The conceptual history of the American airborne started with thinkers ranging from Benjamin Franklin through World War I Army Air Corps General Billy Mitchell. Mitchell had wanted to load up the entire infantry strength of the 1st Division, the "Big Red One", into the back seats of biplanes, fly over the lines of trenches, then land and unload them to attack the German rear. The Soviet Union had used combat parachute assaults in Finland in the Winter War, and Germany had seized bridges and obstacles for its westbound armored units in 1940. But the real beginning was the German invasion of Crete in May 1940. This isolated rocky island in the Mediterranean was British held and heavily fortified, so rather than attempt a beach landing, the Germans dropped several parachute regiments on top of it. The terrain heavily favored the defenders, and the German Fallschirmjäger ("hunters from the sky") units took losses so heavy that Adolf Hitler never approved another large scale parachute operation again. That didn’t matter to Allied war planners. What mattered was that a key piece of terrain had been taken entirely by airborne assets. This was a revolutionary development that America couldn’t match yet. Within thirty days, the original 48-man Parachute Test Platoon was formed at Fort Benning, Georgia. Four parachute infantry battalions were planned to follow.
On 1 July 1941, the 502nd Parachute Infantry Battalion was activated at Fort Benning under the command of Major George P. Howell, under orders dated 15 April. He’d been the former executive officer of the 501st Parachute Infantry Battalion (not to be confused with the later 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment). This new unit was initially composed of two skeleton companies sliced off from the 501st. "The Deuce" lacked everything from parachutes to small arms. This kept the 502nd understrength until more men could be recruited at Fort Jackson, South Carolina and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Plans for the next two battalions (503rd and 504th) had to be put on hold because there were no more men or equipment on hand at Benning.
One piece of "equipment" developed in this period that has accompanied the 502nd into combat ever since was the round winged-skull patch known variously as "bat wings", the "death’s head", and "The Widowmaker". Retired Colonel Glenn McGowan told the story in 1988 and it was reprinted in various "newcomers briefing" handouts afterward:
"In March of 1941, the 501st PIB was qualifying its members as parachutists at a physical fitness course, and a two week parachute packing course. In order to qualify, one had to make five jumps, with one night jump and a water jump. The Army Air Force (AAF) supplied the Battalion with three C-39 type airplanes per week. The planes came from different air transport and cargo commands. Each group that came to Fort Benning had a different identifying patch that was worn on the left breast of the flying suit. MAJ William M. Miley, Commander of the 501st PIB, decided that the 501st should have a patch to identify it and stand out among the troops at Fort Benning. CPT William P. Yarborough was given the assignment. He drew up a patch which was approved and is still the patch of the 501st.
"When the 502nd PIB was activated 1 July 1941, MAJ George P. Howell, 502nd Commander, gave me the task or assignment of coming up with a distinctive patch. I designated the one that is now worn and cherished by the 502nd Regiment. Our operations sergeant, an artist, did the finishing work on it. MAJ Howell approved it and I ordered a supply from the company in New York that made the AAF patches. They were all leather. The red, white, and blue circles were borrowed from the AAF patches. We called the insignia "Bat Wings" as a bat descends fast and silently on its prey. If I must say so, it was a most unusual patch and was the forerunner of all other airborne units in designing their insignias (patches). The officers of the 502nd wore the patch on their leather Air Corps jackets. The enlisted men wore it on their [field] jackets. We also wore it on our field uniform (fatigues)."
7 December 1941, prompted an acceleration of every kind of military planning. On 30 January 1942, realizing a battalion was too small to conduct offensive operations and survive to fight again, the War Department hurriedly authorized the activation of four Army parachute regiments. A month later, on 2 March 1942, the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) was activated from the assets of the 502nd Battalion. Each company (A, B, and C) provided the nucleus of the three battalions. Through pure luck, the 502nd became the only one of the four parachute infantry battalions to have an unbroken tie to the later regiment of the same number. Staying in command, Howell was promoted to colonel but left that same month to command Benning’s parachute school. He passed command to his XO, LTC George Van Horn Moseley, Jr.. "Old Mo" would command for the next two years.
In August 1942, following the activation of the 101st Airborne Division at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, the 502nd PIR moved from Fort Benning to join the rest of the division at Fort Bragg. The integration of a selected parachute unit into a partly draftee division that for the most part was not jump qualified led to problems, some of which could only be solved through training. Throughout the rest of 1942 and into 1943 the 502nd took part in the 101st's grueling training program, which consisted of individual, unit, and combined division training. During March 1943 the 502nd took part in a series of wargames across the Carolinas, and then across Tennessee later that year. Pictures exist at the Division Museum of the 502nd conducting a simulated combat jump at Gallatin, Tennessee, now the Nashville suburbs.
