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 A Summary History of the 23rd Infantry Division – Americal

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A Summary History of the 23rd Infantry Division — "Americal"

Americal Shoulder Patch(Updated 5-3-10)

The U.S. Army's 23rd Infantry Division, more commonly known as the Americal Division, was "born in battle" in that the division was formed in the Pacific Theater during World War II. On April 19, 1942, the 164th Infantry Regiment and additional artillery assets arrived on the island of New Caledonia to reinforce the 132nd and 182nd Infantry Regiments already there. This task force was reorganized as an infantry division and given the name "Americal" on May 24, 1942. The name was taken from the phrase "Americans in New Caledonia" and at that time was the only American division without a numerical designation.

The 164th Infantry Regiment of the Americal Division fought on Guadalcanal beginning on October 13, 1942 alongside the 1st Marine Division. This action made the 164th and thus the Americal, the first United States Army unit to conduct an offensive operation against the enemy in either the Pacific or European Theater of Operations. (Seven other U.S. Army divisions began offensive combat operations in late 1942: the 32nd and the 41st Infantry Divisions on New Guinea; the 9th and 3rd Infantry Divisions, and the 2nd Armored Division in North Africa.) Elements of the Americal defended Henderson Field against heavy enemy attacks, 23-25 October, took part in the offensive across the Matanikau River in November, and attacked and took Mount Austen in January 1943. Once organized resistance ended, the Americal was relieved on February 9th.

The Division moved to the Fiji Islands beginning on March 5, 1943. The Americal was given the mission of defending Viti Levu Island in the Fiji group, a vital communications link between the United States and the Pacific theater. The division used the time to train its replacements for upcoming operations. The rest of 1943 was spent operating observation posts, running continuous reconnaissance patrols, and training.

The Americal Division fought on Bougainville from December 25, 1943 to January 12, 1944. They had relieved the 3rd Marine Division and were given the task of holding and extending the right half of a previously established perimeter. The Americal Division conducted an offensive in March of 1944 that drove the Japanese east of the Mavavia River. By the end of April they had seized numerous strategic hill bases. Training and long-range patrol activity continued until November 30, 1944 when the Division was relieved.

Click to preview or purchase "The Boldest Plan is the Best" from Amazon.comOn January 8, 1945, the first units of the Americal Division left Bougainville, heading for the Philippine Islands. Americans had already established strong points in the Philippines in the campaign to recapture the islands. The Americal was now being attached to X Corps on the island of Leyte. Their mission on Leyte and Samar was to take part in cleaning out remaining Japanese forces on those islands. Additionally, the Division was to invade Biri, Capul, Ticao, and Burias. The Americal was relieved on Leyte on March 13, 1945. The Division then landed on Cebu on March 26th and had seized the city and airfield two days later. Divisional combat teams made landings on Bohol, Negros, and Mindanao, where they cleared out pockets of resisting Japanese until June 17th, when ordered to return to Cebu.

Training continued on Cebu for the proposed invasion of Japan. However, the Japanese surrender on August 14, 1945 thankfully made this operation unnecessary. On September 10, 1945, the Americal Division landed in Japan and took part in the occupation of the Yokohama-Kawasaki-Yokosuka area.

The Division returned to the United States on November 21, 1945, and was inactivated on December 12, 1945. The Americal was reactivated on December 1, 1954 and finally given a numerical designation as the 23rd Infantry Division. However, they retained the name "Americal" as part of its official designation. The 23rd Infantry Division served in the Panama Canal Zone until April 10, 1956, when it was again inactivated.

The 23rd Infantry Division, Americal, was reactivated again in 1967 in the jungles of Vietnam. Now they traced their roots to Task Force Oregon that operated in the I Corps area of operations that included Chu Lai, Quang Ngai Province, and Duc Pho. Task Force Oregon originally consisted of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, and the 3rd Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division, which was later redesignated as the 3rd Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division. The task force became operational on April 20, 1967. Their early Operations included Malheur I and Malheur II, Hood River, Benton, Cook.

Operation Wheeler was launched on September 11th against elements of the 2nd North Vietnamese Army Division in an area northwest of Chu Lai. On September 25, 1967, Task Force Oregon was designated as the Americal Division. The division was created from the 196th, 198th, and 11th Light Infantry Brigades. Operation Wheeler continued until October 4th when the Americal was joined by 3rd Brigade 1st Air Cavalry Division and Operation Wallowa was launched into the northern sector of the Americal's area of operations. Operations Wheeler and Wallowa were combined on November 11th.

The Americal, 23rd Infantry Division, continued to serve with distinction for the remainder of American combat operations in Vietnam. Twelve Americal soldiers were recipients of the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War. Several subordinate elements of the Americal Division were awarded Presidential Unit Citations and Valorous Unit Citations in addition to multiple awards for valor from the Vietnamese government. Noteworthy persons who wore the Americal patch include General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, General Colin Powell, and former Governor of Pennsylvania and Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge.

Unfortunately, the 23rd Infantry Division, Americal's reputation has been permanently scarred by what is known as the My Lai Massacre. On March 16, 1968, C Company, 1st Battalion 20th Infantry Regiment, one of the companies of the 11th Light Infantry Brigade, with 2nd Lieutenant William Calley as a platoon leader, was responsible for the murder of 347 to 504 unarmed Vietnamese citizens, all of whom were noncombatants. Lt. Calley and his company commander, Captain Ernest Medina, were prosecuted by court martial for the offenses at My Lai. While 26 U.S. soldiers were initially charged with criminal offenses for their actions at My Lai, only Lt. Calley was convicted. He served only three years of an original life sentence, while on house arrest. When the incident became public knowledge in 1969, it prompted widespread outrage around the world. The massacre also increased domestic opposition to the US involvement in the Vietnam War.

The 198th and 11th Infantry Brigades were withdrawn from Vietnam in November 1971. The Americal Division was inactivated at that time. The 196th Light Infantry Brigade was reconstituted as a separate brigade and remained in Vietnam until June 29, 1972. The 196th Infantry Brigade was the last major combat unit to leave Vietnam. Its 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, was the last U.S. maneuver battalion to leave Vietnam, on August 23, 1972.

The shoulder sleeve insignia of the 23rd Infantry Division was originally approved for the Americal on December 20, 1943. The patch's four white stars on a blue field are symbolic of the Southern Cross under which the organization has served. The blue color stands for infantry. Many men have served "Under the Southern Cross" with pride, courage, and professionalism, defeating the enemy in each encounter from New Caledonia to Vietnam.



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