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Regimental History - 508th Airborne Infantry Regiment (19951 - 1957)

An April 16, 1951, the 508th Airborne Infantry Regiment (AIR) was reactivated at Fort Bragg, NC. On May 5, 1951, the 508th AIR Reactivation Day Parade was held. The airborne recruits who had just completed their basic training were assembled on the regimental parade ground of the 504th AIR. On the reviewing stand were MG Thomas Hickey, CG of the 82d Abn Div, BG Roy E. Lindquist, WW II CO of the 508th PIR, 1st SG Leonard A. Funk, Jr., Medal of Honor recipient from WW II, and the new Commanding Officer of the 508th AIR, COL Joseph P. Cleland.
The airborne volunteers, who had just completed basic training, were moved to Fort Benning, GA in three successive weeks to receive airborne training and begin the task of bringing the newly reactivated regiment up to its authorized strength at its new location in the Sand Hill area of Fort Benning, GA.

In August 1951, the 508th Airborne Regimental Combat Team (ARCT) was formed and comprised of the following units:

The 508th Airborne Infantry Regiment (AIR) consisting of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Service Company, Medical Company, Support Company and three Infantry Battalions. Each infantry battalion consisted of a Headquarters Company, three Rifle Companies and a Heavy Weapons Company. Each battalion had their own unit designation which was worn on the left side of their jet black highly lacquered helmet liner.
1st Bn, 508th
AIR 2d Bn, 508th
AIR 3d Bn, 508th AIR
The Regimental shoulder insignia was worn on the right side of the helmet liner.



The 320th Airborne Field Artillery Battalion joined the Regiment in August 1951 to form the 508th Airborne Regimental Combat (ARCT).




The 598th Airborne Engineer Company joined the ARCT in September 1951.



In August, 1952 the 19th Airborne Quartermaster Detachment was organized at Fort Benning, GA as the first such unit in the Army. On September 23, 1952, the detachment was redesignated the 519th Airborne Quartermaster Company and became a component of the 508th Airborne Regimental Combat Team.

The 427th Airborne Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battery was activated and joined the ARCT on January 1, 1955. In early 1955, a Regimental Tank Company was activated, but was then deactivated prior to the ARCT's participation in Operation Gyroscope in July, 1955.

The regimental crest for the 508th Infantry Regiment was approved for wear by The Institute of Heraldry, US Army on September 4, 1951 and was first worn by the proud members of the 508th AIR. LTC Clyde M. Dillender, Jr., Regimental Executive Officer originated the motto "Fury From The Sky" which was incorporated into the regimental crest. See Regimental Coat of Arms/Lineage/Decorations section for the official crest description.

On October 15, 1951, the 508th Airborne Regiment Combat Team shoulder sleeve insignia was officially approved. This was the first shoulder sleeve insignia designed specifically for the 508th Infantry. The insignia was an adaptation of that worn by the 82d Airborne Division which furnished the cadre for the regiment when it was reactivated at Fort Bragg, NC. In lieu of "AA" in the 82d insignia, a blue wyvern was designed for the 508th ARCT.

Throughout the Summer and Fall of 1951, ground training and airborne operations intensified as the Red Devils prepared for their next test.
In December, 1951 the Red Devils moved to Camp Rucker, Alabama where they were the aggressor force pitted against the 47th Infantry Division (Vikings). During the exercise, the Red Devils proved their mettle against the 47th in their aggressiveness and quick movement. Aggressors usually lose these mock wars but the Red Devils were so skillful at infiltration tactics and surprise raids that the Vikings were unofficially conceded to have lost the exercise.

Exercise Long Horn was the next big exercise for the 3,800 highly trained Red Devils. Pitted against the 82d Airborne Division, the Red Devils were slated to conduct a massive airborne drop on April 8, 1952 despite the forecast of high winds. Right on time, the Red Devils hit the silk despite encountering 20 mile per hour winds. Col. Joe F. Lawrie, CO of the ARCT and BG Lacey Murrow, CO of the 18th Troop Carrier, made the decision to drop not knowing that LTG William Hoge had ordered the big drop canceled when winds exceeded 15 MPH. One trooper was killed and 221 were injured, 196 serious enough to be admitted to the hospital. GEN. J. Lawton Collins, Army Chief of Staff, was visiting at Fort Hood to observe the jump. But like newsmen, believed it had been called off and missed it. He was quoted as saying "He was satisfied with the jump. It is dangerous. That is why the paratroopers are made up of volunteers. That is why they get extra pay."
Exercise Long Horn Casualties - April 1952
Troopers of the 1st Bn, Exercise Long Horn
 
Throughout its assignment at Fort Benning, the 508th continued to train as a Combat Team, support the Infantry School, provide cadre for ROTC Summer Camp training, and provided instructors in support of the Ranger School at both its northern Georgia and Florida camps. In addition, the 2nd Battalion, under the leadership of LTC Herbert V. Mansfield (right), pioneered the light poncho roll concept which allowed the Infantryman to move faster and eliminated the backpack entirely. The Regiment also tested new airborne equipment both at Fort Benning and special desert warfare equipment in the Yuma, Arizona area.