On 4 September 1943 men of the 502nd boarded the SS Strathnaver bound for their new home in England. After breakdowns and saltwater contamination of the ship’s drinking water, the regiment was stuck in St. John’s, Newfoundland. On 4 October the SS John Ericsson picked them up, and they arrived in Liverpool on 18 October. They settled into quarters in the small villages of Chilton Foliat and Denford in Berkshire, England. This would be their home for the next seven months. The Five-O-Deuce's troopers continued their rigorous training which included 15–25 mile hikes and daily close combat exercises. Instructions were given on a wide variety of items ranging from first aid, map reading, chemical warfare, and demolitions. Other training was held on the use of German weapons, since enemy dead were considered a source of emergency resupply. Company and battalion size parachute drops were rehearsed heavily. The largest of these rehearsals was a division combat drop in May, Exercise Eagle. It didn't go well. In particular, H Company was dropped nine miles short of the objective. High winds and rough landings injured over 400 paratroopers across the division, many of whom were then not available for the Normandy jump three weeks later.
Flying out of Membury and Greenham Common air bases in the first wave to depart, the 502nd PIR headed for Drop Zone A. The Deuce’s mission was to secure two northern causeways leading inland from Utah Beach and destroy a German battery of 122 mm howitzers near Ste Martin-de-Varreville. Captain Frank Lillyman, officer in charge of the regiment’s pathfinder platoon, was the first American jumper of the night - celebrated as the first American paratrooper to drop behind German lines in the Allied invasion of Normandy. He hit the ground at fifteen minutes after midnight on the 6th, his habitual jump cigar clenched in his teeth. The pathfinders soon learned they’d been misdropped, so they made no effort to get the rest of the regiment lost with them and left their radios and beacons turned off. Coming in unguided in an age before GPS, the formations of C-47’s broke up in a combination of low clouds and heavy enemy anti-aircraft fire. Some planeloads, including two sticks of A Company, were dropped over the English Channel and drowned. Consequently, most of Colonel Moseley's troops landed way off their designated DZs, up to five miles away. Colonel Moseley badly broke his leg and had to relinquish command to his XO, LTC John H. "Iron Mike" Michaelis.
1st Battalion, under LTC Patrick "Hopalong" Cassidy, was the only battalion of the entire 101st to come down on target, and that through blind luck. 1st Battalion secured Saint Martin-de-Varreville by 0630, sent a patrol under SSG Harrison C. Summers to seize a German barracks at Mésières, "XYZ" objective, and set up a thin line of defense from Fourcarville to Beuzeville.
2nd Battalion, under the taciturn LTC "Silent Steve" Chappuis, moved inland from its drop zones.
Meanwhile, the 3rd Battalion led by LTC Robert G. Cole was responsible for securing the two causeways coming inland from Utah Beach. Undaunted by the confusion, LTC Cole gradually collected whatever men he could find both from his unit and anyone else’s (at one point including 1LT Dick Winters of E/506th). Cole eventually achieved his objective in time to secure the beach landing of the 4th Infantry Division.
LTC Cole was in the lead five days later as the 502nd was part of the division’s effort to capture the town of Carentan. Moving the 3rd Battalion down the causeway toward the Ingouf farm under heavy German fire, LTC Cole ordered a bayonet charge. Capturing the objective, LTC Cole was nominated for the Medal of Honor. His XO, Major John Stopka, was nominated for the Distinguished Service Cross. On 29 June the 101st was relieved from the VIII Corps and sent to Cherbourg to relieve the 4th Infantry Division elements who had the German garrison pinned down in that seaport city. The 502nd PIR returned to England shortly thereafter for refitting, earning a Presidential Unit Citation for the campaign.
The summer of refitting was punctuated by several planned combat jumps to capture objectives in front of the advancing Allied ground forces, yet every jump was cancelled as the tanks got there first.
Operation Market Garden was a British plan that would be the first major daylight jump attempted since the German jump on Crete four years before. Set for 17 September 1944, the airborne troops were to seize roads, bridges and the key communication cities of Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem, thus cutting the Netherlands in half and clearing a corridor for British armoured and motorized columns all the way to the German border.
