How much do you know about the 101st Airborne Division? Learn more about this historic division, from their origin to their role to some surprising celebrity veterans, in our list of 7 things to know below.
1. When the 101st Airborne Division Began
The 101st Airborne Division was activated on August 16, 1942, at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. In his first address to 101st soldiers, commander Maj. Gen. William C. Lee said that though the division had no history, it had “a rendezvous with destiny,” and the division was to be called on when the need was “immediate and extreme.”
2. The Screaming Eagles Nickname
According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the 101st Airborne Division’s Screaming Eagles nickname originates from their insignia – a bald eagle on a black shield. An eagle named Old Abe – in honor of President Abraham Lincoln – was the mascot of a Wisconsin regiment during the Civil War. The 101st Division, which was formed as a reserve unit in Wisconsin shortly after World War I, included Old Abe as part of the division’s insignia.
3. The 101st Airborne in France
On June 6, 1944, the Screaming Eagles became the first Allied soldiers to set foot into occupied France in the Cotentin Peninsula, according to the Army. The division played a major role during D-Day operations by clearing a path for the 4th Infantry Division to land on Utah Beach, and eventually linked the Utah and Omaha beachheads and liberated the city of Carentan.
4. Protecting the Little Rock Nine
In September 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent elements of the 101st Airborne Division to safeguard the Little Rock Nine, a group of African-American students trying to attend classes at Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
5. The “Nomad Unit”
From the U.S. Army: “During the Vietnam War, the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, was known as a “nomad unit,” and its soldiers were routinely placed in enemy hot spots to engage the highly-trained, entrenched forces of the North Vietnamese Army. This hazardous charge would lead the Rakkasans into the treacherous A Shau Valley May 10, 1969, to remove enemy forces from Dong Ap Bia Mountain, or “Hill 937,” during Operation Apache Snow.
“A 12-day ground-battle ensued, with three 101st Infantry battalions and South Vietnamese soldiers forging up the hill against mortar attacks, rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire. The grueling fight ended with more than 500 enemy troops eliminated and capture of the mountain. It was also a hard-earned victory, leaving more than 300 U.S. Soldiers wounded, another 72 killed in action. Of that number, 39 Rakkasans lost their lives. Countless casualties and injuries led the troops to dub Dong Ap Bia ‘Hamburger Hill.’”
6. All-Star Veteran Greg Robinson
In April 2013, Sgt. 1st Class Greg Robinson, 34, a combat engineer assigned to the Company A, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), pinned on his Air Assault badge during a graduation ceremony held at Fort Campbell’s Sabalauski Air Assault School.
Robinson, who lost his lower right leg during a 2006 firefight in Afghanistan, is the first soldier with an amputated limb and prosthetic to complete the Air Assault School, according to school records.
7. Celebrity Alum Jimi Hendrix
Perhaps the most famous 101st Airborne alum is also one of the greatest guitarists ever. Jimi Hendrix served with the 101st for about a year before he was honorably discharged from the Army in 1962. The rest is history.