History of the 509th

The 509th was originally constituted 14 March 1941 as the 504th Parachute Infantry Battalion (PIB) and activated on 5 October 1941 at Fort Benning, GA. In 1942 the unit was reorganized and redesignated as 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR). It was again reorganized and redesignated on 2 November 1942 as 2nd Battalion, 509th PIR (a new 2nd Battalion, 503rd PIR with separate honors and lineage, was formed). Being the only active element of the 509th PIR, the unit was again reorganized and redesignated on 10 December 1943 as the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, a designation it retained for the remainder of the war.


The battalion was the first US airborne unit to ship to England early in 1942, and assigned to the British 1st Airborne Division for further training. The 509th carried out the first US combat drops during the invasion of North Africa (OPERATION TORCH) flying on transport planes all the way from England to the African coast. The first operation was a fiasco, with planes widely scattered. Elements of the battalion later made two more combat jumps as part of the North African campaign and operated as part of the Tunisian Task Force battling back the forces of Erwin Rommel’s famed Afrika Korps.

The 509th’s next operations included a drop behind enemy lines to help save the beachhead during the initial invasion of Italy (OPERATION AVALANCHE) and were later utilized and elite mountain infantry in the Italian mountains. The battalion later spearheaded the amphibious invasion of Anzio (OPERATION SHINGLE). During this campaign, Corporal Paul B. Huff was the first paratrooper to earn the Medal of Honor and the Battalion was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for holding critical ground despite being overrun by a fierce German counter-offensive.

In 1944, the unit was part of the 1st Airborne Task Force for the invasion of Southern France (OPERATION DRAGOON), fighting up along the French coast to the Alps along the French and Italian border.

The 509th saw its final action during the Battle of the Bulge where the battalion fought a desperate battle against 2 elite Panzer Divisions in the small village of Sadzot. Vastly outnumbered, the 509th held their ground earning the units second Presidential Unit Citation. The battalion entered the battle at full strength (about 750 men) but when the unit was pulled from the action in the end of January, only 48 enlisted men and 7 officers were still actively fighting. At this time the unit was disbanded and the men used as replacements for other airborne division.


14 March 1941: Company A, 504th Parachute Battalion was constituted.

5 October 1941: Unit activated at Fort Benning, Georgia.

February 1942: The 504th moved to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for training and became part of one of the Army’s first Parachute Infantry Regiments. The 503rd and 504th Parachute Infantry Battalions were joined together to form the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, with the 504th being renamed Company D, 503rd Parachute Infantry on 24 February 1942.

June 1942: As an independent battalion, the 503rd sailed to Scotland becoming the first American parachute unit to go overseas in World War Two. It was attached to the British 1st Airborne Division for training, which included the lowest altitude mass parachute jump in history, exiting the aircraft at 143 feet.

2 November 1942: As the 503rd was staging for Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, it was reorganized and re-designated Company D, 509th Parachute Infantry.

8 November 1942: Operation Torch
The 509th spearheaded the Allied invasion of North Africa with the longest Airborne operation. 556 paratroopers of the 509th, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Edson Duncan Raff, took off from England to jump into French Northwest Africa in the initial step to liberate Europe from German occupation. After a C-47 flight of over 1600 miles from England, the battalion seized Tafarquay Airport in Oran, Algeria by parachute assault.

15 November 1942: Operation Torch
One week later, after repacking their own chutes the battalion conducted their second combat jump to secure the airfield at Youk-Les-Bains near the Tunisian border. In spite of the injuries sustained on his earlier jump, Lieutenant Colonel Raff, the 509th Battalion Commander, led this mission as well. From this base the battalion conducted combined operations with various French forces against the German Afrika Korps in Tunisia. One unit, the 3rd Regiment of Zouaves (French Algerian Infantry), awarded their own Regimental Crest as a gesture of respect to the American Paratroopers. This badge was awarded to the battalion commander on 15 November 1942 by the 3rd Zouaves’ Regimental Commander, and is worn today by all members of the 509th Infantry.

26 December 1942: El Djem
After several attempts by the air corps to destroy the rail bridge in El Djem by the air, the 509th was handed an impossible mission of destroying the bridge critical to the German supply line. Some were opposed to the suicide mission, especially Colonel Raff. But on the night of December 26th thirty-six 509 paratroopers took off in 3 C-47’s for the nearly hopeless goal. After a precarious drop with missing men and critical equipment, the remaining men conducted gorilla warfare attacks over a period of two weeks on German forces in the area and eventually returned back to Allied lines with only 7 survivors.

December 1942 to June 1943: the 509th trained in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco in preparation for the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943. During the invasion of Sicily, the 509th was attached to the 82nd Airborne Division, but was held in division reserve and saw no action in that campaign.

