"The Fightin' Third"
The 3rd Marine Division is a marine infantry division in
the United States Marine Corps based at Camp Courtney, Marine Corps Base Camp
Smedley D. Butler on the island of Okinawa, Japan. Part of the III Marine
Expeditionary Force (III MEF), the "Fighting Third" also operates the Jungle
Warfare Training Center at Camp Gonsalves on Okinawa. Currently, the 3d MarDiv
has assigned as subordinate units the Headquarters Battalion, the 3d Marine
Regiment, the 4th Marine Regiment, the 12th Marine Regiment, the 3rd
Reconnaissance Battalion, and the Combat Assault Battalion. The Division
currently has subordinate units stationed in Okinawa, Japan and the state of
Hawaii. Division elements are deploying to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The primary mission of the 3rd Marine Division is to
execute amphibious assault operations and other such
as may be directed. The Division is supported by Marine aviation, and force
service support units and is prepared to be employed, in conjunction with a
Marine aircraft wing, as an integral part of a Marine Expeditionary Force in
The 3d Marine Division was activated on September 16, 1942
at Camp Elliott in San Diego, California. The Division was formed with cadre
from the 2nd Marine Division and built around the 9th Marine Regiment. The
first Commanding General of the Division was Major General Charles D. Barrett.
By January of 1943 the 3rd Marine Division was moved by echelon to Aukland, New
Zealand. This movement was completed by March and in June the 3MarDiv deployed
to Guadalcanal to train for the invasion of Bougainville.
On November 1, 1943 the 3rd Marine Division landed at
Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville. For approximately two months the Division
participated in the fight against stiff and heavy enemy resistance. On January
16, 1944, with the transfer of command in the area to the Army's XIV Corps, the
last elements of the Division returned to Guadalcanal. During the course of the
Battle of Bougainville the Division had approximately 400 Marines killed.
The Fighting Third returned to Guadalcanal in January,
1944 to rest, refit, and train. During the spring of 1944 the Division trained
for several operations that were subsequently cancelled. The 3rd Marine
Division was also held in reserve for the invasion of Saipan during June of
The next operation the 3d Marine Division took part in was
the Battle of Guam. From July 21, 1944 until the last day of organized fighting
on August 10, the Division fought through the jungles on the island of Guam.
During these 21 days of fighting, the Division captured over 60 square miles of
territory and killed over 5,000 enemy soldiers. The next two months saw
continuous mopping up operations in which the Marines of the 3rd MarDiv
continued to engage remaining Japanese forces. At the end of the battle for
Guam, the Division had sustained 677 Marines killed, 3,626 wounded and 9
By the middle of February 1945 the Division had left Guam
preparatory to participation in the Iwo Jima operation. Initially, the Division
was held in reserve for the battle of Iwo Jima. However, the Division was
committed one regiment at a time beginning with the 21st Marine Regiment on
February 20th. The 9th Marine Regiment followed on February 25th. The 3d Marine
Division, at this time consisting of the 21st and 9th Regiments, the artillery
support of the 12th Marine Regiment, and the armor support of the 3rd Tank
Battalion, launched an attack in its zone between the 4th and 5th Marine
Divisions. The 3d Marine Division faced well-organized and determined enemy
resistance. The terrain, ideal for defense, was heavily fortified by pillboxes,
caves, and covered artillery emplacements. Progress was slow and casualties
heavy during the first few days of fighting. The Division slowly pushed the
enemy back and fought on Iwo Jima until the end of organized resistance on
March 16th. Mop up operation continued into the next month. On 4 April the 3d
Marine Division was relieved by Army units. By April 17th all of the 3d MarDiv
units were back on Guam. Iwo Jima cost the Fighting Third 1,131 killed in
action and another 4,438 wounded. Back on Guam the Division prepared for the
invasion of Japan that never occurred. Japan surrendered in August of 1945. The
3rd Marine Division was deactivated on December 28, 1945.
The 3rd Marine Division was reactivated on January 7, 1952
at Camp Pendleton, California. This was the Korean War era, but the Division
did not deploy to the theater. Instead they undertook training that involved
both experimental tactics and lessons learned from Korea. In August of 1953 the
Division arrived in Japan to support the defense of the Far Eastern area. In
March of 1956 the 3d Marine Division moved to Okinawa and remained there until
their deployment to Vietnam in 1965.
On May 6, 1965, the 3d Marine Division opened the Marine
Compound at the Danang Air Base, Vietnam. The original mission of the marines
in Vietnam was to protect the American air base. However, as the United States'
role in Vietnam expanded, the units of the 3rd Marine Division were given
permission to run offensive operations in areas that were critical to the
security of American bases.
The 3rd Marine Divisions first major fight was OPERATION
STARLITE and the Battle of Chu Lai in the Quang Ngai Province, August 18-21,
1965. The heavy fighting resulted in 700 enemy dead to and expensive 242
marines killed in action. However, the operation demonstrated what the marines
could do when the enemy met them in a stand up fight.
The Division Headquarters operated in Vietnam from May of
1965 with 3d Mar Div elements participating in operations from Danang to Phu
Bai to Quang Tri/Dong Ha Combat Base. During their over four years of
continuous combat operations, the 3rd Mar Div lost more than 3,000 marines
killed in action. The Division departed Vietnam in November 1969 and moved to
Camp Courtney, Okinawa, where it is presently located.
Since their return from Vietnam, elements of the 3d Marine
Division has participated in numerous humanitarian relief missions as well as
noteworthy combat deployments that include Operations Desert Shield and Desert
Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom in both Afghanistan and the Philippines, and
Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq. The Division celebrated its 66th birthday on
September 16, 2008. During their entire history, the marines of the 3rd
Division have lived up to their motto of Fidelity, Valor, and Honor.
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