Hand color tinted photo of 101st Airborne 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment
The 506th Infantry Regiment is a unit assigned to the 4th Brigade Combat Team (BCT) of the 101st Airborne Division. During World War II, the unit was designated the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (506th PIR).
In recent times, the regiment gained widespread recognition by virtue of the 2001 HBO miniseries Band of Brothers.
World War II
The regiment was initially formed at Camp Toccoa, Georgia in 1942 where it earned its nickname, “Currahees”, after Currahee Mountain which is located inside the boundaries of the camp. The Cherokee word, which translates to “Stand Alone”, also became the unit’s motto. Members of the unit also wear the spade (?) symbol on the helmet outer and the Screaming Eagle badge (indicating membership of the 101st) on the left sleeve. During World War II, the only commander of the regiment was Colonel Robert F. Sink. As such, the 506th was sometimes referred to as the “Five-Oh-Sink”. On June 10, 1942, the 506th became part of the 101st Airborne Division.
At the completion of their training at Camp Toccoa, Col. Sink read an article in Reader’s Digest about how a unit in the Japanese Army broke the world record for marching. Col. Sink thought his men could do better than that, and as a result, the 2nd Battalion marched 118 miles (190 km) to Atlanta, Georgia. This march was conducted over 75 hours and 15 minutes, with 33.5 hours being used for marching. Only 12 out of 556 enlisted men failed to complete the march. All 30 officers completed it, including their commander, then-Major Robert L. Strayer. Newspapers covered the march and many civilians turned out to cheer the men as they neared Five Points.
The 506th would participate in three major battles during the war: D-Day, Operation Market Garden, and the Battle of the Bulge. (They would have participated in Operation Varsity, which would have been three combat jumps, but SHAEF decided to use the 17th Airborne instead.)
D-Day: Operation Overlord
Like almost all paratroop units, the 506th was widely scattered during the Operation Chicago night drop on the morning of D-Day. The most famous action for the 506th on D-Day was the Brécourt Manor Assault. Although promised they would be in battle for just 3 days, the 506th did not return to England for 33 days, participating in the battle for Carentan. Of about 2000 men who jumped into France, 231 were killed in action, 183 were missing or POWs, and 569 were wounded — about 50% casualties for the Normandy campaign.
Operation Market Garden
The airborne component of Operation Market Garden, Operation Market was composed of American units (101st Airborne Division, the 82nd Airborne Division, and the IX Troop Carrier Command), British units (1st Airborne Division) and Polish units (1st Independent Parachute Brigade). The airborne units were dropped near several key bridges along the axis of advance of the ground forces, Operation Garden, with the objective of capturing the bridges intact in order to allow a deep penetration into German occupied Holland and to capture the key bridge crossing the Rhine river at Arnhem.
The 101st Airborne was assigned five bridges just north of the German defensive lines northwest of Eindhoven. The parachute drop was in daylight resulting in well targeted and controlled drops into the designated drop zones. The 101st captured all but one bridge, the one at Son which was destroyed with explosives by the German defenders as the airborne units approached the bridge. The ground forces of XXX Corps linked up with elements of the 101st Airborne on the second day of operations but the advance of the ground forces was further delayed while engineers erected a Bailey Bridge at Son replacing the destroyed bridge. XXX Corps then continued its advance into the 82nd Airborne area of operations where it was halted just shy of Arnhem due to German counter attacks along the length of the deep penetration.
The 101st Airborne continued to support XXX Corps advance during the remainder of Operation Market Garden with several running battles over the next several days.
The Battle of the Bulge
The unit was directly involved in the Battle of the Bulge in December, 1944-January, 1945. While resting and refitting in France after Operation Market Garden, General Eisenhower called upon the 101st Airborne on December 16 to be moved into the Belgian town of Bastogne by December 18, so that the Germans would not gain access to its important crossroads. The short notice of a move left the unit short of food, ammunition, arms, men, and winter clothing. The unit, along with the rest of the 101st Airborne, was encircled immediately. The 506th was sent to the eastern section of the siege. During the siege, there were reports of problems with tying in the gap in between the 501st PIR and the 506th. To stall the Germans so that the defense could be set up, the first battalion of the 506th (along with Team Desobry from the 10th Armored Division) was sent out to combat and slow down the Germans in the towns of Noville and Foy. One third (about 200 men) of the battalion was destroyed, but in the process had taken out 30 enemy tanks and inflicted 500-1000 casualties. The battalion was put into reserve and the 2nd and 3rd battalions were put on the lines. A supply drop on December 22 helped to some extent. After the Third Army broke the encirclement, the 506th stayed on the line and spearheaded the entire offensive by liberating Foy and Noville in January, until being transferred to Haguenau. They were pulled off the line in late February 1945.
