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 A Summary History of the 8th Infantry Division

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"The Pathfinder Division"

8th Infantry Division Shoulder Patch(Updated 9-25-08)

The 8th Infantry Division was a mechanized infantry division in the United States Army. The 8th Infantry Division went by the nickname of the "Golden Arrow Division" and later, the "Pathfinder Division." Both monikers were born of the vertical gold arrow in the unit's shoulder patch. However, many soldiers referred to the wearers of an 8ID patch as "Crazy Eights." The 8th I.D. served proudly during World War I, World War II, in Europe during the Cold War, and in Operation Desert Storm. The 8th Infantry Division was deactivated in Germany in January of 1992.

The 8th Infantry Division was formed in early January 1918 for service during World War I. By the time the 8th Division had trained up and deployed to France in November of the same year, the fighting was over. Subsequently the Golden Arrow Division did not gain any combat experience during WWI. The troopers of the 8th Division returned to the United States and the unit was inactivated in January of 1919.

Click to preview or purchase "The Boldest Plan is the Best" from Amazon.comThe Pathfinder Division was called to serve again, this time during the buildup for WWII. The Division was activated on July 1, 1940 and deployed overseas on December 5, 1943. The Allies invaded France on D-day, June 6, 1944. After training in Ireland the 8th Infantry Division landed on Utah Beach, Normandy, on July 4, 1944 and entered combat on the 7th. Fighting through the hedgerows, the 8th I.D. crossed the Ay River on July 26th and pushed through Rennes on August 8th, and continued their advance to attack Brest in September. The Crozon Peninsula was cleared by September 19th, and the Division drove across France to Luxembourg. The Pathfinder Division moved to the Hurtgen Forest on November 20th. Troopers of the 8th Infantry Division cleared Hurtgen on the 28th and Brandenburg on December 3rd.

Now the Golden Arrow Division pushed on to the Roer. That river was crossed on February 23, 1945, Duren taken on the 25th and the Erft Canal was crossed on the 28th. The 8th Infantry Division reached the Rhine near Rodenkirchen by March 7, 1945 and maintained positions along the river near Koln. On April 6th the Division attacked northwest to aid in the destruction of enemy forces in the Ruhr Pocket, and by the 17th had completed its mission. The Division, under operational control of the British Second Army, drove across the Elbe on May 1st, and had penetrated to Schwerin when the war in Europe ended.

On May 2, 1945, as the Golden Arrow Division advanced into northern Germany, the 8ID encountered the Neuengamme concentration camp Wöbbelin subcamp, near the city of Ludwigslust. The SS had established Wöbbelin in early February 1945 to house concentration camp prisoners who had been evacuated from other Nazi camps in order to prevent their liberation by the Allies. Wöbbelin held some 5,000 inmates, many of whom suffered from starvation and disease. The sanitary conditions at the camp when the 8th ID arrived were deplorable. There was little food or water, and some prisoners had resorted to cannibalism. In the first week after liberation, more than 200 inmates died. The 8th Infantry Division was recognized as a liberating unit by the U.S. Army's Center of Military History and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1988.

During their service in WWII, the 8th Infantry Division spent 266 days in combat. Their total combat casualties numbered 13,986. Of that number, 2,852 were killed in action. The Pathfinder Division had fought in four campaigns and earned five unit citations. Troopers of the 8th Infantry Division were awarded 768 Silver Stars, 2 Distinguished Service Medals, 33 Distinguished Service Crosses, and 3 Medals of Honor.

The 8th Infantry Division was re-deployed to the United States and deactivated on November 20, 1945. However, the Golden Arrow Division would be needed again in Germany. The Division was re-activated for the Cold War and sent to Germany to replace the 9th Infantry Division in October of 1956. On December 14, 1957, having participated in NATO exercises and gone through the first of several reorganizations, the 8th Infantry Division Headquarters was stationed in Bad Kreuznach, West Germany.

From 1958 to 1973 the 8th Infantry Division, although mechanized, had an airborne infantry component. The original formation consisted of the 1st Airborne Battle Group with the 504th and 505th Infantry Regiments. In 1963, the Division reorganized to a structure that used brigades and battalions as maneuver elements. The 1-504th and 1-505th were replaced by the 1-509th and the 2-509th Infantry Regiments and were located at Lee Barracks in Mainz. Along with other elements these two airborne battalions of the 509th made up the 1st Brigade (Airborne), 8th Infantry Division (Mechanized). In 1973, the 1st Brigade's jump status came to an end. The 509th moved to Vicenza and was replaced in the 8th ID by the 2-28th and 2-87th Infantry.

The Pathfinder Division would stay in Germany for the remainder of the Cold War, as part of the United States Seventh Army and V Corps. The 8th Infantry Division, along with its brother units in the theater, was instrumental in the defense of Western Europe and deterrence of communist aggression. The result of thousands of troopers' hard work in training and readiness was the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union, the freeing of Eastern European countries, and the reunification of Germany.

With the collapse of "the Wall" in 1989, it would seem that the need for large units of mechanized forces was over. For some Pathfinder Division units, their work was not done. During Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm the following subordinate units of the 8th Infantry Division (Mechanized) deployed to Southwest Asia:

The 2-29th Field Artillery Battalion from Baumholder served as part of VII Corps Artillery. The 12th Engineer Battalion from Anderson Barracks in Dexheim was deployed with the 3rd Armored Division. The 4-34th Armor out of Lee Barracks in Mainz deployed with the Ready First Combat Team. The 5th Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Artillery home based at McCully Barracks in Wackernheim deployed in support of 3rd Armored Division. Also TF 3-77 Armor from Mannheim deployed to Southwest Asia.

Most 8th Infantry Division soldiers had returned to home station by the end of May, 1991. The 3-77 Armor redeployed in August of that year. Their mission completed in both Europe and Southwest Asia, the Golden Arrow Division prepared for deactivation. Their colors were cased on January 17, 1992.

The 8th Infantry Division's motto is "These are my credentials." Thousands of American soldiers during the 20th Century showed the world that their actions were in fact their credentials. Those veterans will always be proud that their service was with the Pathfinder Division.

 

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