Late 1952 and early 1953 saw the strength of the Regiment depleted as the officers and men of the Regiment were ordered to Korea as individual replacements. Many who had volunteered to join the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team were diverted to Infantry Divisions in Korea who were in need of replacements due to combat loses. The Regiment received orders to move to Fort Campbell, Ky effective February 15, 1954 with attachment to the 11th Airborne Division. On April8, 1954 the Regimental Combat Team was reorganized at Fort Campbell as a General Reserve, Class 1 unit. The regiment received additional troops and once again began intensive unit training. During this period the regiment got it's first look at the C-124 Globemaster aircraft and became one of the first units to jump from what was then the largest transport aircraft in the Air Force inventory. Little did the Red Devils realize that less than a year later they would once again become reacquainted with the Globemaster for more than a short ride and jump.
1st Battalion troopers receiving orientation on c-124's
 
Ready to execute first jump from a C-124
After 17 months at Fort Campbell, the Regimental Combat Team was once again ordered to effect a permanent change of station. This time the Red Devils took part in Operation Gyroscope - an exchange with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team stationed in Camps Chickamauga and Wood in Beppu and Kumamoto, Japan respectively. The 187th ARCT was to return to Fort Bragg, NC. Once again, the Red Devils met up with the C-124 Globemaster. At that time, this was the largest air movement of troops ever undertaken by the Army and Air Force.
Composite of a C-124 with 508 troopers at left - 187th troopers at right
Red Devils load a C-124 at Ft. Campbell, KY
 
The objective of Operation Gyroscope was to airlift 3,800 Red Devils of the 508th ARCT to Japan and to ferry to Fort Bragg, NC 3,200 men of the 187th ARCT. A steady stream of C-124's, each carrying approximately 90 troopers and seven tons of equipment, leap-frogged across the Pacific both ways to complete the transfer in 10 days. The operation started at the airfield at Fort Campbell, KY. From then on a plane took off every 2 hours and landed in Japan approximately 50 hours later. Stops were made in California, Hawaii and Wake Island for refueling, food and crew rotation. The actual flying time from Fort Campbell to Japan was 43 hours.

July 8 saw another unique side to Operation Gyroscope. This was the movement of dependents via sea transport. Two ships, the USS General A. E. Anderson and the USS General J. C. Breckinridge, carried 704 Red Devil dependents to Japan. After a 10 day voyage to Moji, Japan, the Red Devil dependents were met at the port by their husbands who had accompanied their family to California and then boarded aircraft at their stop at Travis AFB, CA for the rest of their journey to Japan.

After their arrival at their respective stations the Red Devils began to unpack, check all equipment left by the 187th and prepare to commence training at the various training areas. The 1st Battalion moved by vehicle to their major training area in early August and celebrated their arrival in Japan by making a 25 mile hike with full field equipment back to Camp Wood after several weeks of intensive training.

Deployment to Japan saw the Red Devils faced with many situations not normally encountered by a Regimental Combat Team. While both Camps Chickamauga and Wood had a small support compliment, the Regiment had to appoint many troops to assume additional duties such as Finance, Post Exchange, Clubs, Postal and other "housekeeping activities. For example, the Military Police Detachment at Camp Wood (right) was comprised of troopers from the 1st Battalion and the 320th Abn FA Bn. In addition, Medical, Service and Engineering troops were split between the two camps.

August, 1955 through June, 1956 saw the Red Devils busy with intensified training at the various training locations on the island of Kyushu. They walked, rode, entrained and jumped into training areas regardless of the weather.
On the way to a major training area
Oita DZ
A tough DZ for tough Red Devils
Another cold training day
Perhaps the most significant exercise undertaken by the Red Devils in 1955 was their participation in Operation Firm Link, a joint SEATO exercise conducted near Bangkok, Thailand. Representatives of all SEATO members were involved. Troops of the 2nd Battalion and Battery B, 320th Abn FA Bn formed a Battalion Combat Team commanded by LTC Edwin H. Patterson. Stops were made at Okinawa and Clark AFB, P. I. on the way to Bangkok.
2nd Bn jump at Don Mung Airport, Bangkok
British Paras march in Operation Firm Link
Thai Army Cavalry - US Marine helicopters in the background
Operation Gyroscope was suppose to be a stabilized three year tour, however, that was not to be. The Regimental Combat Team was ordered back to Fort Campbell, KY and all elements returned in July 56 - almost a year to the date of their departure from the same station. The Regimental Combat Team, along with the 187th ARCT, which was also ordered to Fort Campbell, Ky from Fort Bragg, NC. The mission of the two proud Airborne Regimental Combat Teams was to cadre the formation of the 101st Airborne Division which was reactivated at Fort Campbell, KY in late July, 1956.

A much reduced 508th Infantry became a part of the 101st Airborne Division and was designated "The Schools Command" for the Division. Its mission was to provide Infantry Advanced Individual Training (AIT) for those recruits who had volunteered for the 101st Airborne Division after they had completed their basic training. The recruits were assigned to various units of the Division sent to the Division Jump School. Upon satisfactory completion of Jump School, the new troopers received their Advanced Individual Training conducted by the training cadre of 508th Airborne Infantry Regiment.

In March, 1957 the mission of the 508th Airborne Infantry Regiment was completed. The 508th Airborne Infantry Regiment was deactivated on March 27, 1957 at Fort Campbell, Ky after a period of almost six years of outstanding active service. The remaining personnel of the 508th were reassigned to various units of the 101st Airborne Division.
 
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