The 101st mission was to secure the fifteen miles of Hell's Highway stretching from Eindhoven north to Veghel. Under the command of Colonel Michaelis, the unit was to land in the Netherlands on DZ C, seize the small highway bridge over the Dommel river north of St. Oedenrode and the railroad and road bridges over the Wilhelmina Canal at Best. The 502nd was also given the mission of guarding DZs B & C for the subsequent glider landings. Shortly after 1315 hours on the afternoon of 17 September 1944, after an uneventful daylight drop, the men of the 502nd gathered up and headed for their objectives. 1st Battalion went north to capture the little town of St. Oedenrode. 2nd Battalion secured the glider LZ. 3rd Battalion sent patrols through the Zonsche forest, trying to move toward the town of Best and the bridge. German resistance was tough in the vicinity of Best but the 3rd Battalion spearheaded by Captain Robert Jones’ H Company fought their way to within 100 yards of the bridge before the Germans blew it up. In fierce fighting around the bridge, Private First Class Joe E. Mann, already hit twice, was killed when he threw himself on a German grenade to save the other soldiers in his foxhole. That same day, LTC Cole was shot and killed elsewhere in the Zonsche Forest. Cole died before formally receiving his Medal of Honor for the Carentan charge. Private Mann would never know he would receive it posthumously. They were the only two Screaming Eagles of the Second World War to earn the nation’s highest honor.
On 26 September, a German artillery shell, possibly the luckiest German shot of the war, hit a tree by the 502nd’s Regimental CP. LTC Michaelis, 1st Battalion’s "Hopalong" Cassidy, the regimental S2 and S3, the division G2 and G3, and the commander of the supporting 377th Artillery Battalion were all hit. Without a regimental XO, and with Cassidy and Cole both down, 2nd Battalion commander Steve Chappuis took command of the regiment. Michaelis recovered to return as Division Chief of Staff and later served as a decorated regimental commander in Korea before going on to four stars. Cassidy ended up the three-star commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps. After securing their hard-won objectives, the men of the 502nd moved north with the rest of the 101st to take hold of defensive positions on 'The Island', southwest of Arnhem. It was here that the 101st would fight some of its toughest battles during its time in the Netherlands. Living in trenches and eating British rations, it was like World War I all over again. Eventually they were withdrawn to Camp Mourmelon, France for rest and refit.
Just after dawn on 16 December 1944, the Germans launched a major offensive west through the Ardennes Forest. Their goal was the port city of Antwerp where they hoped to choke off the Allied supply lines. Almost the only American theater reserve were the two refitting airborne divisions. The 101st was ordered to the vitally important town of Bastogne, the central road junction in the Ardennnes. The 101st was jammed into trucks for an overnight rush to Bastogne in Belgium on 18 December. They were soon surrounded along with elements of several armored and artillery outfits. The 502nd held positions on the north and northwest portion of the surrounded city. In an attack that took place on Christmas morning in the Hemroulle, numerous German tanks penetrated the line. Simultaneously farther north strong German infantry elements infiltrated the town of Champs. Two of the German tanks which drove north from Hemroulle attempted to bypass the regimental CP at the Rolle Chateau, only to be tracked down by bazooka and grenade-toting paratroops. Finally, on 26 December, the 4th Armored Division of Patton’s Third Army broke through the encirclement to reinforce the defense.
On 14 January, the 3rd Battalion lost another commander. LTC John Stopka and some of his troopers were advancing through the forest near Michamps, Belgium along an elevated rail line when enemy tanks began advancing along the other side. Someone called in for air support and the planes strafed too close to the friendly positions, killing f LTC Stopka and thirty other paratroopers. With that unfortunate incident, the command of the 3rd Battalion was given to Major Cecil L. Simmons, who’d started with the battalion as a lieutenant at Ft. Benning.
The 101st Airborne held a line along the Moder River for over a month as part of the Seventh Army. On 23 February, the Screaming Eagles were relieved and returned to Mourmelon, France. They began a refit period while the leadership began planning for potential combat jumps in and around Berlin to end the war. There was also a ceremony in which General Eisenhower awarded the entire 101st Airborne Division the Presidential Unit Citation for gallantry in action during the fighting for Bastogne. This was the first time an entire division had been so honored. This was added to the one awarded to the 502nd for Normandy.
