The 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment History

The 503d 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 originally activated on 22 August 1941, the 503d was expanded into a full sized Regiment on 24 February, 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 2d Battalion, 503d, which was formed from the 504th PIR in March 1942.

After its activation, 2-503 PIR 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. 2d Battalion, 503d Parachute Infantry on 8 November 1942 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. On 15 November 1942, approximately 300 paratroopers jumped into an open area near Youks les Bains on the Tunisia - Algeria border. The ensuing thrust east to cut off the German lines of communications in Gafsa, Tunisia included a third airborne drop of 30 paratroopers and heavy equipment onto El Djem in December 1942 with a mission to destroy an enemy railroad bridge. Of the 30 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 who 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.

During it’s more than three years service in the Southwest Pacific Theater, the 503d served in five major combat operations.

1. In July of 1943, the 503d moved to Port Moresby, New Guinea, where it made final preparations for its first combat operation in the Pacific Theater. On 5 September 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 the 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 503d re-assembled 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 of 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 a 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 form 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 15 December 1944. Originally, it was intended for the 503d to jump onto Mindoro but because of inadequate airstrip facilities on Leyte, and 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 its motto. At 0830 on 16 February 1945, after weeks of naval and aerial bombardment, the 503d 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 bestowed the honor of re-patriating “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 a high number of injuries during the first two jumps, the 1st Battalion jump was cancelled and the battalion made and 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 503d Infantry Regiment’s activation, the island of Corregidor was formally turned over the 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 had 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 the mountainous areas of Negros for more than five months. The 40th Infantry Division was re-directed to other operations on Mindanao, leaving the 503rd to battle the Japanese alone. At the end of the war in August of 1945, over 7,500 of the surviving Japanese troops on this island surrendered to the 503d Parachute Regimental Combat Team.

Official U.S. War Department sources estimated that the 503rd 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 24 December, 1945 at Camp Anza California. Because of the Korean Conflict, 503d Airborne Infantry was re-activated on 2 March, 1951 at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and assigned to the 11th Airborne Division. The 503d did not see combat during the Korean War, but conducted extensive exercises in all parts of the United States, including Alaska. In 1956, the 503d moved with the 11th Airborne Division to Germany.

On 1 July 1958 the 1st ABG, 503rd Inf was relieved from assignment to the 11th Airborne Division and assigned to the 24th Infantry Division when the 11th was reflagged as the 24th. The battle group's stay was short, and on 7 January 1959 it was relieved from assignment to the 24th Infantry Division and assigned to the 82d Airborne Division. In 1959, the regiment again reorganized as the 1st and 2nd Airborne Battle Groups, 503rd Infantry, and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The move was accompanied by the rotation of the only other Airborne battle group, 1-187th, from the 24th to the 82nd. Concurrently 1-504th and 1-505th were relieved from the 82nd and assigned to the 8th Infantry Division in central Germany. At Fort Bragg, 1-503rd joined 2-503rd, already assigned to the 82nd, as one of the division's five battle groups. The two active elements of the 503rd remained together under the 82nd until the following year, when 2-503rd was relieved on 24 June 1960 from assignment to the 82d Airborne Division and assigned to the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii. The following year, on 1 July, 1961, it was relieved from assignment to the 25th Infantry Division and assigned on 26 March 1963 to the 173d Airborne Brigade on Okinawa.

173rd Airborne Brigade Lineage

The 173rd Airborne Brigade was activated on the island of Okinawa on March 26, 1963. 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 was 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 Armor 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 after 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 to introduce 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 2nd Battalion, 503rd 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 arrived and dropped six 105mm howitzers, four 4.2 inch mortars, six 81mm mortars, four ¾-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 173rd 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, a key 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 14 May, 1967.

On November 1-6, 1968, the 173rd Airborne Brigade 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 173rd Airborne Brigade would later be awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its valorous actions during the Battle of DAK TO.

The troopers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade (Sep) wear their combat badges and decorations with pride. During more than six years of nearly continuous combat, the brigade earned 14 campaign streamers and four unit citations. 13 Medal of Honor winners, over 6,000 Purple Hearts, the only Combat Parachute Assault of the War, and sadly, over 1700 names of Sky Soldiers on THE WALL. The Brigade and the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry was deactivated on 14 January, 1972 at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky.

