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 A Summary History of the 1st Infantry Division - Big Red One

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1st Infantry Div - Big Red One
Big Red One

"The Big Red One"

(Updated 5-9-08)

The 1st Infantry Division, nicknamed "The Fighting First" or "The Big Red One" after its shoulder patch, is the United States Army's oldest division. They have provided continuous service to the country since their organization in 1917. The 1st Infantry Division currently consists of four brigade combat teams, a combat aviation brigade, a combat support brigade, a separate cavalry squadron, and various other attached units. They are home based at Fort Riley, Kansas.

Upon the United States' entry into the First World War, an American Expeditionary Force for deployment to France was quickly formed. Small units that were in service along the Mexican border and at various posts throughout the country were brought together to form the First Expeditionary Division, formally organized onClick to preview or purchase "The Boldest Plan is the Best" from Amazon.com June 8, 1917. Members of the Division paraded through the streets of Paris on July 4th, bolstering the sagging spirits of the French people who had already suffered through almost three years of war. On July 6, 1917 the First Expeditionary Division was designated as the First Infantry Division. With the wearing of the red number one on the left shoulder, the Big Red One was born.

Two days after their designation as the 1st Infantry Division, the Big Red One suffered the first casualties of the war. The "Fighting First" led the way for American troops in World War I. They participated in battles at Cantigny, Soissons, St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne Forest. When the Armistice was signed, the Division was at Sedan, the farthest American penetration of the War. The 1st Infantry Division was the first to cross the Rhine into occupied Germany. During the war the Big Red One suffered 4,411 killed in action, 17,201 wounded in action, and 1,056 soldiers missing or later dying of wounds. The Fighting First Infantry Division can boast five Medal of Honor recipients from World War I.

Unlike many units in the regular army, the 1st Infantry Division was not deactivated during the interwar period. The Big Red One returned to the United States in September of 1919 and too up peacetime status with its headquarters at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn. In preparation for World War II, the Division began reorganizing and training in November of 1939. After training at Fort Benning, GA, and participation in the Louisiana Maneuvers during May of 1940, the Division was moved to Fort Devens, MA on December 6, 1941. The next day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States was thrust into World War again.

After further training in the United States and Great Britain, the Big Red One landed on the coast of Algeria near Oran on November 8, 1942. This landing, Operation Torch, was the first American campaign against German forces. The initial lessons of combat were expensive and the Division suffered many casualties during the following campaign in Tunisia.

Now an experienced Division, the Big Red One took part in the campaign to take Sicily, landing at Gela on July 10, 1943. At the end of the Sicilian campaign, the 1st Infantry Division returned to England to prepare for the Normandy invasion. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, the 1st Infantry Division stormed ashore on Omaha Beach. After almost six months of continuous combat, the First Infantry Division had fought across France, entered Germany, and taken the city of Aachen. The Division's well deserved rest was interrupted by the Battle of the Bulge. The Big Red One raced to the Ardennes on December 17th to help blunt the German offensive.

Before the end of WWII the Big Red One would breach the Siegfried Line and fight across the Roer to the Rhine River. There the Division crossed the Rhine at the Remagen bridgehead. The 1st Infantry Division would continue to fight across Germany and finish the war in Czechoslovakia. During the Second World War the Big Red One suffered 3,616 killed in action, 15,208 wounded, and another sixteen members of the Division were awarded the Medal of Honor.

During the Korean War, the Big Red One was assigned to occupation duty in Germany. Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division secured the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials and later transported seven convicted Nazi war criminals to Spandau Prison in Berlin. In 1955 the Division left Germany and relocated to Fort Riley, Kansas. However, for the next 10 years the Division continued to send troops to supplement the Berlin Brigade, making the largest deployment of troops during the early days of the Cold War.

The Big Red One was the first divisional unit called to the fight in Vietnam. The 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division deployed in July of 1965 and began combat operations within two weeks of their arrival. By the end of 1965, the Division had participated in three major operations: Hump, Bushmaster I, and Bushmaster II. 1966 saw participation in Operations Marauder, Crimp II, Rolling Stone, and Attleboro. The Division took part in the battles of Ap Tau O, Srok Dong, and Minh Thanh Road. In 1967 troops of the 1st ID were taking part in Operations Cedar Falls, Junction City, Manhattan, and Shenandoah II. On October 17, 1967 the Division suffered 58 KIA at the Battle of Ong Thanh.

