A Summary History of the 23rd Infantry Division
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
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
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.
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
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
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,
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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