As the war in Europe was nearing its end, the 502nd moved to the Ruhr Pocket on 2 April to help in mop-up operations. Here the 502nd went on the line facing the Rhine River south of Düsseldorf, Germany. On 4 and 5 May, the 502nd followed the 506th into the securing of Hitler’s private residence in the town of Berchtesgaden. The area was home to many high-ranking Nazi Party officials and German military officers, and the detainee camps filled quickly.
The 502nd spent the summer of 1945 on occupation duty near Mittersill, Austria. Returning to France in September, the soldiers continued waiting for transport Stateside for the promised victory parade down New York's Fifth Avenue. However the reduced peacetime Army only had room for one of the European Theater’s four airborne divisions, and the 82nd was senior in terms of combat experience. The 101st Airborne Division was deactivated 30 November 1945 at Auxerre, France. Much of the unit property and records was burned- only nine boxes of the 502nd's records making it to the States for eventual inclusion in the National Archives. For comparison, the 506th sent sixteen boxes. Even the blue silk regimental colors were burned before First Sergeant Paul Dovholuk of the regiment's Headquarters Company decided they'd make a good souvenir.
While on inactive status, the regiment was redesignated on 18 June 1948 as the 502nd Airborne Infantry Regiment and allotted to the Regular Army on 25 June that same year. It was activated on 6 July 1948 at Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky, as a training unit that was airborne in name only. It was inactivated on 1 April 1949. Shortly after the outbreak of the Korean War, it was again activated on 25 August 1950, again as a training unit at Camp Breckinridge, and then inactivated on 1 December 1953 at Camp Breckinridge following the truce declared in July. It was activated yet again as a training unit on 15 May 1954 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
On 21 September 1956, the Army reactivated the Screaming Eagles. The departure of the 11th Airborne Division for NATO duty in Germany and according to a display board at the Fort Campbell museum, the loss of jump pay on the local Hopkinsville-Clarksville economy caused the local Congressmen to go to the Pentagon asking for a favor. Fort Campbell's straddling of the Kentucky-Tennessee border made it of interest to three Congressional districts (two Tennessee, one Kentucky) and four Senators. In those days, the hundred bucks a month almost doubled a private’s take-home pay, and most of that got spent in Hopkinsville or Clarksville, helping what were still economically depressed towns surrounded by farms. The fact that the division’s wartime commander, then-Major General Maxwell Taylor, was now the Army Chief of Staff surely played a part in the 101st’s return to active duty. The Army needed another rapidly deployable unit to face Cold War contingencies, and Taylor figured it should be his old one. The reactivated 101st was formed using the assets of the 187th 508th Airborne RCTs, plus volunteers from the deactivating 6th Infantry Division run through parachute school either on Campbell or at Fort Benning.
The division of 1956 was much different from the wartime pattern. There were tight military budgets for conventional forces in the Nuclear Age since the predominant belief was that battlefield nuclear weapons would be used early and often. This in turn made riflemen obsolete. This, combined with the fact the new 101st would be built from scratch, made the Screaming Eagles a test of what was called a “Pentomic”, for "pentagonal atomic" division. The division was made up of five "battle groups", each one consisting of five companies (1 headquarters company, four rifle companies) plus a heavy mortar section. There was even a nuclear-armed rocket battery in Division Artillery. But there was only room for one "battle group" of each of the 101st’s old regiments (327th, 501st, 502nd, and 506th, with the 187th coming in from the 11th).
The lineage of the 502nd was revived with the activation on 25 April 1957 of HHC, 1st Airborne Battle Group, 502nd Infantry (bearing a lineage going back to A Company of the original 502nd PIB) as a unit within the 101st. As the rest of the Army converted to the Pentomic structure, the 2nd Airborne Battle Group, 502nd Infantry was activated on 1 March 1957 in Germany by reflagging existing elements of the 11th Airborne Division. Perpetuating the lineage of B Company, 502nd PIB and thus the World War II 2nd Battalion, it was inactivated on 1 July 1958 when the 11th itself was inactivated. Its personnel and equipment were reflagged to other lineages as an airborne brigade under the 24th Infantry Division.
By 1964, the Army had reached the conclusion that the Pentomic arrangement just didn’t work, and the 101st returned to a more recognizable structure. The Department of the Army announced that brigades would be the building blocks of the new style divisions. Critics suggested the name change was an attempt to justify a brigadier general’s star for the new units’ commanders, though it didn’t work. Consisting of three battalions with wartime attachments, they were similar to what used to be called a regiment or regimental combat team. However the 502nd found itself split. 2nd Battalion was in 1st Brigade with two battalions of the 327th, and 1st Battalion was in 2nd Brigade with two battalions of the 501st. 3rd Battalion, which had given the 101st both its Medal of Honor recipients, remained inactive.