September 1943: Operation Avalanche
The invasion of Italy began with the amphibious assault at Salerno. The 509th was initially in reserve with the 82nd Airborne Division in Sicily until the beachhead was in danger. While the 82nd dropped inside American lines to reinforce the beachhead, the 509th was assigned the mission of cutting enemy supply lines behind the German defensive positions. The 509th launched its third parachute assault at Avellino, Italy, only to find the DZ occupied the night before by the 6th German Armored Panzer Division. The 509th operated independently for some two weeks behind German lines in company and platoon size elements disrupting the German rear area. Separate units scrounged for food and water among the Italian civilians until the unit finally reassembled in Salerno on 28 September 1943. Total casualties were 123 killed or captured including the 509th commander and his entire staff.

10 December 1943: The battalion was reorganized and re-designated as Company A, 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, and recognized as an independent unit. During this period, October through December 1943, the battalion operated with Darby’ s Rangers, and fought as Mountain Infantry in the high ground above Venafro, Italy.

21 January 1944: The 509th’s next operation was an amphibious assault (represented by the fifth arrowhead on the unit crest) at Anzio, Italy. Still operating with Darby’s Rangers, the 509th was in the first assault wave of the invasion force. The Rangers sent two battalions against an elite German Armored Division on the beachhead, while the 509th was assigned a critical defensive position, which they held despite heavy losses. For its heroic actions in stopping the desperate German counterattack at Carano, Italy, the 509th was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, the first parachute unit so honored. In addition to the battalion award of 29 February, Charlie Company won a second Presidential Unit Citation for a night attack on 14 March, and Corporal Paul B. Huff became the first paratrooper to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

15 August 1944: Operation Dragoon
After Anzio, the 509th conducted its fourth parachute assault and fifth combat assault spearheading the attack by the First Airborne Task Force at Le Muy, in southern France (also known as the Champaign Campaign).

December 1944: The 509th was attached to the 101st Airborne Division in time for the Battle of the Bulge. In another defensive mission, against incredible odds, the 509th held out from 22 to 30 December at Sadzot, Belgium, against two Panzer Grenadier Battalions, both elite German mechanized infantry units, and earned the battalion its second Presidential Unit Citation.

January 1944: Tasked with an offensive mission, the 509th advanced in the hills of St. Vith, Belgium, capturing and holding critical high ground for the passage of the 7th Armored Division. After the action, which left only seven officers and forty-eight enlisted men in the entire battalion of over 700, the 509th fell victim to reorganization again.

1 March 1945: Toward the end of World War Two, separate Parachute Infantry Battalions were no longer considered necessary, and the 509th was disbanded with the survivors and returning wounded being sent to the 82nd or 13th Airborne Divisions as replacements.

The 509th remained inactive for nearly two decades following WWII. However, on 1 April 1963 the unit was resurrected as the 509th Infantry Regiment (Airborne/Mechanized), a parent regiment under the Combat Arms Regimental System, with two battalions assignment to the 8th Infantry Division stationed at Lee Barracks in West Germany, the front lines of the Cold War.

In 1973 the two battalions were combined into one and redesignated 1st Battalion (ABN) 509th Infantry (Battalion Combat Team). The unit was relieved from their assignment to the 8th Infantry Division and moved to Vicenza, Italy with the distinction as the only airborne unit stationed in Europe.

On 1 July, 1975, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3d Battalion, 509th Infantry, was redesignated Company C, 509th Infantry, and activated at Fort Rucker, Alabama to fill the requirement for a company sized Airborne/Pathfinder unit to support the United States Army Aviation Center.

On 1 July 1983, the 509th ABCT was reflagged as 4th Battalion, 325th Infantry to better reflect units already assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. This action left C Company, 509th Infantry (Airborne/Pathfinder) as the only remaining unit of the Regiment.

On 18 December 1987 the Headquarters for the 509th was transferred to the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command and organized at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas and 1/509th (ABN) Infantry Regiment was reactivated to serve as Opposition Force (OPFOR) for the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.

On 31 May 1993 both battalions (1/509 at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas and 3/509 at Fort Rucker, Alabama) were inactivated and the regiment was withdrawn from the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command. In June, the JRTC moved to Fort Polk, Louisiana.

On 15 January 1994, 1/509 was activated and began duties as the permanent OPFOR at Fort Polk. As OPFOR, the Geronimos play the role of enemy forces to provide realistic training and situations to light infantry and special operation forces while operating in combat conditions. Elements of the Battalion also deployed to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004.

One decade later, 3rd Battalion was once again activated on 10 September 2004 as Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3d Battalion, 509th Infantry. The battalion was assigned 16 September 2005 to the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, and activated at Fort Richardson, Alaska as part of the only airborne brigade in the Pacific Theater. Since it’s activation, 3/509 has deployed several times to Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the Global War on Terror and has served with bravery and distinction in the finest traditions of the 509th solider.


  • Campaigns of WWII

    Algeria-French Morocco  
    Southern France 
    = Campaign Arrowheads
  • Lineage of the 509th