The 101st Airborne Division, founded in 1942 from an old WWI reserve unit, is one of the most elite formations of the United States Army. The division provides the army with the capability to launch airborne assaults striking anywhere, at any time, particularly behind enemy lines; initially by bravely descending into combat on parachutes and later by using helicopters and becoming designated Air Mobile. Their efforts to protect our country over the years have been nothing short of miraculous, making the 101st Airborne the perfect topic for this month’s Patch Power.
The 101st Airborne in World War II
The soldiers of the 101st Airborne participated in some of the most notable battles of WWII, such as Operation Overlord, Operation Market Garden, and The Battle of the Bulge. During Operation Overlord, a codename for the invasion of Normandy in 1944, the Pathfinders of the 101st parachuted into Normandy in advance of the main force. Once on the ground, they captured key bridges and road junctions so that the infantry could successfully move off the crowded beaches. They accomplished the majority of their assigned missions despite a lack of equipment and several missed drop zones that spread their forces across the Norman countryside.
In Operation Market Garden, the 101st participated in the largest airborne operation up to that point in history. A bold plan concocted by British General Bernard Montgomery, Market Garden was an attempt to seize three crucial bridges in Holland at Nijmegen, Eindhoven, and Arnhem. The plan was designed to allow armored ground forces to outflank German defenses and drive them into the industrial heart of Germany known as the Ruhr Valley. The hope was that this would end the war in a matter of months. The ambitious operation ultimately would not achieve its strategic goal, and the area that the 101st defended eventually became known as “Hell’s Highway.”
The Airborne continued to fight in some of the roughest conditions of the conflict by surrounding the city of Bastogne during the battle of the Bulge. When the Germans launched their counteroffensive through the heavily forested Ardennes region of France during winter, the 101st were called upon to shore up the line.
In freezing weather, with little winter gear or ammunition, the 101st held their position for several days denying the German forces access to a crucial road junction. When Commander General Anthony McAuliffe received a request for surrender, he replied with “To the German Commander: NUTS!”. During this ordeal, the Airborne’s efforts earned the unit the nickname “The Battered Bastards of Bastogne.”
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The 101st Airborne in Vietnam
During the Vietnam War, the 101st participated in every aspect of the conflict. Having cashed in their parachutes in favor of helicopters, they continually operated in some capacity from 1965-1972 and famously battled the People’s Army of North Vietnam for control of supply lines in Laos and the A Shau Valley.
The engagement at “Hamburger Hill” was one of Airborne’s costliest engagements of the Vietnam War. For seven days, the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, the 3rd Regiment of the 1st Army Division, and ARVN troops made repeated frontal assaults on Hill 937. The position was heavily fortified by Vietnamese forces with a bunker system that prevented artillery and air attack from dislodging them.
In addition to heavy rain and mud, thin trails allowed for the North Vietnamese troops to engage U.S. soldiers in compact areas with interlocking fields of fire, resulting in upwards of 450 casualties. The fight boiled down to small units fighting for ground in close combat. Despite the resistance and poor fighting conditions, the 3rd Brigade finally seized the hill on May 20th, with assistance from air and artillery assets, as well as ARVN troops.
Modern Deployments of the 101st Airborne
The 101st is based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in conjunction with the U.S. Army Air Assault School. They have actively participated in recent counter-terrorism operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the Battle of Fallujah.
In addition to United States and Coalition operations, they have provided humanitarian aid to West Africa during the Ebola crisis and acted as firefighters during an outbreak of wildfires in Montana. Roughly 4,700 members are currently deployed in Europe to reassure NATO allies and provide training as the invasion of Ukraine carries on. The 101st is a strike force, ready to deploy to any location their country needs them to, at only a moment’s notice.
Our 101st Airborne Patches
The eagle on the patch goes by the name “Old Abe” in honor of President Lincoln and was originally the mascot of a Wisconsin regiment during the Civil War. Old Abe is the inspiration for the 101st division’s nickname “The Screaming Eagles.”
The spirit of the 101st Airborne Division can be best summed up in a quote from General Order #5, written by first commander General William C. Lee, “Let me call your attention to the fact that our badge is the Great American Eagle. This is a fitting emblem for a division that will crush its enemies by falling upon them like a thunderbolt from the skies.”
Popular Patch provides a number of ways of remembering and honoring the heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for their nation. Starting with the Combat Service Designation Badge with the Eagle Inlay that every proud soldier of the 101st has worn since the unit’s inception. Find this and plenty of other 101st Airborne Patches in our inventory.
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