In April 1965 the 1st Brigade was deployed to Vietnam to relieve the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Instead as the war expanded, both units stayed. 2/502 quickly made a name for itself under the command of the flamboyant LTC Hank "The Gunfighter" Emerson. Emerson went on to retire as a lieutenant general after command of XVIII Airborne Corps.
In June 1966 during Operation Hawthorne, Charlie Company, 2d Battalion, 502d Infantry Regiment was conducting a mission to locate elements of the North Vietnamese 24th Regiment. Charlie Company made contact with what was estimated to be a battalion-sized enemy element. Under heavy enemy fire and unable to maneuver in any direction, CPT William Carpenter called for air strikes on top of his position in an attempt to force the enemy to withdraw. "We might as well take some of them with us", he radioed to the 2nd Battalion command post. The napalm attack injured seven of Carpenter's men, but the enemy ceased fire long enough to allow Charlie Company to consolidate, reorganize and establish a position from which to defend and begin evacuation of wounded personnel. 1SG Walter Sabalauski, a World War II and Korea vet, played a critical role in the defense. For their extraordinary heroism in destroying the enemy and in evacuating the mass casualties, both Carpenter and Sabalauski received the Distinguished Service Cross. The Fort Campbell Air Assault School was named in Sabalauski's honor. Carpenter, despite a West Point football career ending with All-American honors that had two NFL teams awaiting his return from Vietnam, elected to stay in the Army and retired with three stars. Another member of 2/502 was CPT Tommy Taylor, son of General Maxwell Taylor, who wanted to serve with his father’s wartime command. Starting with Scout Platoon, and moving on to command of B Company, he left the Army, went to law school, and retired as a colonel in the Reserves.
In 1967, Operation EAGLE THRUST moved the rest of the division to Vietnam aboard chartered airliners as part of the American buildup. At that time it was the largest single airlift in US military history. Unfortunately the orders for it found the remainder of the division on Fort Campbell not ready to enter the fight. It was a skeletal formation that had been drained of personnel to support the war effort. To bring it up to full strength prior to deployment, it was necessary to fill it with non-airborne-qualified personnel from other units in the Third Army area. The division effectively ceased being an airborne unit, although the official transformation to the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) did not take place until mid-1968.
2nd Battalion served almost seven years in the Republic of Vietnam. 1st Battalion did five years. Fighting scattered actions under two different brigade headquarters from the Mekong River delta in the south to the DMZ up north, they earned 27 campaign streamers, six American, and eight Vietnamese unit citations between them, including two Presidential Unit Citations earned by 2nd Battalion for An Khe and Dak To. 1/502 fought in the A Shau Valley and the Rescue of Dustoff 65. Three 2nd Battalion soldiers earned the Medal of Honor. Specialist Dale E. Wayrynen, Private First Class Milton A. Lee, and Corporal Frank R. Fratellenico all have Fort Campbell landmarks named for them. In December 1971, after having drawn down in country, the 101st began returning home to Fort Campbell.
In order to move home in a more convenient fashion, the 101st largely drew down in Vietnam, and it was a skeletal unit that came back. On 10 February 1972, the 1st Battalion, 502d Infantry returned to Fort Campbell with one officer, one warrant officer, and ten enlisted men, down from its wartime fill of nearly nine hundred officers and men. Most serviceable equipment had been left behind for the South Vietnamese military.
The division was officially welcomed home on 6 April 1972, and began the task of rebuilding itself. Division commander Major General John Cushman, a former 2nd Brigade commander, stated with the end of the Vietnam War and of the draft, that the 101st was to be reconfigured as a combat-ready, all-volunteer force by May 1973.
If the 502nd was going to rebuild, it would need to get out and train. In opportunistic fashion, much of that training came from other units' funding. In the summer of 1972, 1/502 departed to West Point, New York to support summer field training at the United States Military Academy. The next two summers found it New York bound again, supporting the Army Reserve's 187th Infantry Brigade (Separate).
This is not to say all was well on Fort Campbell in those years. There were equipment shortages, racial tensions, drug use, and drunken brawls. But the units built and grew. In 1980 1/502 formed the centerpiece of "Task Force Strike" and deployed to Egypt for Operation Operation BRIGHT STAR. This was a joint training exercise with Egyptian forces, culminating in a desert live fire exercise supported by low-level B-52 Stratofortress strikes; these aircraft having flown a long-duration mission from the continental US. 1/502 was the first American ground force in the region since World War II.
