty signed by both Japan and the United States, defense of the
Japanese mainland was turned over to the Japanese Defense Forces and all U.S.
ground forces were removed. The 1st Cavalry Division was ordered to move its
colors once again to Korea. The Division continued to serve overseas as part of
the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea. During this period the First Team
went through reorganizations and fielded new equipment, all while patrolling
the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separated North and South Korea. The Division
also began to field helicopters in the spring of 1963 and train in airmobile
tactics. In July of 1965 the First Team was reorganized as the 1st Cavalry
Division (Airmobile) and officially activated at Fort Benning, Georgia out of
personnel from the 11th Air Assault Division (Test). Their duties in Korea were
turned over to the 2nd Infantry Division, and one month later the First Team
was in route to Vietnam.
In August of 1965 and advance party of the First Team flew
into Nha Trang, Vietnam. The combat force of the 1st Cavalry Division
(Airmobile) arrived by Military Sea Transport by mid-September. By September
19th, elements of the First Team were already engaging the enemy in Operation
Gibraltar with the 101st Airborne.
The 1st Cavalry Division's first major operation was the
Pleiku Campaign, in which the Division conducted 35 days of continuous
airmobile operations. The opening battle of the campaign was the Battle of the
Ia Drang Valley. The operation took place between November 14 and November 18,
1965 and involved the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 7th Cavalry with the 1st
Battalion of the 5th Cavalry going against more than three North Vietnamese
Regiments and a Viet Cong Battalion. The battle was the subject of the book We
Were Soldiers Once
And Young by Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore (Ret.) and
journalist Joseph L. Galloway and then depicted by the 2002 movie We Were
Soldiers starring Mel Gibson.
The First Team seemed to be everywhere in Vietnam. Most of
1967 was spent conducting Operation Pershing in the II Corps Area. During the
Tet Offensive of 1968, the Division was in the I Corps Tactical Zone, and was
involved in recapturing Quang Tri and Hue. In March of 1968, the Division moved
to relieve Marine units at the besieged combat base of Khe Sanh in Operation
Pegasus. The First Team worked in the Ashau Valley during April and May of
1968, then in the fall moved to the III Corps Tactical Zone northwest of
Saigon. In May of 1970 the 1st Cavalry Division participated in the incursion
The 1st Cavalry Division withdrew from Cambodia on June
29, 1970. After that the Division remained in a "defensive posture" as
offensive combat operations were turned over to South Vietnamese forces and the
withdrawal of U.S. forces continued. The majority of the Division was withdrawn
from Vietnam on April 29, 1971, but the Third Brigade stayed until June 29,
1972 making the 1st Cavalry Division one of the final two ground combat units
to leave the country and the longest serving Division in the Vietnam War.
Before moving to their new home at Fort Hood, Texas, the First Team sacrificed
5,444 troopers killed and 26,592 wounded in Vietnam.
As Vietnam ended and the Cold War heated up, the need for
a deployable armored force became more apparent. By 1975, the 1st Cavalry
Division was equipped as a heavy armored division and assigned to III Corps at
Fort Hood. During the remainder of the Cold War, units of the First Team
participated in rotations to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin,
California, and REFORGER exercises in West Germany.
The First Team was well prepared to participate in the
first conflict to use U.S. armor forces in significant numbers since World War
II: the Gulf War that consisted of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in
1990-91. The 1st Cavalry Division was deployed with the two brigades it had
assigned at the time and operated as the VII Corps reserve armor force. During
the days leading up to the kickoff of the ground war, units of the Division
probed the enemy defenses. The "100 Hour War" was over so quickly that the
First Team only engaged in the last few hours of the conflict. However, their
deep thrust into enemy territory destroyed elements of five Iraqi
Since the Gulf War the First Team has conducted multiple
exercises in Kuwait and in October of 1998 deployed for a year-long
peacekeeping mission in the Balkans. The 1st Cavalry Division as a whole did
not participate in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Although many of its
subordinate units did deploy because of the need for special skills. However,
the Division did deploy as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in early 2004. The
First Team operated in Baghdad and included subordinate units from the
Louisiana, Arkansas, and Washington National Guard during their deployment. The
Division returned home in April of 2005 after losing 168 soldiers killed and
approximately 1,500 wounded. The 1st Cavalry Division departed again for
Baghdad in November of 2006 for a 15 month deployment.
The 1st Cavalry Division has earned its nickname as
America's First Team by being the first military unit to accomplish many great
things. They were the first unit into Tokyo, the first into North Korea, the
first in Vietnam and Cambodia, and the first heavy armored division into Iraq.
The Division's motto is "Live the Legend," and when a 1st Cavalry Trooper is on
parade, they proudly recall the name of the old Irish marching tune that has
become synonymous with the cavalry, "Garry Owen!"
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