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 A Summary History of the 1st Marine Division

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"The Old Breed"

(Updated 10-30-08)

The 1st Marine Division is the largest unit on active duty in the United States Marine Corps. Nicknamed "the Old Breed," or the "Blue Diamond," the 1st Marine Division is also the most decorated unit of its size in the USMC. The 1st Marine Division is the ground combat element of the I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) and is stationed at Camp Pendleton in California.

The primary mission of the Blue Diamond Division is to conduct amphibious assault operations as part of the Naval Expeditionary Force (NEF) and other military force operations as part of the MEF in any operational environment as directed. The 1st Marine Division is comprised of Headquarters Battalion, the 1st, 5th, 7th, and 11th Marine Regiments, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st and 3d Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalions, Click to preview or purchase "The Boldest Plan is the Best" from Amazon.com1st Tank Battalion, and 3d Assault Amphibian Battalion. These units represent a combat-ready force of more than 22,000 Marines and Sailors. As part of a Marine Expeditionary Force, the 1st Marine Division is supported by a Marine aircraft wing and other support elements.

While some of the Old Breed Regiments were in existence as early as 1911, the 1st Marine Division was activated on February 1, 1941 aboard the battleship USS Texas (BB-35). This was the first Division to be formed in U.S. Marine Corps history. Following the outbreak of World War II, the Division sailed to the Southwest Pacific. On August 7, 1942, the Blue Diamond conducted the initial assault against the Japanese occupied islands of Guadalcanal and Tulagi. After defeating the Japanese in a six month long struggle, which cost over 3000 casualties, the Division moved to Australia for rest and reorganization. It was in Melbourne that the division adopted the Australian folk song "Waltzing Matilda" as its marching song. To this day, 1st Division Marines still ship out to this song being played.

The Guadalcanal campaign was the first major American Pacific campaign in World War II and the first time the 1st Marine Division conducted combat operations as a division. The Division's actions during this operation won it the first of three World War II Presidential Unit Citations (PUC). The division would next see action during Operation Cartwheel, the campaigns in Eastern New Guinea and New Britain. The Old Breed came ashore at the Battle of Cape Gloucester on December 26, 1943 and fought on New Britain until February 1944. The 1st Marine Division also won Presidential Unit Citations for the battles of Peleliu during September through November of 1944, and Okinawa from March through June of 1945. Three weeks after Japan surrendered, the Division was dispatched to North China for occupation duty. While in China, the Division had numerous encounters with the Chinese Communists.

At the start of the Korean War in June of 1950, the Blue Diamond, like much of America's military, found itself under strength as a result of the post WWII drawdown of forces. Part of the 1st MarDiv, the 5th Marine Regiment, was rushed to Korea to help hold the Pusan Perimeter, while the rest of the Division prepared for their role in the new conflict. The Old Breed was picked to lead the amphibious assault known as the Inchon Landing on September 15, 1950. After landing the 1st Marine Division moved north and secured the South Korean capital of Seoul after heavy fighting with North Korean Communist forces. Later that fall as Communist China entered the war; the 1st Marine Division was attacked by seven Chinese divisions on November 27, 1950. The Old Breed fought their way out of the Chosin Reservoir while suffering over 900 killed and missing, over 3,500 wounded and more than 6,500 non-battle casualties mostly from frostbite during the battle. The greater part of the Chinese 9th Army was rendered ineffective as they suffered an estimated 37,500 casualties trying to stop the Marines' march out of the "Frozen Chosin." These combat actions in Korea earned the 1st Marine Division its fourth, fifth, and sixth Presidential Unit Citations. The next two and one half years saw the Division employed as a front-line unit against the Communist Forces. After the fighting had ended in July 1953, the 1st Marine Division remained in defensive positions for nearly two more years.

In 1965, 7th Marines participated in the first major engagements for American ground troops in South Vietnam, called Operations STARLITE and PIRANHA. By March of 1966 the 1st Marine Division Headquarters was established at Chu Lai. By June of that same year, the entire Division was in South Vietnam. The Blue Diamond's zone of operation was the southern two provinces of the I Corps area, Quang Tin and Quang Ngai. Between March 1966 and May 1967, the Division conducted 44 named and unnamed operations. Major engagements included Operations HASTINGS and UNION I and II. In these operations, 1st Marine Division units decisively defeated the enemy.

