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Regimental History - 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment (1942 - 1946)

The 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) was activated at Camp Blanding, Florida in 1942 under the command of LTC Roy E. Lindquist. COL Lindquist remained in command of and led the regiment in combat throughout the hostilities in Europe and relinquished command of the regiment to LTC Otho E. Holmes in December, 1945.

The regiment organized and conducted basic training at Camp Blanding until it was relocated to Fort Benning, GA on February 5, 1943. Basic airborne training commenced immediately and the regiment successfully completed this phase of its training and moved on to Camp Mackall, NC where it closed into its new home on March 25, 1943. From that period of time until December 19, 1943, the regiment conducted advanced and specialized training as well as spending six weeks on the famous Tennessee maneuvers.
508th PIR Recruits - Camp Blanding, October 1942
Jump School Instructors, Ft. Benning
Commo School, Camp MacKall
Camp Shanks, NY was the next and shortest stop (December 20 - 29, 1943) for the Red Devils. On December 29, the regiment boarded the US Army ship James Parker bound for northern Ireland. After an uneventful crossing of the Atlantic, the James Parker docked at Belfast, Ireland on January 8, 1944.

After a short two month stay in Ireland, the regiment was once again on the move, this time to England and what was to become their home base and rear detachment until the cessation of hostilities in Europe. The regiment closed on Wollaton Park located on the outskirts of Nottingham, England on March 13, 1944. The regiment set up housekeeping and commenced training for what they knew would be their part in the invasion of Europe. Hard field training, parachute jumps and live fire exercises kept the Red Devils busy. Even so, there was time to visit the city of Nottingham and its citizens. The troopers of the 508th were warmly welcomed by the citizens of Nottingham and many warm and lasting friendships were established which remain in effect today. Many troopers still remember their visits to the Heart and Hand, the Jolly Higgler and The Admiral Rodney Pubs with fondness.
Briefing at Normandy Drop. LTC Harrison, unidentified CPT & COL Lindquist
Coffee & doughnuts before Normandy jump
Adjusting harnesses before Normandy jump
On May 29, the troopers were informed by their respective commanders that the invasion was immanent and the camp was sealed. Subsequently, the regiment was moved to three departure airfields, one of which was Folkingham. There the troopers were issued the necessary gear and detailed planning commenced to insure that all concerned knew their DZ, objectives, pass word and the many other factors involved in such an undertaking. Finally, on the evening of June 5, the regiment embarked on the invasion of Europe and initial elements landed on French soil at 0215 hours June 6, 1944.

In general, the mission of the 82nd was to drop astride the Merderet River, clear the western portion of the beachhead area between the sea and the Merderet from the Douve River north to Ste. Mere-Eglise, and establish a bridgehead on the west bank of the Merderet. The 505th was to capture Ste. Mere-Eglise, secure the crossings of the Merderet near laFiere and Chef-du-Pont, and establish a defensive line north from Neuville-au-Plain to Breuzeville-au-Plain to tie in with the 502d Parachute Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division. The 507th and 508th, dropping west of the river, were to consolidate the two 505th bridgeheads and push out a defensive line about three miles westward, anchored on the south at the crossroads just west of Pont l'Abbe and thence extending north in an arc through Beauvais. Both regiments would be prepared to attack west on order.

Both the 507th and 508th were widely scattered over the Normandy countryside and were unable to muster their forces in strength in order to occupy the west bank of the river in force. The drop zones lay in the triangle at the confluence of the Douve and Merderet Rivers - an area of about twelve square miles, and along the outer perimeter of the VII Corps planned beachhead. The presence of the enemy in the scheduled drop zones prevented the pathfinders from marking them, and the pilots of the two regimental serials, looking in vain for the markers, in most cases delayed flashing the jump lights until they had overshot the zones. Dropped in the swamp lands along the river the heavily laden troopers were absorbed with the basic problem of assembling and tended to collect along the embankment of the main railroad from Cherbourg to Carentan, both because it was high ground and because it was a recognizable terrain feature. Gathering in small groups the troopers continued to fight.