On 16 December, 2001 the 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade and reactivated on 25 January, 2002 in Vicenza Italy. Less than one year from its activation and less than a month after the activation of its final rifle company, the ROCK deployed to Operation Rapid Guardian 3-01 in Kosovo; the first of two back-to-back operational deployments. On 26 March 2003, the Battalion conducted a night combat parachute assault into Bashur, Iraq; exactly 40 years after its initial assignment to the 173rd Airborne Brigade. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, The ROCK seized the airfield as part of the brigade allowing the coalition to open the northern front. On 10 April, 2003, The Rock attacked south to seize the City of Kirkuk. After Seizing a series of objectives (LEE, HANCOCK, MCCLELLEN, and CHAMBERLAIN), the battalion established 12 operating bases in the city. From 10 April 2003 until 19 February 2004 the ROCK conducted daily security patrols, countless raids against Fadayeen and Baath party packets of resistance, and established numerous civic projects in order to demilitarize the city. These projects included establishing a police force and fostering normalcy within the community. On 9 June, 2003 the battalion was attached to the 3rd Combat Team, 4th Infantry division during Operation Peninsula Strike where it conducted a series of raids in the central Iraqi city of Al Dulu Yah. Upon returning to Kirkuk on 13 June, the battalion continued to conduct combat patrols, raids against anti-coalition forces, and out of sector attacks to places like Halabjah, Haweja, Tuz, Taza, and the Zaab. In February 2004, after 11 months of combat operations the ROCK began its redeployment to Italy having left behind a functional police force and a stable environment in the city of Kirkuk.

In the spring of 2005, the 173rd began its second deployment in three years to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom VI. 2d BN (ABN) 503d IN deployed to Regional Command South demonstrating unparalleled bravery fighting anti-coalition forces in the bloodiest spring since the original invasion in 2001. The ROCK fought the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the Provinces of Helmand, Zabul and Kandahar and excelled in all aspects of the deployment to include facilitating a peaceful parliamentary election process in the fall of 2005.

2d Battalion (Airborne) 503d Infantry deployed in May 2007 to the most rugged, austere, and volatile areas of Kunar and Southern Nuristan provinces, Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom VIII. TF Rock was under the operational control of Combined Joint Task Force 82 and was given the mission of conducting Counter-Insurgency operations in Kunar and Southern Nuristan Provinces IOT build Afghan National Security Capability through partnership, and extend the authority and influence of the IRoA through economic, social, and civil actions that neutralize insurgent forces and create a secure and stable environment for the Afghan people. The Task Force Command Group operated out of Camp Blessing and the remainder of the Task Force operated out of eighteen satellite bases spread across the two Afghan provinces. TF Rock conducted combat patrols by helicopter, vehicle, and foot throughout the heart of the most contentious area in Afghanistan at the platoon and squad level partnered with elements of the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, and Afghan Border Police. These operations severely degraded the Anti-Afghanistan Forces ability to conduct attacks against the Afghan people, Afghan National Security Forces, and Coalition Forces in the area. On 22 Aug 2007 Chosen Company repelled an extremely well planned and executed AAF attack on outlying Combat Outpost “the Ranch House.” Operation Rock Avalanche was conducted over a seven day period in October 2007 and was the defining operation of the deployment. TF Rock conducted a Battalion (+) series of sequenced air assaults into the heart of traditional enemy safe havens and denying the AAF of freedom of movement from the Korengal and Shuryak Valleys with dozens of enemy fighters killed in numerous sustained contacts. The Battle of Wanat occurred on 13 July, 2008 when approximately 200 AAF attacked a vehicle patrol base position manned by 48 paratroopers of Chosen Company.

The Rock conducted sustained, full-spectrum, combat operations in an extremely dangerous and volatile environment for fifteen months until transfer of authority on 30 July, 2008 to TF Spader (1st Battalion 26th Infantry Regiment 1st Infantry Division).

Unit Decorations

Presidential Unit Citation (Army)
Streamer embroidered CORREIGIDOR
Cited: WD GO 53, 1945
Inclusive Dates: 16-28 February 1945

Presidential Unit Citation (Army)
Streamer embroidered BIEN HOA
Cited: DA GO 40, 1966
Inclusive Dates: 08 November 1965

Presidential Unit Citation (Army)
Streamer embroidered DAK TO
Cited: DA GO 42, 1969
Inclusive dates: 06 - 23 November 1967

Meritorious Unit Commendation
Streamer embroidered VIETNAM 1965 - 1967
Cited: DA GO 48, 1968
Inclusive dates: 05 May 1965 - 04 May 1967

Philippine Presidential Unit Citation
Streamer embroidered 17 October 1944 - 04 July 1945
Cited: DA GO 47, 1950
Inclusive dates: 17 October 1944 - 04 July 1945

Vietnamese Cross-of Gallantry with Palm
Streamer embroidered VIETNAM 1969 - 1971
Cited: DA GO 5, 1973
Inclusive dates: 15 April 1969 - 16 March 1971

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