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Histories for 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne)

Rock History
The 503rd Infantry was one of the original Parachute Infantry units created as a result of successful efforts by the US Army Airborne Test Platoon at Fort Benning, Georgia in 1940. It was the third of four Parachute Battalions formed prior to the beginning of World War II. From a company-sized unit (Company B, 503d Parachute Battalion) constituted on March 14, 1941 and officially activated on August 22, 1941, the 503rd was expanded into a full-sized Regiment on March 2, 1942. The first commanding officer of the Regiment was Major General William M. Miley, then a Lieutenant Colonel. Lieutenant Colonel Edson D. Raff, then the Regiment?s executive officer, became the first battalion commander of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd, which was formed from the 504th PIR in March 1942. After its activation, 2-503 moved to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where it trained until June of 1942 when it was sent to the United Kingdom in preparation for the airborne operation in North Africa. On November 8, 1942 the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry conducted the first combat jump in US history when 39 C47 aircraft, en-route from Lands End, England, dropped the battalion onto a drop zone near Lourmel, Algeria. This action initiated the North Africa campaign against the French. Five days later, November 15, 1942, three hundred paratroopers jumped onto an open area near Youks les Bains on the Tunisia- Algeria border. The ensuing thrust east to cut off the Germans lines of communications in Gafsa, Tunisia included a third airborne drop of 30 paratroopers and heavy equipment onto El Djem on December 23, 1942 with a mission to destroy an enemy railroad bridge. Of the 32 paratroopers to descend on the objective that fateful day in December 1942 only six returned to friendly lines. There were numerous recorded heroic actions by the paratroopers of the 2-503 PIR in North Africa, most notably was one of the first fallen paratroopers of World War II, Private John Thomas MacKall for whom Camp MacKall, North Carolina is named. Unbeknownst to the Rock Battalion, the 2-503 PIR was re-designated the 509th Parachute Infantry during the North African Campaign but was not informed of such until after the war. All the while, the remaining elements of the 503rd Regimental Headquarters and other subordinate elements left the states for the Pacific Theater on October 20, 1942. After conducting a cross-country rail movement, the Regiment left the port of San Francisco on the MS Poelau Laut. During the movement west the 501st Parachute Battalion, which embarked in the Panama Canal Zone, was re-designated as the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment. This re-designation occurred about the same time its twin sister the 2-503 PIR was conducting a combat jump in North Africa against the Vichy French. The newly formed 2-503 remained at sea for forty-two days and landing at Cairnz, Australia where it trained for combat in a training camp 18 miles inland as part of the Regiment. Later, the Regiment was expanded into Combat Team with assignment of the 462d Parachute Artillery Battalion, and the 161st Parachute Engineer Company on 13 September 1944. During its more than three years service in the Southwest Pacific Theater, the 503d served in five major combat operations. 1. In July of 1943, the 503rd moved to Port Moresby, New Guinea, where it made final preparations for its first combat operation in the Pacific Theater. On September 5, 1943 the Regiment jumped into the Markham River Valley, New Guinea for Operation ALAMO; the first airborne operation conducted by US forces in the Pacific Theater. During this operation, the Regiment forced the Japanese evacuation of a major base at Lae, in which the Third Battalion of the 503d battled the rear guard of this exodus. This successful employment of airborne forces in the Markham Valley has been credited with saving the concept of vertical envelopment from being abandoned following several less than successful engagements in Europe. After two weeks of fighting, the Japanese were defeated and the 503rd reassembled at Port Moresby for the return to Australia. 2. For Operation CYCLONE, 2-503 along with 1-503 conducted an airborne assault on the island of Noemfoor off the coast of Dutch New Guinea early in July 1944. In support of the 1st and 2nd Battalions airborne operation, 3-503 conducted an amphibious landing a few days later. Fighting as part of the Regiment on Noemfoor, 2-503 was responsible for destroying the Japanese garrison and enabling the construction of airfields, which played a significant role in supporting the advance of Allied troops from New Guinea to the Philippines. Sergeant Ray E. Eubanks earned the Medal of Honor, posthumously, for his actions on Noemfoor. 