Perhaps the most significant action involving a number of Red Devils occurred at Hill 30. Elements of the 508th, amounting to about two companies of men under the command of LTC Thomas J. B. Shanley, commanding officer of the 2d Battalion, were the most important of at least four groups of paratroopers who assembled west of the Merderet, but who for the most part, being forced to fight for survival, could contribute little toward carrying out planned missions. Dropped near Picauville, LTC Shanley gathered a small force of troopers - too small to proceed with his mission of destroying the Douve bridge at Pont l'Abbe. He tried during the day to join other groups in the vicinity with whom he had radio contact, but under constant enemy pressure he was unable to effect a junction until late in the day. It had then become apparent to him that he was engaged with an enemy force of at least battalion strength, and he decided to withdraw to the battalion assembly area on Hill 30. In fact, the Germans, elements of the 1057th Regiment, had been pushing eastward in this area most of the day under orders to counterattack in order to wipe out American parachutists west of the Merderet. Once he was firmly established on Hill 30, he formed a valuable outpost against continuing German attacks and a few days later would be in position to contribute substantially to establishing the Merderet bridgehead. For LTC Shanley's success three enlisted men have received a large share of the credit. The were CPL Ernest T. Roberts, PVT Otto K. Zwingman, and PVT John A. Lockwood who, while on outpost duty in a building at Haut Gueutteville, observed the forming of a German counterattack by an estimated battalion of infantry with tank support. They stayed at their posts holding off the enemy attack for two hours and allowing the main body of Shanley's force to establish an all-around defense at Hill 30.
Saint Marcouf, Normandy - June 1944
CPT Johnson with Frenchman, St. Marcouf - June 1944
The 508th continued to regroup and consolidate and remained in contact with German forces until relieved on July 7 when they became the division reserve force. On July 13, they were transported back to England via two LST's and returned to their station at Wollaton Park. Of the 2056 troops who participated in the D-Day landings, only 995 returned. The regiment suffered 1061 casualties, of which 307 were killed in action.

Once at Wollaton Park, a leave rotation was instituted. At this time the regiment began to receive replacements, reequip, and training once again commenced. This phase continued until early September when the regiment was alerted for and began preparations to participate in Operation Market Garden.

September 17 saw the Red Devils in the sky over Holland at 1327 hours as part of a massive Allied airborne invasion designed to shorten the war in Europe. The regiment quickly assembled upon landing and moved out to secure their assigned objectives. The following day, September 18, 1SG Leonard A. Funk, Jr., led elements of Co. C in a fierce counterattack to clear the LZ of attacking Wehrmacht infantry and anti-aircraft artillery to allow the landing of reinforcing gliderborne troopers and artillery of the 319th, 320th and 456th FA Battalions. For his actions, 1SG Funk received the Distinguished Service Cross.

The picture at left depicts the actions of 1SG Funk on the LZ on September 18, 1944. The painting is by James Dietz, a noted military artist. The painting was unveiled on November 23, 1999 at Caserma Ederle, Vicenza, Italy and is currently displayed in the Battalion Headquarters Building. Following 1SG Funk in the painting is Dr. John Hardie and Mr. James Smith who were Co. C Red Devil veterans in attendance at the unveiling ceremony. The regiment remained in contact with German troops and experienced heavy combat due to counterattacking German units until relieved by the 504th Regiment on the evening of September 24, at which time the regiment was placed in Division Reserve.

On September 29, 1944, the 3rd Battalion was placed under Division control as Division Reserve at 0110 hours, and the 2nd Battalion relieved a battalion of the 504th PIR in the Voxhil area. At the same time, the 1st Battalion of the 508th went into position immediately to the rear of the 2nd Battalion. At 2400 hours an extremely heavy artillery barrage commenced followed by an infantry and armor supported attack. Heavy fighting occurred with the right platoon of Company E being forced back approximately seven hundred yards. Company F counterattacked and restored the original position by 0430 hours, September 30, 1944.