The rest of the war
The unit was put back on the line on April 2, and continued for the rest of the war, taking light casualties. It assisted in the encirclement of the Ruhr Pocket and the capture of Berchtesgaden, then took up occupational duties in Zell am See, Austria. The 506th began training to be redeployed to the Pacific theater but the war ended in August 1945.
The 506th was inactivated in 1945, then re-activated as the 506th Airborne Infantry Regiment in 1948–1949, again in 1950–1953 and finally, in 1954 to train recruits. Despite the designation “Airborne Infantry” and its continuing assignment in the 101st Airborne Division, none of these troops received airborne training, nor was the “Airborne” tab worn above the Divisional patch.
The colors of the 101st were reactivated as a combat division in 1956 under the Pentomic structure, which eliminated infantry regiments and battalions in favor of five battle groups per division. The colors of Company A, 504AIR were reactivated as HHC, 1st Airborne Battle Group, 506th Infantry, the only active element of the 506th. Just before the Cuban Missile Crisis, on October 1, 1962, 1-506th was deployed to Oxford, Mississippi to assist in restoring order after James Meredith arrived to integrate the University of Mississippi.
The Pentomic structure was abandoned in 1964 in favor of brigades and battalions, and the 1st ABG, 506th Infantry was reorganized and redesignated as 1st Battalion (Airborne), 506th Infantry. Additionally, the lineage of Co. B, 506AIR was reactivated as HHC, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 506th Infantry. Both battalions were part of the 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, which was deployed to Vietnam from late 1967 to 1971. 1-506th was recognized for its role during the Tet Offensive in early 1968 and the Battle of Hamburger Hill in May 1969 together with 2-506th, during the battle of FSB Ripcord.
On 1 April 1967 the colors of the former Company C, 506AIR were reactivated at Fort Campbell as HHC, 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry. Assigned to the 1st Brigade, it served in Vietnam and was inactivated at Fort Campbell on 31 July 1972.
The division, to include the battalions of the 506th, was reorganized as Airmobile in 1968, later renamed Air Assault in 1974. During the Vietnam War, five soldiers from the 506th were awarded the Medal of Honor.
When the 101st was reformed in 1972 at Fort Campbell, (after its return from Vietnam), the first battalion was the only active unit of the regiment. 1/506th was part of the 2nd brigade. The battalion deployed to various training missions across the United States. In 1980, for example, deployments included Ft.Drum, New York, Camp Grayling, Michigan and Ft. Polk, LA. In addition, C company was detached to the 1st battalion, 502nd Infantry, in September to “round out” that unit when it deployed to the Sinai for peacekeeping duties. (This unit was the first U.S. forces deployed to the middle east since the end of World War II). Its colors were inactivated on 5 June 1984 when all of the infantry battalions of the brigade were reflagged as elements of the 502nd Infantry. The battalion was reactivated on 16 March 1987 as part of the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division in Korea, by reflagging an existing infantry battalion at Camp Greaves. It was later reorganized as an Air Assault battalion.
In 2004, 1-506th was deployed from Korea to Habbaniyah, Iraq. Instead of returning to Korea, the 2nd Brigade relocated to the United States in August 2005, and the battalion’s colors were returned to the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell as the division reorganized to include a 4th Brigade Combat Team. This reorganization also led to the reactivation of 2-506th as an additional component of the same brigade, and shortly thereafter the division returned to Iraq.
