Here Are 7 Things You Need to Know About the 101st Airborne Division

Army photo

How much do you know about the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army?

The only air assault division in the U.S. Army, the 101st Airborne is based out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and has a rich history dating back to World War II (or further, depending on how you view it!).

Check out these seven need-to-know 101st Airborne Division facts:

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.”

Photo credit Courtesy photo

Old Abe and the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment Color Guard in 1863.

2. Why is “Screaming Eagles” the 101st’s Nickname?

The 101st Airborne Division’s “Screaming Eagles” nickname originates from their insignia – a bald eagle on a black shield. The eagle on the patch is called “Old Abe,” named after a bald eagle that was an honorary member of the Wisconsin militia of the Union Army. Capt. John E. Perkins, who owned Old Abe, brought the eagle with him into 36 battles during the Civil War. Supposedly, Abe’s intimidating screech could be heard across the battlefield, thus earning the unit’s title of “screaming eagles.”

3. The 101st Airborne Paved the Way in France During WWII

On June 6, 1944, the Screaming Eagles became some of 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. The 101st Airborne Protected 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 Black students trying to attend classes at Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

5. The 101st Airborne, the “Nomad Unit” and “Hamburger Hill”

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 - the nickname of members of the 187th - 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.

Photo credit Courtesy photo

This image shows soldiers inspecting the damage in the surrounding area of Dong Ap Bia during Operation Apache Snow, May 1969.

“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 the capture of the mountain. It was also a hard-earned victory, leaving more than 300 U.S. soldiers wounded, and 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.

Jimi Hendrix, left, jamming in the Army in 1962 with the 101st Airborne Division.

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.

-This story originally appeared on USO.org in 2017. It has been updated in 2020.

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