On the night of October 5-6, the regiment was relieved by the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment. On October 6, the regiment, with the 319th FA Battalion, Company D, 307th Engineer Battalion and Battery B, 80th AAAT Battalion moved to the vicinity of Bemmel, Holland and was attached to the 53rd British Division at 1200 hours on October 7 where it maintained a defensive position. On October 28 the regiment was sent to Nijmegen where it rested until 2 November and then relieved the 231st Brigade (British) in the Bemmel area. On November 10, the regiment was relieved by a British Brigade and the regiment reverted to the control of the 82d Airborne Division once again. They immediately closed to Nijmegen and ultimately to Camp Soissons, France on November 14th.
Destroyed Gernam field piece, Holland - Sept. 1944
Home away from home, Holland - Sept. 1944
The 508th contributions during Operation Market Garden cannot be overstated. The regiment established and maintained a defensive position along the main line of resistance over twelve thousand yards in length, with enemy on three sides of the position. They seized Bridge #10 and prevented its destruction. Elements of the regiment destroyed the apparatus for the demolition of the Nijmegen Bridge across the Wall River, thus making possible the successful completion of the major Division mission.

The regiment seized, occupied, organized and defended the Berg EN Dalkamp Hill mass, terrain which controlled the Groesbeek-Nijmegen area. They cut Highway K, preventing the movement of enemy reserves, or escape of enemy along this important international route.

Last, but not least, the regiment withstood and repulsed the major enemy efforts at Wyler and Beek to penetrate the Division position and assault units to the north. While accomplishing these missions, the regiment captured 483 prisoners. During this period of combat the regiment suffered 139 KIA, 479 WIA, and 178 MIA. No Red Devils were captured by the enemy.

On December 16th the Germans smashed through the thin US screen in the Ardennes. SHAEF reserve forces were alerted. The 101st was sent into Bastogne to try and hold the southern shoulder of the penetration while the 82d was ordered to Werbomont to pinch in the northern shoulder.

The 508th moved on December the 18th and by the 19th had set up positions in the vicinity of Chevron. The regiment held positions against the Germans until the 24th at which time they were ordered to withdraw to establish a new line of resistance. The regiment remained in contact until January 3, 1945 when the Division counterattack with the regiment in reserve.

On January 7 the regiment launched an attack through the 504th in the vicinity of Thier- du-Mont where it suffered heavy casualties. The regiment was withdrawn from the line and placed in reserve until January 21 when it replaced elements of the 2d Infantry Division.

On January 24th the regiment was placed in Corp reserve, but was back in action on January 26th and continued engagements until February 22. It was during this period of time that 1SG Funk again distinguished himself by gallantry in action near Holzheim, Belgium. On January 29, 1945, 1SG Funk encountered a group of the enemy holding American troopers prisoner. When ordered to surrender he pretended to comply and began to slowly unsling his sub-machine gun from his shoulder - then with lighting motion brought the muzzle into line and riddled the German officer. He turned upon the other Germans, firing and shouting to the Americans to seize the enemy's weapons. In the ensuing fight, twenty-one Germans were killed, many wounded and the remainder captured. For his heroism in this action 1SG Funk was awarded the Medal Of Honor by President Harry S. Truman.

On February 22, The Regiment moved back to Camp Sissonne where it became part of SHAEF reserve. The regiment performed maintenance, trained and refitted.

On April 5 the regiment was relieved from attachment to the 82d Airborne Division and placed under the direct control of First Allied Airborne Army. The regiment moved to Chartres with a contingency mission to liberate POW camps in Germany by airborne assault if the situation demanded. The 508th remained at Chartres until late May, 1945. After a brief stay at Sissonne, the 508th was moved to Frankfort-Am-Main for occupation duty and served as guard to General Eisenhower's SHAEF Headquarters. In December 1945, LTC Otho E. Holmes assumed command of the regiment.
VE Day - Chartes, France
Sec. of War Stimpson and General Eisenhower review the 508th Honor Guard Frankfurt, 1945
The 508th remained on occupation duty in Frankfurt until November, 1946 when it was transported as a unit to Camp Kilmer, NJ and deactivated on November 25, 1946.
508th PIR Troops on board ship in New York Harbor - November 1946
 
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