During the Tet Offensive of early 1968, the Big Red One secured the massive Tan Son Nhut Airbase. In March of '68 the Division took part in Operation Quyet Thang (Resolve to Win). In April the Fighting First participated in the largest operation in the Vietnam conflict, Operation Toan Thang (Certain Victory). On September 13, 1968 the Division Commander, Major General Ware, was killed in action when his command helicopter was shot down by enemy fire. During the first half of 1969 the Division conducted reconnaissance-in-force and ambush operations. The Big Red One was also a part of the multi-divisional Operation Atlas Wedge and participated in the Battles of An Loc. The second half of 1969 saw the Division attempt to turn combat operations over to their South Vietnamese allies. However, the 1st I.D. took part in battles along Highway 13, known as "Thunder Road" until the end of the year.

In January of 1970, the Big Red One was ordered to return to Fort Riley, Kansas. During almost five years of fighting in Vietnam, the 1st Infantry Division lost 6,146 soldiers killed, 16,019 wounded in action, and 20 soldiers taken as prisoners of war. Eleven more members of the Big Red One were awarded the Medal of Honor.

After returning from Vietnam the 1st Infantry Division continued its Cold War mission of defense and deterrence by maintaining one brigade forward deployed in West Germany and the remainder of the Division participating in numerous REFORGER Exercises with our NATO allies. The 1st ID also trained for operations on desert terrain during rotations to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. This training proved crucial when the Division was alerted for deployment to Saudi Arabia on November 8, 1990.

Over a two month period the 1st Infantry Division deployed more than 12,000 soldiers and 7,000 pieces of equipment to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Shield, preparing for the impending Gulf War. On February 24, 1991 the 1st I.D. lead the armored attack for VII Corps into Iraq, starting Operation Desert Storm. The Division was responsible for the initial breach of the Iraqi defenses, and consequently rolled over the Iraqi 26th Infantry Division taking 2,600 prisoners of war. During the "100-hour War" the Big Red One assaulted through 260 kilometers of enemy territory, engaged eleven Iraqi divisions, destroyed 550 tanks and 480 armored personnel carriers, and took 11,400 prisoners. By the morning of February 28th the Division had assumed a blocking position along the "Highway of Death," preventing any enemy retreat. Perhaps due to this position, the Big Red One took nearly twice as many prisoners as any other allied unit during the Gulf War. The Division lost eighteen soldiers during the conflict.

In April of 1996 the 1st Infantry Division moved to a new home station at the German city of Wurzburg. In October of the same year, the Big Red One deployed its 2nd Brigade Combat Team to Bosnia to assume a peacekeeping mission in support of Operation Joint Endeavor. The Division deployed to the Balkans twice in 1999, first as part of Task Force Sabre in Macedonia, then in Kosovo with NATO's Task Force Falcon. This mission lasted until June of 2000, then deployed again in November of 2002.

In January of 2003, elements of the 1st Infantry Division deployed to Turkey to prepare the way for the 4th Infantry Division to enter Northern Iraq through Turkey. Approximately 1,800 soldiers from the Big Red One deployed for this logistical mission. When the Turkish government denied access through their border, this mission ended and the 4th ID entered Iraq through Kuwait.

The Fighting First had a more direct role in the invasion of Iraq by deploying the 1st Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment to Northern Iraq. Operating in the Sunni Triangle, Task Force 1-63 conducted combat operations while helping to bring stability to the region. When Task Force 1-63 returned home to Germany in February 2004, the rest of the 1st Infantry Division deployed to Northern Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In July 2006, the 1st Infantry Division was removed from its home base in Germany and stationed back at Fort Riley, Kansas. The 2nd Brigade was slated to remain based in Schweinfurt, Germany as the only organic heavy mechanized brigade assigned to the United States European Command Area of Responsibility. In the fall of 2006 the 1st Brigade of the Big Red One deployed to Iraq as the Division continues to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In the Fall of 2007, the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade (Demon Brigade) deployed to Iraq and was placed under the command of Multinational Division - North located at COB Spiecher.

The Big Red One has had many firsts since its inception in 1917. Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division are the mainstay of the Active United States Army. They have always lived up to the Division's motto of "No Mission Too Difficult, No Sacrifice Too Great - Duty First!"

 

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