509th Infantry Regiment (United States)

509th Parachute Infantry Regiment
509th Infantry Regiment

509th Infantry coat of arms
Active 1942–45
Country  United States
Branch  United States Army
Type Airborne forces
Size Two battalions
Part of Joint Readiness Training Center and 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division
Garrison/HQ Fort Polk, Louisiana and Fort Richardson, Alaska
Nickname(s) The Gingerbread Men, Geronimo, "G" Man
Motto(s) All the Way / Geronimo
Colors Black and gold

World War II

Iraq Campaign
LTC Curtis Rowland Jr.
Edson Raff
Doyle Yardley
William P. Yarborough
Distinctive unit insignia
U.S. Infantry Regiments
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The 509th Infantry Regiment is an airborne infantry regiment of the United States Army. Previously titled the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment (509th PIR) was the first parachute infantry unit of the U.S. Army to make a combat jump during World War II. Currently its 1st and 3rd battalions are active. The 1st Battalion serves as the Opposing Force (OPFOR) at the Army's Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana. The 3rd Battalion is assigned to the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, at Fort Richardson, Alaska.


With the advent of World War II, the United States Armed Forces foresaw a need for highly mobile units that the Allies could quickly insert into the theater of battle. The 509th PIR was originally constituted on 14 March 1941 as the 504th Parachute Battalion and activated on 5 October 1941 at Fort Benning, Georgia. The 503rd and 504th Parachute Infantry Battalions were joined together to form the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment on 24 February 1942 at Fort Bragg, NC. The 504th PIB was reorganized and redesignated as the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, and its Companies A, B, and C were redesignated as Companies D, E, and F, respectively, of the 503rd PIR.

In June 1942, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Edson Duncan Raff, the 2nd Battalion, 503rd PIR was detached from the 503rd PIR and sailed to Scotland, becoming the first American parachute unit to go overseas in World War II. It was attached to the British 1st Airborne Division for training, which included mass tactical jumps from C-47 aircraft at 350 feet, extensive night training, and speed marching for 10 miles to and from the training area daily; and on one occasion, marching 32 miles in 11 hours. In summer 1942, Allied forces were completing the task of planning Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, with the 2nd Battalion, 503rd PIR scheduled to take the lead and make the first combat jump.

Operation Torch was the first joint military action undertaken by the Allies in World War II. This was the springboard for the idea, formed by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, of attacking the "soft underbelly of Europe" before attempting a cross-channel attack from England onto mainland Europe. The main objective of Torch was to seize French Northwest Africa and, for political reasons, the Americans would lead operation. The airborne segment of the operation entailed flying 1,500 miles from England to seize two French airfields near Oran.

Just prior to Operation Torch, on 2 November 1942 the battalion was again redesignated, as the 2nd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment. On this momentous day, as C-47s flew over the English countryside, the 509th paratrooper was born.

World War II

The 2-509th PIR carried out the first American combat jump during the invasion of North Africa. The transport planes flew all the way from English airfields to the African coast. This first operation was unsuccessful, with 7 of its 39 C-47s widely scattered. Only 10 aircraft actually dropped their troops, while the others unloaded after 28 troop carriers, nearly out of fuel, landed on the Sebkra d'Oran, a dry lake near their target. The 509th marched overland to occupy its objective, and on 15 November 300 paratroopers successfully dropped on the Youks-les-Bains Airfield.

Forty-six Paratroopers from the 509th participated in the liberation of Ventotene, a small Italian island, on 9 September 1943. The German commander was tricked into surrendering to the weaker American force before realizing his mistake. An account of this is given in John Steinbeck's "Once There Was a War."

Later, the 509th PIR saw two more combat jumps in Italy and Southern France. After landing, they were often used as elite mountain infantry in the Italian mountains and French Alps. Corporal Paul B. Huff, a member of the 509th, was the first American paratrooper awarded the Medal of Honor on 29 February 1944 for action at Anzio, Italy.

On 10 December 1943 the battalion was redesignated as the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion.[1]

During the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944, the 509th fought in Belgium to blunt the German attack. An account of this battle is described in the book "Bloody Clash at Sadzot." The war ended for the 509th at the end of January 1945 near St. Vith, Belgium, with only about 50 remaining unwounded of the original 700 who entered the battle. Effective 1 March 1945 the 509th PIB was disbanded, and the men left were used as replacements for the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division.[2]

Post-World War II

After World War II, the colors of the 509th remained inactive until 1963, when Company A, 509th PIB was reactivated as HHC, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry, and Company B, 509th PIB was reactivated as HHC, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry.

