501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (United States)

506th Infantry Regiment (United States)

During World War II, the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (506th PIR) was a regiment of the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army.

History

World War II

The regiment was initially formed at Camp Toccoa, Georgia in 1942 where it earned its nickname, "Currahees", after Currahee Mountain which is located inside the boundaries of the camp. The Cherokee word, which translates to "Stand Alone", also became the unit's motto. During World War II, the only commander of the regiment was Colonel Robert F. Sink. As such, the 506th was sometimes referred to as the "Five-Oh-Sink". On June 10th, 1942, the 506th became part of the 101st Airborne Division.

At the completion of their training at Camp Toccoa, Col. Sink read an article in Reader's Digest about how a unit in the Japanese Army broke the world record for marching, Col. Sink thought his men could do better than that, and as a result, the 2nd Battalion marched to Atlanta, Georgia. This march was conducted over 75 hours and 15 minutes, with 33.5 hours being used for marching. Only 12 out of 556 enlisted men failed to complete the march. All 30 officers completed it, including their commander, Major Robert L. Strayer. Newspapers covered the march and many civilians turned out to cheer the men as they neared Five Points (Atlanta).

The 506th would participate in three major battles during the war: D-Day, Operation Market Garden, and the Battle of the Bulge. (They would have participated in Operation Varsity, which would have been 3 combat jumps, but SHAEF decided to use the 17th Airborne instead.)

D-Day: Operation Overlord

Like almost all paratroop units, the 506th was widely scattered during the Operation Chicago night drop on the morning of D-Day. The most famous action for the 506th on D-Day was the Brécourt Manor Assault. Although promised they would be in battle for just 3 days, the 506th did not return to England for 33 days, participating in the battle for Carentan. Of about 2000 men who jumped into France, 231 were killed in action, 183 were missing or POWs, and 569 were wounded — about 50% casualties for the Normandy campaign.

Operation Market Garden

The airborne component of Operation Market Garden, Operation Market was composed of American units (101st Airborne Division, the 82nd Airborne Division, and the IX Troop Carrier Command), British units (1st Airborne Division) and Polish units (1st Independent Parachute Brigade). The airborne units were dropped near several key bridges along the axis of advance of the ground forces, Operation Garden, with the objective of capturing the bridges intact in order to allow a deep penetration into German occupied Holland and to capture the key bridge crossing the Rhine River at Arnhem.

The 101st Airborne was assigned five bridges just north of the German defensive lines northwest of Eindhoven. The parachute drop was in daylight resulting in well targeted and controlled drops into the designated drop zones. The 101st captured all but one bridge, the one at Son which was destroyed with explosives by the German defenders as the airborne units approached the bridge. The ground forces of XXX Corps linked up with elements of the 101st Airborne on the second day of operations but the advance of the ground forces was further delayed while engineers erected a Bailey Bridge at Son replacing the destroyed bridge. XXX Corps then continued its advance into the 82nd Airborne area of operations where it was halted just shy of Arnhem due to German counter attacks along the length of the deep penetration.

The 101st Airborne continued to support XXX Corps advance during the remainder of Operation Market Garden with several running battles over the next several days.

The Battle of the Bulge

The unit was directly involved in the Battle of the Bulge in December, 1944-January, 1945. While resting and refitting in France after Operation Market-Garden, General Eisenhower called upon the 101st Airborne on December 16 to be moved into the Belgian town of Bastogne by December 18, so that the Germans would not gain access to its important crossroads. The short notice of a move left the unit short of food, ammunition, arms, men, and lacked winter clothing. The unit, along with the rest of the 101st Airborne, was encircled immediately. The 506th was sent to the eastern section of the siege. During the siege, there were reports of problems with tying in the gap in between the 501st PIR and the 506th. To stall the Germans so that the defense could be set up, the first battalion of the 506th (along with Team Desobry from the 10th Armored Division) was sent out to combat and slow down the Germans in the towns of Noville and Foy. 1/3 (about 200 men) of the battalion was destroyed, but in the process had taken out 30 enemy tanks and inflicted 500-1000 casualties. The battalion was put into reserve and the 2nd and 3rd battalions were put on the lines. A supply drop on December 22 helped to some extent. After the Third Army broke the encirclement, the 506th stayed on the line and spearheaded the entire offensive by liberating Foy and Noville in January, until being transferred to Haguenau. They were pulled off the line in late February 1945.

The rest of the war

The unit was put back on the line on April 2nd, and continued so until the rest of the war, taking light casualties. It assisted in the encirclement of the Ruhr Pocket and the capture of Berchtesgaden, then took up occupational duties in Zell am See, Austria. The 506th began training to be redeployed to the Pacific war but the war ended in August 1945.

Post WWII

The 506th was de-activated in 1945, then re-activated as the 506th Airborne Infantry Regiment in 1948–1949, again in 1950–1953 and finally, in 1954 to train recruits. Despite the designation "Airborne Infantry" and its continuing assignment in the 101st Airborne Division, none of these troops received airborne training, nor was the "Airborne" rocker worn above the Divisional patch.