In February 1982, Task Force 1-502 deployed to Panama support of Operation "Kindle Liberty", intended to demonstrate U.S. ability and resolve to defend the Panama Canal in the light of spreading pro-Soviet/Cuban influence in Nicaragua and Central America. The task force deployed on C-5 Galaxy aircraft, 24 flights being enough to move 1/502 Infantry, a battery of 105 mm howitzers, a platoon of engineers, and an aviation package of UH-60 Black Hawk transport helicopters and AH-1S Cobra gunships to Howard Air Force Base in Panama. This marked the first deployment of the UH-60 helicopter to Panama.
Based on its previous Egypt and Panama deployment experiences, 1/502 deployed to Egypt again in September 1982. This time their mission was to enforce the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel by serving on the Sinai Peninsula as part of the Multinational Force and Observers.
May 1984 saw the first major realignment of the division since before Vietnam. The brigades regimentally aligned, with both 1st and 2nd Battalions now coming under 2nd Brigade, and 3rd Battalion reactivating from the assets and personnel of 1-506 Infantry to complete the set. For the first time since Auxerre, France in 1945, the regiment’s three battalions were together under one headquarters, even if the Army wouldn't truly consider it a regiment. At the division reunion that year, long-retired First Sergeant Dovholuk presented the blue silk World War II colors back to 2nd Brigade commander John Herrling. They are still on display in the 2nd Brigade headquarters.
Concurrent with the reflagging within the 101st, the 4th, 5th and 6th Battalions, 502nd Infantry were activated within the Berlin Brigade by reflagging the existing 2nd, 3rd and 4th Battalions, 6th Infantry. This was part of a wider Army plan to regimentally pair units based within the United States with those stationed overseas for battalion rotational purposes. These three battalions, perpetuating the lineages of World War II Companies D, E and F, 502nd PIR, were neither airborne nor air assault. The rotation plan was found to be unworkable and was quietly abandoned.
On 12 December 1985, a chartered airliner carrying 248 members of Task Force 3/502 crashed and exploded after takeoff at Gander, Newfoundland, Canada. Mostly from HHC and A Companies, they were on the final leg returning from six months of peacekeeping duty in the Sinai Peninsula between Egypt and Israel. The official Canadian government report said it was ice buildup on the wings that caused the crash, but other investigators have pointed to signs of an explosion and suggested everything from terrorism to smuggled souvenir ordnance instead. Whatever the reason, it is the deadliest single day in division history by some counts, outdoing both 6 June 1944 and Vietnam’s "Hamburger Hill" battle. LTC Marvin Jeffcoat became the third of the five officers who’d commanded 3/502 to that point to die in command. President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan attended an emotional memorial service on Fort Campbell. Memorials for the fallen were subsequently constructed at Gander Lake, Newfoundland, Canada; near Fort Campbell in Hopkinsville, Kentucky; and on post between Screaming Eagle and Normandy Boulevards.
The "Strike" Brigade moved to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Shield in late summer 1990 to deter a possible Iraqi invasion. During Operation Desert Storm, the 2nd Brigade and 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) cut the enemy’s lines of communications, struck deep into the country, threatened a strike against the capital, and shut off any escape. On 25 February 1991, the "Strike" Brigade participated in the largest helicopter air assault in military history to establish FOB Cobra. The brigade redeployed to Fort Campbell in March 1991.
On July 6, 1993 soldiers of Company C, 6th Battalion, 502nd Infantry landed at Petrovec Airport close to Skopje, Macedonia. It was the first US Army unit to deploy to Macedonia and it was the last deployment of the BBDE outside of Berlin. The reinforced company (additional elements came from HHC BBDE, 42nd Eng Co, D Co (TOW) 6th Bn 502nd, FIST 5th Bn 502nd, 287th MP Co) from the Berlin Brigade was to take part in the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) mission to monitor the Macedonia-Serb border. The operation was named "Able Sentry". Lt. Col. Walter Holton was the commander of the 315 member task force in Macedonia. It was under operational control of the UNPROFOR commander, Danish Brig. Gen. F. Saermark Thomsen.
5th and 6th Battalions drew down and deactivated in Germany, while 4/502 moved to Fort Campbell and cased its colors, the personnel moving to other assignments in the division.