3. Following an unopposed landing on the Island of Leyte, in the Philippines, the 503d Parachute Regimental Combat Team made a major amphibious landing on the Island of Minoro, in the central Philippines on December 15, 1944. Originally, it was intended for the 503d to jump onto Mindoro but because of inadequate airstrip facilities on Leyte, an airborne assault was not possible. The purpose of the eventual landing was to secure sites for an airhead, thus providing forward Army Air Corps bases to support later actions. The Regiment was subject to intense enemy air attack and naval bombardment throughout this action. 4. The mid-December 1944 operation on Leyte provided the Regiment a staging area for its assault on the Philippine fortress island of Corregidor, nicknamed ?The Rock,? from which the Regiment would later take both its nickname and motto. At 0830 on February 16, 1945, after weeks of naval and aerial bombardment, the 503rd hit Corregidor conducting the most vicious combat action in which the Regiment was engaged during its existence to date. The mission commenced with the combat jump on Fortress Corregidor codenamed Operation TOPSIDE. Corregidor Island was the bastion that withstood a fierce Japanese siege for nearly five months in 1941 and 1942, thereby interrupting the Japanese advance toward Australia. The 503d was proud to have been bestowed the honor of repatriating the ?The Rock?. The first jump, made in thirty-five mile per hour winds at an altitude of 550 feet, was made by the 3-503 with the 2nd Battalion following at 1240 that afternoon. Due to the high number of injuries during the first two jumps, the 1st Battalion jump was cancelled and the battalion made an amphibious assault the following day. The surprise created by the airborne assault into the island interior and the inability of the Japanese to react to both an airborne and amphibious assault enabled the US Forces to defeat the numerically superior Japanese forces. After two weeks of vicious fighting the island was subdued, and on March 2, 1945, the third anniversary of the 503rd Infantry Regiment?s activation, the island of Corregidor was formally turned over to General Douglas MacArthur. An estimated 6,550 Japanese soldiers were on the island when the 503d jumped, and of those only 50 survived. In turn, the 503d lost 169 paratroopers killed in action. For its actions during this operation, the 503d was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation and Private Lloyd G. McCarter was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery on Corregidor. 5. Almost immediately after returning to Mindoro from Corregidor, the Regiment was called upon to reinforce the 40th Infantry Division, which was bogged down on the Island of Negros, in the central Philippines. The Regiment was inserted by landing craft, although it had been alerted for another combat jump. The objectives of the proposed airborne operation were a strategic bridge and a large lumber mill, but retreating Japanese forces subsequently destroyed them both. The 503d engaged in fierce battles against frantic Japanese resistance in the mountainous areas of Negros for more than five months. The 40th Infantry Division was re-directed to other operations on Mindanao, leaving the 503d to battle the Japanese alone. At the end of the war in August of 1945, over 7,500 of the surviving Japanese troops on the island surrendered to the 503d Parachute Regimental Combat Team. Official U.S. War Department sources estimated that the 503d killed over 10,000 Japanese troops during its combat operations in the Southwest Pacific. By early November 1945, the 503d Parachute Regimental Combat Team ceased to be operational. The Regiment was in activated on December 24, 1945 at Camp Anza, California. Because of the Korean Conflict, 503rd Airborne Infantry was reactivated on March 2, 1951 at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and assigned to the 11th Airborne Division. The 503rd did not see combat during the Korean War, but conducted extensive exercises in all parts of the United States, including Alaska. In 1956, the 503rd moved with the 11th Airborne Division to Germany. On March 1, 1957 it was inactivated in Germany and relieved of its assignment to the 11th Airborne Division. Redesignated on September 1, 1957 as HHC, 2nd Airborne Battle Group, 503rd Infantry it was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Relieved on June 24, 1960 from assignment to the 82nd Airborne Division, 2-503 was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division until July 1, 1961. The 2nd Airborne Battle Group, 503d Infantry was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade when it was activated on the island of Okinawa on March 26, 1963. On June 25, 1963, the battalion was redesignated the 2nd Battalion, 503d Infantry. From its beginning, it proved to be an aggressive and unique unit led by (then) Brigadier General Ellis W. Williamson who established realistic training throughout the Pacific Region. The "SKY SOLDIER," as the Nationalist Chinese paratroopers called the 173rd, made thousands of parachute jumps in a dozen different Pacific area countries. On May 5, 1965, the 173rd Airborne Brigade became the first US Army combat unit committed to the Vietnam War. As the Pacific Command's quick-reaction strike force the 173rd was to provide security for