During the 1968 Tet Offensive, the Old Breed was involved in fierce fighting with both Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army elements. It successfully beat back and decimated every enemy assault in its area of operations, pursuing the enemy into his sanctuaries. It was during this period that Marines from the 1st and 5th Regiments fought in the Battle of Hue. The Ticonderoga-class Aegis guided-missile cruiser USS Hue City is named in their honor. It is the only naval vessel named for a battle of the Vietnam War. U.S. Marine Sergeant Alfredo Gonzalez was awarded the Medal of Honor for his fearless gallantry above and beyond the call of duty at Hue. The USS Gonzalez (DDG-66), an Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer, honors the memory of this hero. It was also during this period that the 1st Marine Division earned its seventh and eighth Presidential Unit Citations.

After six hard years, the 1st Marine Division returned to Camp Pendleton, California in 1971. However, the Vietnam era chapter of their service was not over. In 1975, the Division supported the evacuation of Saigon by providing food and temporary shelter at Camp Pendleton for Vietnamese refugees as they arrived in the United States.

On August 26, 1990, the Blue Diamond Division deployed to Saudi Arabia in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. During Operation DESERT SHIELD, the 1st Marine Division served as a deterrent force to prevent further Iraqi aggression. With the start of Operation DESERT STORM on January 17, 1991, the Division conducted numerous combined arms raids against enemy forces culminating in the ground assault to liberate Kuwait on February 24, 1991. The Division fought alongside the 2nd Marine Division under I MEF and with the rest of the Coalition Forces went on the offensive. In only 100 hours ground combat, the 1st Marine Division destroyed the enemy in its path as it led the breakthrough to Kuwait City.

During the 1990s the Old Breed was called on to serve in humanitarian relief missions as well as their primary mission of preparing for war. Immediately following the Persian Gulf War, the Division sent units to Operation SEA ANGEL, a humanitarian relief mission conducted after a devastating typhoon hit the country of Bangladesh. The 1st Marine Division also sent units to the Philippines in Operation FIERY VIGIL after the eruption of the volcano Mount Pinatubo. In December of 1992, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) supported by the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines landed in Somalia as part of Operation RESTORE HOPE to bring relief to that famine stricken country.

In early 2003, the 1st Marine Division deployed by air and sea to link up with its advance headquarters deployed to Kuwait under I MEF. In a high speed attack, in conjunction with The United Kingdom's 1st Armored Division and the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, the Marines and Sailors covered 808 kilometers in 17 days of sustained combat to complete the deepest penetrating ground operation in Marine Corps history. Attacking to Baghdad alongside the 3rd ID and eventually seizing Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, the Old Breed again demonstrated the Marine Air-Ground team in action. The 1st Marine Division conducted stability operations in Baghdad, Tikrit, and then in south-central Iraq from May to October of 2003. The Division then returned home to Camp Pendleton and Twenty-nine Palms and prepared for redeployment. The Blue Diamond's actions in the invasion of Iraq earned the Division its ninth Presidential Unit Citation.

In March 2004, the 1st Marine Division relieved 82d Airborne Division in Iraq's Sunni Triangle and took control of the Al Anbar province. The Old Breed was the lead unit in Operation VIGILANT RESOLVE and Operation PHANTOM FURY in 2004. During Operation IRAQI FREEDOM II, the Division conducted counter-insurgency operations that culminated in Operation AL FAJR which liberated the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah and enabled the first legitimate elections to occur in Iraq. During February and March 2005, the Blue Diamond was relieved by the 2nd Marine Division, concluding the largest relief in place in the history of the Marine Corps.

As early as 2006, elements of the 1st Marine Division were once again in Iraq as the ground combat element for I MEF in the Al Anbar province. Currently, in 2008, continue to deploy in support of the Global War on Terror in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Currently, in 2008, elements of the 7th Marine Regiment are deployed in Afghanistan while the 5th Marine Regiment, the 1st Marine Regiment and the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines are deployed with the Multi National Force - West (MNF-West) in Iraq.

The Old Breed will continue to serve the Corps and their country as long as they are needed. The marines of the Division are living up to their motto of "No better friend, no worse enemy," while participating in Operations IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM in Afghanistan.

 

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