The 101st Airborne Division is the only air assault division in the U.S. Army. Currently based out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, it was activated in 1942 but has a history dating back to the Civil War. Famous for their “screamin’ eagles” nickname, the 101st are known to wear a patch depicting a bald eagle on their left arm. This dates back to Union Army Captain, John E. Perkin’s eagle, Old Abe, whom he brought to 36 battles in the Civil War with the Wisconsin militia. The eagle became an honorary member of the militia and his screech is said to have been heard across the battlefield. Shortly after WWI, the 101st was formed as a reserve unit in Wisconsin and quickly adopted the symbol of Old Abe, the screamin’ eagle. Eventually, the reserve evolved into the air assault division we have today, which played a crucial role in WWII.
Members of the 101st were some of the first Allied soldiers to set foot in occupied France, and they helped orchestrate the occupation of Normandy, on D-Day, by paving the way after parachuting in near Utah Beach. Major General William C. Lee is quoted to have promised his new recruits in 1942 that they had a “rendezvous with destiny,” and the division has never failed to fulfill that promise since. The U.S. Army states “The 101st is recognized for its unmatched Air Assault capability, its ability to execute any combat or contingency mission anywhere in the world, and is still proving its mettle as ‘tomorrow’s division in today’s Army.’” Reserved for outstanding soldiers, the Air Assault program remains one of the army’s most difficult schools to complete with a 55% fail rate.
Following WWII, the division continued to weave in and out of history’s eyes. In the 50s, some division members were sent by Dwight D. Eisenhower to safeguard the Little Rock Nine, a group of African-American students attending high school in Little Rock, Arkansas. The division also sports a famous alumnus by the name of Jimi Hendrix who served for about a year before his honorary discharge from the Army in 1962.
Interested in World War II history?
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