The colors of the 101st were reactivated as a combat division in 1956 under the Pentomic structure, which eliminated infantry regiments and battalions in favor of five battle groups per division. The colors of Company A, 504AIR were reactivated as HHC, 1st Airborne Battle Group, 506th Infantry, the only active element of the 506th. Just before the Cuban Missile Crisis, on October 1, 1962, 1-506th was deployed to Oxford, Mississippi to assist in restoring order after James Meredith arrived to integrate the University of Mississippi.

The Pentomic structure was abandoned in 1964 in favor of brigades and battalions, and the 1st ABG, 506th Infantry was reorganized and redesignated as 1st Battalion (Airborne), 506th Infantry. Additionally, the lineage of Co B, 506AIR was reactivated as HHC, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 506th Infantry. Both battalions were part of the 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, which was deployed to Vietnam from late 1967 to 1971. 1-506th was recognized for its role during the Tet Offensive in early 1968 and the Battle of Hamburger Hill in May 1969 together with 2-506th, during the battle of FSB Ripcord.

On 1 April 1967 the colors of the former Company C, 506AIR were reactivated at Fort Campbell as HHC, 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry. Assigned to the 1st Brigade, it served in Vietnam and was inactivated at Fort Campbell on 31 July 1972.

The division, to include the battalions of the 506th, was reorganized as Airmobile in 1968, later renamed Air Assault in 1974. During the Vietnam War, five soldiers from the 506th were awarded the Medal of Honor.

When the 101st was reformed at Fort Campbell in the post-war years, 1-506th served in the 2nd Brigade as the only active element of the 506th. Its colors were inactivated on 5 June 1984 when all of the infantry battalions of the brigade were reflagged as elements of the 502nd Infantry. The battalion was reactivated on 16 March 1987 as part of the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division in Korea, by reflagging an existing infantry battalion at Camp Greaves. It was later reorganized as an Air Assault battalion.

In 2004, 1-506th was deployed from Korea to Habbaniyah, Iraq. Instead of returning to Korea, the 2nd Brigade relocated to the United States in August 2005, and the battalion's colors were returned to the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell as the division reorganized to include a 4th Brigade Combat Team. This reorganization also led to the reactivation of 2-506th as an additional component of the same brigade, and shortly thereafter the division returned to Iraq. Described as a "back-to-back" deployment for 1-506th, only the colors, not the same personnel, went back to Iraq. As of early 2008 the 4th Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 101st Airborne Division (the 1-506th and 2-506th being part of that brigade), are now deployed in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Notable members of the 506th

World War II

  • Donald Burgett, of Company A, fought from Normandy to end of war. Wrote four books on his time in the company.
  • Sgt.Joseph Beyrle, of Company I, fought for US and Russian forces.
  • Robert F. Sink, regimental commander for all of WWII.
  • Jake McNiece, pathfinder in the 506PIR
  • Easy Company
    • 1Lt.Lynn Compton, officer with Company E during WWII and chief prosecutor in the case of Sirhan Sirhan.
    • SSgt. William "Wild Bill" Guarnere, a colorful noncom of Company E who maintains a website devoted to the history of the 506th.
    • 2Lt. Carwood Lipton, company first sergeant, later promoted to 2nd lieutenant.
    • TSgt.Donald Malarkey, non-commissioned officer, served in Easy Company for the entire war.
    • Capt.Lewis Nixon, intelligence officer.
    • Cat.Herbert Sobel, initial commanding officer.
    • Lt. Col. Ronald Speirs, final commanding officer.
    • SSgt.Joe Toye, staff sergeant.
    • PFC David Webster, a rifleman and diarist of Company E whose book "Parachute Infantry" deals in detail with the 506th.
    • Maj. Richard Winters, a platoon leader and company commander of Company E, who has published a memoir of his war service ("Beyond Band of Brothers") and has also been the subject of a biography ("Biggest Brother").
  • Fox Company

Vietnam

In Popular Culture

External links

References

  • Donald Burgett (1999). The Road to Arnhem : A Screaming Eagle in Holland. Presidio Press. ISBN 0-89141-682-X.
  • Stephen Ambrose (2001). Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-1645-8.
  • David Kenyon Webster (1994). Parachute Infantry: An American Paratrooper's Memoir of D-Day and the Fall of the Third Reich. Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 0-8071-1901-6.
  • Keith W. Nolan (2000). Ripcord: Screaming Eagles Under Siege, Vietnam 1970. Presidio Press. ISBN 0-89141-642-0.
  • Major General Benjamin L. Harrison Hell On A Hill Top: America's Last Major Battle In Vietnam. iUniverse Press. (available from FSB Ripcord Association)
  • Jake McNiece The Filthy 13: From the Dustbowl to Hitler's Eagle's Nest :The True Story of the101st Airborne's Most Legendary Squad of Combat Paratroopers.

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