Legacy of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment

 


[Excerpts from our book - THE STAND ALONE BATTALION]    

    The 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment was constituted as an airborne regiment on July l, 1942 and was activated shortly thereafter at Camp Toccoa, Georgia on July 20, 1942. This newly constituted parachute unit would take the motto “Currahee”, which is an American Indian [Cherokee] name meaning “stand alone”-a name that would become synonymous with its combat history.  The special insignia or coat of arms created for the unit was an emblem in the shape of a warrior’s shield with a blue background, a lightning bolt, six parachutes, and a silhouette of a mountain. The blue background represented the color of the sky, as well as the portrayal of “sky soldiers”. The lightning bolt indicated the regiment’s technique of attack, striking with speed, power, and surprise from the sky. Six parachutes represented the fact that the 506th was the sixth parachute regiment constituted in the U. S. Army. The green silhouette represented Currahee Mountain, the site of the regiment’s activation at Camp Toccoa, Georgia. Currahee Mountain further symbolized the unit’s strength, independence, and ability to stand alone, for which paratroopers are renowned.  The 506th PIR came together at Camp Toccoa, Georgia during a time of rapid change and restructuring within the U. S. Army in response to the escalation of World War II. Shortly after the activation of the 506th PIR, the U. S. Army created its first two airborne divisions-the 82nd Airborne Division and the 101st Airborne Division. The 82nd was deployed for combat overseas in support of the Allied effort of World War II in mid-April of 1943. The 506th PIR was eventually attached to the 101st in June of 1943 and subsequently deployed to Europe by ship in September of that same year, along with the 502nd PIR and two glider regiments. The 101st made its home in England for almost a year as they continued their training for the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

    General Lee, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, had accompanied the unit overseas. Despite his notoriety as the “father of the airborne infantry”, this great leader was not destined to oversee the initiation of the 101st into battle.  He had nursed the airborne program from its inception through its growth to division strength only to suffer a heart attack on February 5, 1944. General Lee was later relieved of his command and sent back to the United States, where he retired from division leadership and ultimately received the Distinguished Service Medal for his contribution toward the organization and establishment of airborne training units on a major scale.

    Brigadier General Maxwell D. Taylor assumed command of the 101st Airborne Division on March 14, 1944. Under his leadership, the division’s “rendezvous with destiny” finally arrived on D-Day, June 6, 1944, with the Allied invasion of France at Normandy. It was on this historical day that the brave men of the 101st parachuted into France behind enemy lines and proved themselves to be superior combat troops. They were called upon once again to accomplish a mission in Holland to protect vital bridges needed by the Allies to move men and equipment. Their most famous mission of World War II was the defense of the city of Bastogne, Belgium against German advances. The paratroopers of the 101st held the city for almost a month, despite the fact that they had been surrounded and cut off by German troops. On March 15, 1945, General Dwight Eisenhower awarded the 101st Airborne Division the Distinguished Unit Citation for their gallantry in action at Bastogne.  The last mission for the 101st in World War II was to capture the German stronghold at Berchtesgaden, Germany and hunt down Nazi leaders in hiding there. This important mission was given to the 506th PIR, who arrived at the sight of Hitler’s mountain vacation retreat, the Adlershorst, or Eagle’s Nest, on May 5, 1945. The paratroopers recovered many valuable art treasures and other.5 artifacts that various Nazi leaders had confiscated and amassed as spoils of war from their pillaging across Europe.

    VE (Victory in Europe) Day finally arrived on May 8, 1945, marking the end of the war in Europe. The final end of World War II came on September 2, 1945, with the surrender of Japan. During those glorious days of preparation for combat, not much thought was given to what would be done with the 101st Airborne Division once World War II ended. After much deliberation, the War Department eventually made the decision to inactivate the 101st in Auxerre, France on November 30, 1945. The famed “Screaming Eagles” of the 101st Airborne Division had earned a prestigious level of honor within the pages of our nation’s history and would be remembered as “The Battered Bastards of Bastogne”.

Continuing the Legacy

    Following World War II, the 101st Airborne Division was activated and inactivated three times from 1945 until 1956, when the final home of the airborne division became Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The Screaming Eagles were soaring once again when the division colors were unsheathed and presented at Fort Campbell on September 21, 1956.