The first battalion (1-506) deployed to Ramadi, Al-Anbar Province, Iraq, from November 2005 until November 2006 under Lieutenant Colonel Ronald P. Clark. HHC (Hellcats), A Co. (Able), C Co. (Gunfighters), D Co. (Death Dealers) and elements of E Co. 801st BSB (Wrench) occupied Camp Corregidor, the main FOB. A Co., C Co. and D Co. were tasked with missions, mounted in M-1114 HMMWV’s and on foot in the “Mulaab” District of Ramadi. Alpha company occupied the Combat Outpost, which shared the facility with the HHC medical aid station (Voodoo), elements of E Co. 801st BSB (Wrench), and a platoon of Sappers from C Co. 876 En Bn out of 2nd Brigade, 28th Division, Pennsylvania National Guard. A Co. was tasked with operations ranging from the North of FOB Corregidor to the Euphrates River. B Co. (Outlaw), was posted 7 kilometers to the East of the Corregidor FOB at OP Trotter, with a separate mission of protecting the most vulnerable part of the MSR (Main Supply Route) leading into Ramadi, and the occupation of “OP Graveyard”, an isolated and abandoned cemetery to the south of the MSR. Time magazine described Ramadi during this time as “The Most Dangerous Place.” During this time, Forward Observers from Task Force 1-506 claimed the honor of the first use of a GMLRS (Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System) in combat.
The second battalion (2-506) deployed to Forward Operating Base Falcon in South Baghdad, cross attached to 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division from November 2005 until November 2006 under Lieutenant Colonel Gregory Butts. During the Baghdad clearance operations that set the stage for the Iraq War troop surge of 2007 under General David Petraeus, the 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry conducted the first deliberate clear-hold-build operation in the Doura Market as part of Operation Together Forward II under Multi-National Division – Baghdad (MND-B). Careful examination of their TTPs (Techniques, Tactics, and Procedures) for this combined, joint operation with the Iraqi National Police and Iraqi Police resulted in the emulation of their tactics for similar operations across Baghdad for the next six months, a temporary measure until surge forces could arrive and set up Joint Security Stations (JSS).
As of early 2008 the 4th Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 101st Airborne Division (the 1-506th and 2-506th being part of that brigade), deployed in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. 1st Battalion was deployed to the Ghazni, Wardak, and Western Paktika Provinces. Much of the fighting was with insurgents that have attempted to interdict the main highway that runs from Kabul in the north to Kandahar in the south. One unit known as the Shamsheer team part of the OCCP was widely used in collecting intel, finding high valued targets and locating caches with the Afghan soldiers that the team trained. The 2nd Battalion was deployed primarily in the Khost regions, with elements serving in eastern Paktika and Kandahar provinces. The 2nd Battalions Delta Company (“Dog Company”), served in some of the most brutal fire fights of the deployment, losing 7 soldiers during rotation. The 506th returned to Ft. Campbell in March 2009.
Notable members of the 506th
World War II
Donald Burgett, of Company A, fought from Normandy to the end of the war. He wrote four books on his time in the company.
Sergeant Joseph Beyrle, of Company I, fought for US and Russian forces.
Colonel Robert F. Sink, regimental commander for all of WWII.
Easy Company First Lieutenant Lynn “Buck” Compton, officer with Company E during WWII and chief prosecutor in the case of Sirhan Sirhan. He has published a book called “Call of Duty: My Life before, during and after the Band of Brothers”.
Staff Sergeant William “Wild Bill” Guarnere, a colorful noncom of Company E who maintains a website devoted to the history of the 506th.
Second Lieutenant Carwood Lipton, company first sergeant, later promoted to 2nd Lieutenant via battlefield commission.
Technical Sergeant Donald Malarkey, non-commissioned officer, served in Easy Company for the entire war. He has published a book called “Easy Company Soldier”.
Captain Lewis Nixon, intelligence officer and close friend of Major Richard Winters Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Sobel, initial commanding officer.
Lieutenant Colonel Ronald Speirs, took command of Company E during their assault on Foy, Belgium in January 1945. Final commanding officer. Went on to become commandant of Spandau Prison.
Private First Class David Webster, a rifleman and diarist of Company E whose book “Parachute Infantry” deals in detail with the 506th.
Major Richard Winters, started out as a platoon leader in Company E. Was made company commander when the commander’s plane was shot down on D-Day. He was made 2nd Battalion Executive Officer at the end of Operation Market Garden in October 1944. Ended the war as commander of 2nd Battalion. He published a memoir of his war service (“Beyond Band of Brothers”) and has also been the subject of a biography (“Biggest Brother”).