the Bien Hoa Air Base Complex until elements of the 101st could be deployed. In the end it stayed for 6 years. The major portion of the brigade landed at Bien Hoa Airfield and found an area that had been battered frequently by enemy raids and shelling attacks. The 1st and 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment were the first army units sent to the Republic of South Vietnam along with the 3rd Battalion of the 319th Artillery. They were well supported by their own Support Battalion and Troop E, 17th Cavalry, D Company, 16th Armour and in late August 1966, the 173rd received another Infantry Battalion, the 4th of the 503rd which arrived from Fort Campbell, Kentucky. A 3rd Battalion was formed in early 1967 at Fort Bragg, N.C. and was deployed to Vietnam on October 2, 1967. In the combat operations to follow their arrival, the paratroopers made their superb training payoff. They were the first to go into War Zone D to destroy enemy base camps where they were the first introduced the use of small, long-range patrols. They fought the battles of the Iron Triangle, conducted the only major combat parachute jump in the Tay Ninh area, and blocked NVA incursions during some of the bloodiest fighting of the war at Dak To during the summer and fall of 1967, culminating in the capture of Hill 875. On February 22, 1967, paratroopers of the 2d Battalion, 503d Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade, parachuted into a wide clearing in the jungle of War Zone C as part of Operation JUNCTION CITY. 2-503 conducted the only major US Airborne operation of the war while attached to the 1st Infantry Division carrying out the first major US Airborne assault since the Korean War. Their mission was to form a blocking force near the crossroads hamlet of Kantum, South Vietnam, to support a large-scale cordon and search by U.S. forces. The 780-man airborne task force was delivered in two sorties of aircraft from Bien Hoa Airbase. The personnel drop of sixteen C-130 Hercules aircraft arrived over Drop Zone Charlie at 0900. General Jack Deane, Commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Sigholtz, Commander of the 2-503d Task Force, and Command Sergeant Major Harold Proffitt led the jump from the first aircraft. A total of 780 troopers hit the silk in two passes over the small drop zone, settled to the earth, and began assembling without any enemy opposition. Thirty minutes later, ten heavy drop C-130s arrived and dropped six 105mm howitzers, four 4.2 inch mortars, six 81mm mortars, four 3/4-ton trucks, five jeeps, six M274 "Mule" vehicles, one trailer, and 3900 rounds of artillery and mortar ammunition. By 1000 all men and equipment were deployed into blocking positions and the command post and artillery firebase were established. As units from the U.S. 1st and 25th Infantry Divisions, the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, and the 2-503 ABN as a member of the 173d Airborne Brigade began closing the horseshoe around suspected Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) positions, Operation JUNCTION CITY became a series of small unit firefights for the paratroopers. On February 28th, the "Sky Soldiers" of the 173rd overran the Vietcong Central Information Office, an enemy propaganda facility. As the multi-divisional attack continued through mid-May, major battles raged around the horseshoe with three Vietcong Regiments and one Regiment of NVA regulars. Operation JUNCTION CITY succeeded in driving major enemy forces from War Zone C across the border into sanctuaries in Cambodia. The operation was terminated on May 14, 1967. On November 1-6, 1968, the 2-503rd ABN deployed to DAK TO in the central highlands with the mission of conducting search-and-destroy operations in conjunction with other US forces in Operation MACARTHUR that included the infamous Battle for DAK TO. The final major and most decisive action of the Battle for DAK TO was initiated on November 19th when the 2nd Battalion engaged elements of the 174th North Vietnamese Infantry Regiment on Hill 875. Joined by the 4th Battalion during the engagement, the 173rd fought for 96 grueling hours resulting in 298 enemy killed rendering the 174th North Vietnamese Infantry Regiment combat ineffective. The 2-503rd was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its valorous actions during the Battle of DAK TO. The Brigade and the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry was relieved of assignment to the 173rd Airborne Brigade on January 14, 1972 and assigned to the 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. On October 1, 1983 it was relieved of assignment to the 101st Airborne and assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea on December 16, 1986 where it remained until it deactivation on September 29, 1990. On December 16, 2001 the 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade and reactivated on January 25, 2002 in Vicenza Ital. Today the ROCK stands ready to accomplish any mission with the espirit and ?n that it has demonstrated in the past.

Posted by Silver Back
Feb 25 2004 09:36:35:000AM

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