In 1994, the regiment deployed to Panama in support of Operation Safe Passage the repatriation of Cuban refugees. In 1999, 3/502nd Infantry deployed to Panama in support of JOTC (Jungle Operations Training Center), the infantry augmentation of U.S. forces during the draw down of United States military in Panama. In 1999, Alpha Company, 2/502nd Infantry Regiment deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina as the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) for Stabilation Force 6 (SFOR6). This deployment fell under the command of the United Nations. The deployment did not conclude until 2000, after the new year's millennium celebration. In 2001, 2/502 deployed to Kosovo and elements of 3/502 to the Republic of Macedonia, where they participated in a rotation as part of NATO's Kosovo Force.
The 502nd were called on again in 2003, when it headed the 101st's combat air assault into Iraq. Colonel Joe Anderson's brigade was selected to provide light infantry support to the 3d Infantry Division during the 2003 Iraq War It returned a year later having fought in the key battles of Najaf, south Al Hillah, Karbala, and Mosul. It also completed the two longest air assaults in division history. While deployed, the 502nd was instrumental in rebuilding the city of Mosul, Iraq. They formed a city council and held the first free elections in the country since the fall of the regime. Over the subsequent nine months, the regiment rebuilt the city’s hospitals, schools and water system. It also built a regional police force that became the model for the rest of the country. Under the watchful eye of the soldiers from the 502nd, former Iraqi military personnel were paid for their service and the new Iraqi Dinar was introduced. Above all, the regiment fostered a secure environment that allowed the citizens of Mosul to live in a free and safe city which became a beacon of hope throughout Iraq. Upon their redeployment to Fort Campbell, the 502nd underwent transformation as part of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.
The newly formed 2nd Brigade Combat Team deployed again to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in fall 2005 for 12 months. While deployed, the soldiers of the 502nd continued to improve security conditions within their assigned area of operations and began to train Iraqi security forces within Southern Baghdad and the infamous area of Mahamudiyah, Lutafiyah and Yusifiyah. During their deployment, the Strike brigade lost 67 soldiers with numerous injured to combat operations in an area where over 4,200 IEDs were found during their tenure. In March 2006, 5 soldiers participated in the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl. Strike soldiers once again deployed for 13 months in late 2007 north of Baghdad where they continued to train Iraqi security forces while fighting the Jaish al Mahdi paramilitary force.
On 31 August 2016, Clarksville Online reported U.S. soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Strike, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), took charge of a Ranger training program for qualified volunteers from Iraqi security forces at Camp Taji, Iraq. The Ranger training program, led by Company A, 1-502nd, is designed to lay the foundation for a elite Iraqi unit.
In 2010, 2nd Brigade deployed to Kandahar Province, Afghanistan as part of the troop surge into the most unsecured areas. "Strike" Brigade successfully flushed out the Taliban fighters from the birthplace of the Taliban. Strike Brigade continued operations that had begun in late 2009 when TF12 (1-12IN), a detached element from 4-4ID out of Fort Carson, Colorado, became the first American battalion to occupy areas within Zhari District of Kandhar Province. After relieving 1-12IN in place, Strike Brigade breached further into the "green zone", a fertile area that borders the northern bank of the Arghandab river, and held a strategic area of land Taliban fighters had been using for years.
One of the major operations during Strike Brigade's tour was Operation Dragon Strike. Operation Dragon Strike officially launched on 15 September 2010. After a couple of months of fighting, Operation Dragon Strike ended in a coalition victory. The mission of Operation Dragon Strike was to drive insurgent forces from the Arghandab district of the Kandahar Province.
Following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the regiment was transformed and refitted along with the rest of the division. At that time, the 3rd Battalion was again deactivated and the 1st Squadron, 75th Cavalry activated in its place as the Strike Brigade's RSTA (Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition) Squadron. It also adopted 1st of the 320th FAR (Field Artillery Regiment), the 526th BSB (Brigade Support Battalion, consisting of a number of logistical and maintenance personnel), and the 2nd of the 101st Brigade Special Troops Battalion. The BSTB was formerly the 311th Military Intelligence Battalion and reactivated with four companies consisting of engineers, communications and signal, military intelligence, military police, and several other specialized and low-density military occupational specialties. These units were again deployed to Iraq in support of the 4th Infantry Division in September 2005.
The 3rd Battalion received the Army's Valorous Unit Award and Meritorious Unit Citation for the battles in Karbala against Saddam's insurgents attacking 3rd ID's supply lines.
