The battalion was the first US airborne unit to ship to England early in 1942, and was assigned to the British 1st Airborne Division for further training. Although it was a non-divisional unit for most of the war, it was part of the provisional 1st Airborne Task Force (organized 15 July 1944 in Rome, Italy, and discontinued 23 November 1944 in France) for the invasion of southern France in August 1944 and it was attached to the 101st Airborne Division from 22 November to 18 December 1944.
46 Paratroopers from the 509th participated in the liberation of Ventotene, a small Italian island, on September 9, 1943. The German commander was tricked into surrendering to the weaker American force before realizing his mistake. An account of this is given in John Steinbeck's "Once There Was a War."
Later, the 509th saw two more combat jumps in Italy and Southern France. After landing, they were often used as elite mountain infantry in the Italian mountains and French Alps. Paul B. Huff, a member of the 509th, was the first American Paratrooper awarded the Medal of Honor on 29 February 1944 for action at Anzio, Italy.
During the Battle of the Bulge, the 509th fought in Belgium to blunt the German attack. An account of this battle is described in the book "Bloody Clash at Sadzot." The war ended for the 509th at the end of January 1945 near Sankt Vith, with only about 50 survivors of the 700 who entered the battle. At this time, the 509th was disbanded, and the men left were used as replacements for the 82d Airborne Division.
A complete history of the unit in World War II can be found in the book, "Stand in the Door! The wartime history of the 509th Parachute Infantry" by Charles H. Doyle and Terrell Stewart, both 509th veterans. It is available from Phillips Publications, P.O. Box 168, Williamstown, NJ 08094. An anecdotal, first-person history of the 509th was published in "A Corporal Once" by Leo C. Inglesby, published by Xlibris Corporation and available on Amazon.com.
In 1973, as the division's 1st Brigade jump status was ending, a new unit with the designation of 3rd Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry (bearing the lineage of WW II's Co C, 509PIB) was activated to form an Airborne battalion combat team (ABCT) from elements of the existing Airborne forces within the brigade. After a brief training period at Rhine Casern barracks in West Germany, the unit moved to Vicenza, Italy, as a separate Airborne Battalion Combat Team and composed of a headquarters and headquarters company (HHC), a combat support company (CSC), three light infantry companies and one 105 mm towed field artillery battery, commanded by LTC Ward M. Lehardy. The colors of 1-509th and 2-509th were reflagged as 2-28th and 2-87th. Shortly after its arrival in Italy, 3-509th was reflagged as 1-509th.
On 1 July 1975 the lineage of Co C, 509PIB was reactivated at Fort Rucker as the separate Co C (Pathfinder), 509th Infantry. The company was created by reflagging the existing 5th Infantry Detachment (Pathfinder), which had served at the post since 24 June 1963. (A pathfinder presence at Fort Rucker can be traced back to about 1960 with the activation of the Pathfinder Team, Company A, 2nd Battle Group, 31st Infantry, to support the Aviation Center.) Contrary to some erroneous accounts, C-509th was not created by transferring C-1-509th from Italy to Fort Rucker. There had already been a pathfinder presence at Fort Rucker for 15 years. Even if the 5th Infantry Detachment had not existed, the Army would not have reduced the strength of its only forward-deployed Airborne battalion in Europe when sufficient manning was available in CONUS. Additionally, the organization and manning of a line Airborne infantry company is different from that of a pathfinder company conducting training support.
The size of C-509th varied depending upon funding and mission requirements. For example, documents on file at the US Army Center of Military History in Washington, DC, indicate that when the company was activated in 1975 by replacing the 5th Infantry Detachment, it was authorized 4 officers and 108 enlisted soldiers. Documents dated 22 September 1987 show the unit as still having 4 officers authorized but only 77 enlisted soldiers.
In 1983, 1-509th in Italy was reflagged as 4-325th to align it with elements of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg under an Army-wide combat arms battalion rotation program. The lineage of 1-509th was reactivated in 1987 to serve as the OPFOR at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. The unit served and serves as the opposing force for American and Allied light infantry. In June 1993, 1-509th moved along with the Joint Readiness Training Center to Fort Polk, Louisiana. After moving to Ft. Polk, 1/509 Abn has become the elite urban fighting training unit that it has been over the years in guerilla warfare.
On 31 May 1993, the separate C-509th at Fort Rucker was reflagged as A-511th, reactivating the colors of a unit that had served with the long-inactive 11th Airborne Division and the short-lived (1963-65) 11th Air Assault Division (Test). The era of a pathfinder unit at Fort Rucker ended on 31 October 1995 when A-511th was inactivated to meet budget cut ceilings.
In May 2004 Alpha and Bravo companies of the 1st Battalion, 509th Infantry at Fort Polk deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II. In Iraq they conducted combat patrols in and around the Baghdad area. Alpha and Bravo companies returned in March 2005. During the deployment, Delta Troop and HHC continued to support JRTC exercises.
Multi-National Division - Center Media Release HQ, MND-Center Baghdad, Iraq APO AE 09342 VOIP: 822-7482
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE November 10, 2007 RELEASE 000000000-01
4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division
KALSU, Iraq – Paratroopers from the 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry (Airborne) based out of Fort Richardson, Alaska have returned home after being deployed in Iraq since early October 2006.
After conducting numerous combat operations to include patrols, raids, and air assault operations with the Iraqi Army and Police, these Paratroopers are ready to stand down for some well deserved rest, relaxation and getting re-acquainted with their families and friends.
Since October 2006, the Geronimos from 3-509th Airborne have performed magnificently. During this deployment, the Geronimos were based out of Forward Operating Base Kalsu, located approximately south of Baghdad in Babil Province.
On Christmas Day of 2006, part of the Battalion moved west of Baghdad to Al Anbar Province where they fought with the 1st and 2nd Marine Expeditionary Forces (Forward) against Al Qaeda in Iraq. While providing protection to the local citizens of the area, they were quite effective in helping the local populations create their own civil defense organizations, something that has become a model for success in stemming violence countrywide. During this time, the remaining Paratroopers also operated out of FOB Kalsu and FOB Iskandariyah to achieve similar goals. The Battalion consolidated in June at FOB Kalsu and began concerted efforts to stabilize their area of operation in Babil Province. In the months following, the Geronimos took on the role as a strike force, where they made great strides in fostering reconciliation between Sunnis and Shias in the cities of Haswah and Iskandariyah, and the surrounding areas. Operating “outside the wire”, the paratroopers encountered many obstacles, including firefights with insurgents, improvised explosive devices, car bombs and explosively formed projectiles. They also captured numerous suspects, extremists, and terrorists considered to be high value targets, found a myriad of weapons caches, IED making facilities, al-Qaeda safe houses, and facilities used for detaining and torturing Iraqi citizens by performing countless operations, day and night, on the ground and by air assault.
Throughout their deployment, many of the Paratroopers received decorations for valor, achievement, and combat wounds. The 3-509th is part of the 4th Brigade (Airborne) 25th Division also known as the “Spartan Brigade”. After doing a most remarkable job as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, these “Spartans” are looking forward to some quiet time and enjoying the safety and freedom that they have worked so very hard to keep for all American citizens.
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2nd Battalion, 509th Infantry
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