Since 1958 the 8th Infantry Division in Germany had had an Airborne component consisting of the 1st Airborne Battle Group, 504th Infantry, and the 1st Airborne Battle Group, 505th Infantry, as well as other supporting elements on jump status. When the division reorganized from the Pentomic structure to the new structure using brigades and battalions, 1-504th and 1-505th were replaced by 1-509th and 2-509th, respectively. Located at Lee Barracks in Mainz-Gonsenheim, Germany, the two battalions formed the infantry component of the 1st Brigade (Airborne), 8th Infantry Division (Mechanized). Other units of the brigade included the 5th Battalion (Airborne), 81st Artillery; Troop A (Airborne), 3rd Squadron, 8th Cavalry; Company A (Airborne), 12th Engineer Battalion; and Company B (Airborne), 8th Medical Battalion.

In 1973, as the 1st Brigade's jump status was ending, a new unit with the designation of 3rd Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry (bearing the lineage of the World War II-era Company C, 509th PIB) was activated to form an Airborne Battalion Combat Team (ABCT) from elements of the existing airborne forces within the brigade. After a brief training period at Rhine Kaserne Barracks in West Germany, the unit moved to Vicenza, Italy, as a separate Airborne Battalion Combat Team.[3] Commanded by LTC Ward M. Lehardy, it was composed of a Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC), a Combat Support Company (CSC), three Airborne Rifle Companies, and one 105 mm towed Field Artillery Battery. The colors of 1-509th and 2-509th were reflagged as 2-28th and 2-87th. Shortly after its arrival in Italy, the 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry was reflagged as the 1st Battalion, 509th Infantry.

On 1 July 1975 the lineage of Co C, 509th PIB was again reactivated, this time at Fort Rucker, Alabama, as the separate Company C (Pathfinder), 509th Infantry. The company was created by reflagging the existing 5th Infantry Detachment (Pathfinder), which had served at the post since 24 June 1963. (A Pathfinder presence at Fort Rucker can be traced back to about 1960 with the activation of the Pathfinder Team, Company A, 2nd Battle Group, 31st Infantry, to support the Aviation Center.) Contrary to some erroneous accounts, Company C (Pathfinder) 509th Infantry was not created by transferring Company C, 1st Battalion, 509th Infantry from Italy to Fort Rucker; these companies were two separate units. There had already been a Pathfinder presence at Fort Rucker for 15 years. Even if the 5th Infantry Detachment (Pathfinder) had not already existed, the Army would not have reduced the strength of its forward-deployed Airborne Battalion Combat Team in Europe when sufficient manning was available in CONUS. Additionally, the organization and manning of an Airborne Rifle Company is different from that of an Airborne Pathfinder Company.

The size of C-509th varied depending upon funding and mission requirements. For example, documents on file at the United States Army Center of Military History in Washington, DC, indicate that when the company was activated in 1975 by replacing the 5th Infantry Detachment (Pathfinder), it was authorized 4 officers and 108 enlisted soldiers. Documents dated 22 September 1987 show the unit as still having 4 officers authorized but only 77 enlisted soldiers.

In 1983, 1-509th in Italy was reflagged as 4-325th to align it with elements of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg under an Army-wide combat arms battalion rotation program.

The lineage of 1-509th was reactivated provisionally in 1987 to serve as the OPFOR at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. The unit was activated at Little Rock Air Force Base in a formal ceremony on 21 May 1988. The unit was stationed at LRAFB because it provided modern quarters and facilities that Ft. Chaffee lacked, and it deployed on a per-rotation basis to Ft. Chaffee. The unit served and serves as the opposing force for American and Allied light infantry. In June 1993, 1-509th moved along with the Joint Readiness Training Center to Fort Polk, Louisiana. Since moving to Fort Polk, 1-509th PIR has become an elite urban fighting training unit.

On 31 May 1993, the separate Company C (Pathfinder) 509th Infantry at Fort Rucker was reflagged as Company A (Pathfinder) 511th Infantry, reactivating the colors of a unit that had served with the long-inactive 11th Airborne Division and the short-lived (1963–65) 11th Air Assault Division (Test). The era of a Pathfinder unit at Fort Rucker ended on 31 October 1995 when A-511th was inactivated to meet budget cut ceilings.