By direction of the Secretary of the Army, the Valorous Unit Award is awarded to:
3D BATTALION, 502D INFANTRY REGIMENT, 101ST AIRBORNE DIVISION
for extraordinary heroism in action:Constituted 14 June 1942 in the Army of the United States as the 502d Parachute Infantry Regiment
1st Battalion concurrently consolidated with the 502d Parachute Battalion (constituted 14 March 1941 in the Army of the United States and activated 1 July 1941 at Fort Benning, Georgia) and consolidated unit designated as the 1st Battalion, 502d Parachute Infantry Regiment.
Regiment (less 1st Battalion) activated 2 March 1942 at Fort Benning, Georgia.Assigned 15 August 1942 to the 101st Airborne Division.
Inactivated 30 November 1945 in France
Re-designated 18 June 1948 as the 502d Airborne Infantry Regiment.
Allotted 25 June 1948 to the Regular Army
Activated 6 July 1948 at Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky
Inactivated 1 April 1949 at Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky
Activated 25 August 1950 at Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky
Inactivated 1 December 1953 at Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky
Activated 15 May 1954 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina
Relieved 25 April 1957 from assignment to the 101st Airborne Division; concurrently reorganized and re-designated as the 502d Infantry, a parent regiment under the Combat Arms Regimental System.
Withdrawn 29 June 1984 from the Combat Arms Regimental System and reorganized under the United States Army Regimental System
World War II:
Normandy (with arrowhead)
Rhineland (with arrowhead)
- Counteroffensive, Phase II
- Counteroffensive, Phase III
- Tet Counteroffensive
- Counteroffensive, Phase IV
- Counteroffensive, Phase V
- Counteroffensive, Phase VI
- Tet 69/Counteroffensive; Summer-Fall 1969
- Winter-Spring 1970
- Sanctuary Counteroffensive
- Counteroffensive, Phase VII
- Consolidation I
- Consolidation II
Operation Iraqi Freedom
- Defense of Saudi Arabia
- Liberation and Defense of Kuwait
Operation Enduring Freedom
- OIF I (Invasion)
- OIF V Northwest Baghdad (troop surge)
- OIF 07-09
Presidential Unit Citation (Army) for NORMANDY
Presidential Unit Citation (Army) for BASTOGNE
Presidential Unit Citation (Army) for AN KHE
Presidential Unit Citation (Army) for DAK TO, VIETNAM 1966
Presidential Unit Citation (Army) for KANDAHAR (Operation Enduring Freedom 10-11)
Valorous Unit Award for QUANG THUONG DISTRICT
Valorous Unit Award for TUY HOA
Valorous Unit Award for NAM HOA DISTRICT
Valorous Unit Award for BA LONG DISTRICT
Valorous Unit Award for KARBALA (3rd Battalion)
Valorous Unit Award for KANDAHAR
Meritorious Unit Commendation (Army) for VIETNAM 1965–1966
Meritorious Unit Commendation (Army) for SOUTHWEST ASIA (1st Battalion only, U.S. Army General Order 1, 31 March 1996 section VIII)
Meritorious Unit Commendation (Army) for AFGHANISTAN 2014
Army Superior Unit Award for 1985 (3rd Battalion)
Army Superior Unit Award for 1993–1994
French Croix de Guerre with Palm, World War II for NORMANDY
Belgian Croix de Guerre 1940 with Palm for BASTOGNE; cited in the Order of the Day of the Belgian Army for action at Bastogne
Belgian Fourragere 1940; Cited in the Order of the Day of the Belgian Army for action in France and Belgium
George Van Horn Moseley, Jr., original commander, on D-Day led the 502 PIR into Normandy
Robert G. Cole, commander of 3rd Battalion, 502nd PIR and Medal of Honor recipient
Joe E. Mann, Private First Class, 502nd PIR, Medal of Honor recipient
Colin Powell commanded 2d Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, which included elements of the 502d, and later became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State under George W. Bush.
Harrison C. Summers, hero of D-Day
Thomas Lowell Tucker and Kristian Menchaca, two soldiers kidnapped and murdered during an attack on a roadside checkpoint on 18 June 2006, in Iraq's Triangle of Death.
Steven Dale Green, murderer and rapist of a 14-year-old girl in Iraq.
Noah Galloway, Purple Heart recipient and amputee that was on cover of Men's Health and Dancing with the Stars.
- OEF X Kandahar (troop surge)