    In the years to follow, the 101st continued to train paratroopers, and the military structure of the airborne units changed slightly from the triangular configuration of Parachute Infantry Regiments during World War II to brigade-sized elements. The 101st now consisted of a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Brigade, with each brigade comprised of three battalions of airborne infantry troops.  The level of intense training for the paratroopers, however, remained the same-eight weeks of basic training, eight weeks of advanced infantry training, followed by three weeks of jump school.

    The best of a new generation of Screaming Eagles also answered the call to serve their country in combat in July of 1965, when the first element of the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division was deployed to South Vietnam to assist in halting the spread of Communism in southeast Asia. The conflict in Vietnam would escalate into the Vietnam War, which was the longest period of combat involving U. S. troops in our nation’s history.

    The 3rd Battalion (Airborne), 506th Infantry (Currahees) was activated in April of 1967, with Lieutenant Colonel John P. Geraci as the battalion commander. Colonel Geraci was a combat veteran of World War II, as well as Korea and Vietnam, making him an excellent choice for the commander of this newly revived old World War II workhorse unit. It was rumored that Geraci was staffing his unit with the finest officers and NCOs from throughout the military airborne ranks to train especially for a combat jump in South Vietnam.  News that this famous World War II battalion had reactivated for service in Vietnam as the fourth maneuver battalion to the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, spread rapidly through the military ranks, and paratroopers from other airborne units volunteered for the 3-506.

    For the first six months following reactivation, the Currahees of the 3-506 trained together in the Lands Between the Lakes, the swamps of Georgia, and the mountains of Tennessee. The battalion deployed to Vietnam on October 2, 1967 aboard the USNS General William Weigel and arrived off the coast of Vietnam on October 22, 1967.

    The men of the 3-506 continued the heritage of their parent unit, the famed 101st Airborne Division, as well as the distinguished tradition set forth by their World War II predecessors, the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, as they served gallantly in the Republic of South Vietnam. This new generation of Currahees also fought, sacrificed, and died for the cause of freedom in the world, meeting their “rendezvous with destiny” in the rice paddies and jungles of South Vietnam. The infamous TET Offensive of 1968 made history for the Currahees of the Vietnam War, and the 3-506 was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for their courageous efforts during this major offensive.  The Currahee Legacy is long and proud, steeped in the ideals of duty, honor, and patriotism. This book chronicles the saga of the Screaming Eagles of the Currahee Battalion, 3-506, during their tour of duty in the Republic of South Vietnam from October of 1967 until May of 1971, when the battalion stood down and the battalion colors were encased and returned to the United States.  At the time the 3-506 was activated for service in the Vietnam War, the United States Army consisted of four types of divisions-regular infantry, armor, mechanized, and airborne infantry. (Figure 1) The airborne infantry is considered to be the most specialized of the United States Army Infantry Divisions.

BATTALION COMMANDERS

LTC John P. Geraci ("Garibaldi") - April 1967 to February 1968
LTC Robert M. Elton ("Spider") - February 1968 to June 1968
LTC Walter E. Price ("Brown Badger") - June 1968 to December 1968
LTC Manuel A. Alves ("Black Hawk") - December 1968 to July 1969
LTC James M. Bowers ("") - July 1969 to November 1969
LTC Joseph N. Jaggers, Jr ("Wildcat") - November 1969 to June 1970
LTC John E. Martling ("") - June 1970 to December 1970
LTC Othar J. Shalikashvili ("") - December 1970 - May 1971

 

Army Infantry Divisions

During the escalation of the war in Vietnam, the U. S. Army Airborne Infantry was comprised of two major divisions-the 101st Airborne Division and the 82nd Airborne Division. A separate smaller unit, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, served as a troubleshooting force held in reserve for quelling potential hot spots in the Pacific theater. (Figure 2) The 173rd was the first U. S. Army ground combat unit ordered to Vietnam in May of 1965. Each airborne division was further divided into three brigades of jump-qualified infantry troops. The brigade was the major tactical command level to which combat, combat support, and administrative support elements were attached/placed in support to perform specific missions.

U.S. Army Airborne Infantry Units

    Within each of the three brigades of the 101st Airborne Division, there were three battalions of airborne infantry. (Figure 3) The three battalions of the 1st Brigade (Separate) were deployed to Vietnam in July of 1965. A fourth maneuver battalion, the 3-506, was deployed to Vietnam in October of 1967. The six battalions comprising the 2nd and 3rd Brigades, as well as the remainder of the 101st Airborne Division command, administrative, and service elements, were ultimately deployed to Vietnam in December of 1967.


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