Today is the birthday of the 1st Infantry Division. The Big Red One. It is the oldest continuously active division in the Army. To my fellow Big Red One Veterans, happy birthday to a great Division and to all who have served in the Big Red One, her history includes you. Well done and congratulations!
World War I
The First Expeditionary Division was constituted in May 1917 from Army units then in service on the Mexican border and at various Army posts throughout the United States. On June 8, 1917 it was officially organized in New York, New York. This date is the 1st Infantry Division’s official birthday. The first units sailed from New York and Hoboken, N.J., June 14, 1917. Throughout the remainder of the year, the rest of the Division followed, landing at St. Nazaire, France, and Liverpool, England. After a brief stay in rest camps, the troops in England proceeded to France, landing at Le Havre. The last unit arrived in St. Nazaire on Dec. 22. Upon arrival in France, the Division, less its artillery, was assembled in the First (Gondrecourt) training area, and the artillery was at Le Valdahon.
On the 4th of July, the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, paraded through the streets of Paris to bolster the sagging French spirits. At Lafayette’s tomb, one of General Pershing’s staff uttered the famous words, “Lafayette, we are here!” Two days later, July 6, the First Expeditionary Division was redesignated the First Infantry Division. On the morning of Oct. 23, the first American shell of the war was sent screaming toward German lines by Battery C, 6th Field Artillery. Two days later, the 2nd Bn., 16th Inf., suffered the first American casualties of the war.
By April 1918, the Germans had pushed to within 40 miles of Paris. In reaction to this thrust, the Big Red One moved into the Picardy Sector to bolster the exhausted French First Army. To the Division’s front lay the small village of Cantigny, situated on the high ground overlooking a forested countryside. It was the 28th Infantry, who attacked the town, and within 45 minutes captured it along with 250 German soldiers, thus earning the special designation “Lions of Cantigny” for the regiment. The first American victory of the war was a First Division victory.
The First Division took Soissons in July 1918. The Soissons victory was costly – more than 7000 men were killed or wounded. The First Infantry Division then helped to clear the St. Mihiel salient by fighting continuously from Sept. 11-13, 1918. The last major World War I battle was fought in the Meuse-Argonne Forest. The Division advanced seven kilometers and defeated, in whole or part, eight German divisions. This action cost the 1st Division over 7600 casualties. In October 1918, the Big Red One patch as it is now known was officially approved for wear by members of the Division.
The war was over when the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. The Division was then located at Sedan, the farthest American penetration of the war. The Division was the first to cross the Rhine into occupied Germany where it remained until the peace treaty formally ending WW I was signed. It deployed back to the United States in August and September.
By the end of the war, the Division had suffered 22,668 casualties and boasted five Medal of Honor recipients. Its colors carry campaign streamers for: Montdidier-Noyon; Aisne-Marne; St. Mihiel; Meuse- Argonne; Lorraine1 917; Lorraine, 1918; Picardy, 1918.
World War II
On On August 1, 1942, the first Division was reorganized and redesignated as the 1st Infantry Division.
The 1st Infantry Division entered combat in World War II as part of “Operation Torch”, the invasion of North Africa, the first American campaign against the Axis powers. On Nov. 8, 1942, following training in the United Kingdom, men of the First Division landed on the coast of Algeria near Oran. The initial lessons of combat were harsh and many men were casualties in the campaign that followed and which stretched from Algiers into Tunisia. On May 9, 1943, the commander of the German “Afrika Korps” surrendered his force of 40,000 and North African operations for the Big Red One ended. The Division then moved on to take Sicily in “Operation Husky.” It stormed ashore at Gela, July 10, 1943, and quickly overpowered the Italian defenses. Soon after, the Division came face-to-face with 100 tanks of the Herman Goering Tank Division. With the help of naval gunfire, its own artillery and Canadian allies, the First Infantry Division fought its way over the island’s hills, driving the enemy back. The Fighting First advanced on to capture Troina and opened the Allied road to the straits of Messina. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, the Big Red One stormed ashore at Omaha Beach. Soon after H-Hour, the Division’s 16th Infantry Regiment was fighting for its life on a strip of beach near Coleville-sur-Mer that had been marked the “Easy Red” on battle maps. As the assault progressed, the beach became so congested with destroyed equipment, the dead and the wounded, that there was little room to land reinforcements. Col. George Taylor, commander of the 16th Infantry Regt., told his men, “Two kinds of people are staying on this beach! The dead and those who are going to die! Now, let’s get the hell out of here!” Slowly, spurred by the individual heroism of many individuals, the move inland got underway.
A German blockhouse above the beach became a command post named “Danger Forward.”
After the beachhead was secured, the Division moved through the Normandy Hedgerows. The Division liberated Liege, Belgium, and pushed to the German border, crossing through the fortified Siegfried line. The 1st Inf. Div. attacked the first major German city, Aachen, and after many days of bitter house-to house fighting, the German commander surrendered the city on Oct. 21, 1944.
The Division continued its push into Germany, crossing the Rhine River. On Dec. 16, 24 enemy divisions, 10 of which were armored, launched a massive counterattack in the Ardennes sector, resulting in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge. The Big Red One held the critical shoulder of the “Bulge” at Bullingen, destroying hundreds of German tanks in the process. On Jan. 15, 1945, the First Infantry attacked and penetrated the Siegfried line for the second time and occupied the Remagen bridgehead. On Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, the Division marched 150 miles to the east of Siegen. On April 8, the Division crossed the Weser River into Czechoslovakia. The war was over May 8, 1945.
At the end of World War II, the Division had suffered 21,023 casualties and 43,743 men had served in its ranks. Its soldiers had won a total of 20,752 medals and awards, including 16 Congressional Medals of Honor. Over 100,000 prisoners had been taken.
Following the war, the First Division remained in Germany as occupation troops, until 1955, when the Division moved to Fort Riley, Kan.
You can read the rest of the Division’s history here: Society of the First Infantry Division