In May 2004 Companies A and B, with attachments from Troop D of the 1st Battalion, 509th Infantry at Fort Polk deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II. In Iraq they conducted combat patrols in and around the Baghdad area. One member of Troop D received the Silver Star for Valor in combat. Companies A and B and attachments returned in March 2005. During the deployment, Troop D and HHC continued to support JRTC exercises.

Global War on Terror

In mid-2004, after nearly 60 years, 1-509th deployed to Iraq. Alpha and Bravo companies were deployed to the areas surrounding Baghdad.

With the expansion of the Airborne force in Alaska from a single battalion (1-501st) at Fort Richardson, Alaska to a brigade 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, the lineage of Company C, 509th PIB was again reactivated on 16 September 2005 as the 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry, and assigned to the 4th BCT, 25th Infantry Division at Fort Richardson. The battalion deployed with the 4th BCT in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in October 2006. The following is a media release from 10 November 2007, covering the battalion's work during OIF:

KALSU, Iraq — Paratroopers from the 3rd Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment based at Fort Richardson, Alaska have returned home after being deployed in Iraq since early October 2006.

After conducting numerous combat operations to include patrols, raids, and air assault operations with the Iraqi Army and Police, these Paratroopers are ready to stand down for some well-deserved rest, relaxation and getting re-acquainted with their families and friends. Since October 2006, the "Geronimos" from 3-509th Airborne have performed magnificently. During this deployment, the Geronimos were based out of Forward Operating Base Kalsu, located approximately 40 miles (64 km) south of Baghdad in Babil Province. On Christmas Day of 2006, part of the Battalion moved west of Baghdad to Al Anbar Province where they fought with the 1st and 2nd Marine Expeditionary Forces (Forward) against Al Qaeda in Iraq. While providing protection to the local citizens of the area, they were quite effective in helping the local populations create their own civil defense organizations, something that has become a model for success in stemming violence countrywide. During this time, the remaining Paratroopers also operated out of FOB Kalsu and FOB Iskandariyah to achieve similar goals. The Battalion consolidated in June at FOB Kalsu and began concerted efforts to stabilize their area of operation in Babil Province. In the months following, the Geronimos took on the role as a strike force, where they made great strides in fostering reconciliation between Sunnis and Shias in the cities of Haswah and Iskandariyah, and the surrounding areas. Operating “outside the wire”, the paratroopers encountered many obstacles, including firefights with insurgents, improvised explosive devices, car bombs and explosively formed projectiles. They also captured numerous suspects, extremists, and terrorists considered to be high value targets, found a myriad of weapons caches, IED making facilities, al-Qaeda safe houses, and facilities used for detaining and torturing Iraqi citizens by performing countless operations, day and night, on the ground and by air assault. Throughout their deployment, many of the Paratroopers received decorations for valor, achievement, and combat wounds. The 3-509th is part of the 4th BCT (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division also known as the “Spartan Brigade.” After doing a most remarkable job as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, these “Spartans” are looking forward to some quiet time and enjoying the safety and freedom that they have worked so very hard to keep for all American citizens.

In February 2009 the Geronimo battalion deployed as a part of the 4th BCT (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. A portion of the Valorous Unit Award citation is below.

For extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy. During the period 1 July 2009 to 30 November 2009, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3d Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment and its subordinate units displayed extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in the vicinity of East Paktika. The unit conducted a total of 302 combat patrols, and was responsible for 398 enemies killed, as well as the capture of 34 detainees. The company was also responsible for the safety of the populace of East Paktika during Afghan national elections. The unit’s unrelenting perseverance and coordination allowed the unit to advance the struggle against the Taliban and contribute to the political and economic growth and development of the region. Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3d Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment’s outstanding performance of duty is in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflects distinct credit upon the unit, the 25th Infantry Division, and the United States Army.

Significant events


509th Infantry Regiment

Official website:


Campaign participation credit



  1. "509th Infantry Lineage".
  2. "509th Infantry Lineage".
  3. Gal Perl Finkel, How to win a modern war, The Jerusalem Post, September 07, 2016.
  4. Headquarters, 1st Battalion, and 2nd Battalion organic elements concurrently constituted
  5. Barnard, Raymond. "Public Affairs Officer". Fort Polk Guardian. United States Army. Retrieved 22 September 2014.

Doyle, Charles Hugo; Terrell Stewart (1 June 1988). Stand in the Door!: The Wartime History of the 509th Parachute Infantry. Phillips Publications. ISBN 978-0-932572-09-7. Retrieved 31 May 2013. 

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