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A Rendezvous with Destiny: The 101st Airborne Division Screaming Eagles

The 101st during Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan.

The Army’s 101st Airborne Division is the first unit to fire shots in battle, the first to land onto enemy-occupied soil, and has been a part of some of our wars’ bloodiest and longest fights.

As the only Air Assault Division in the world, the 101st Airborne Division, a unit of the Army, pride themselves as a unit often requested at the front lines. The unit can mobilize thousands of soldiers quickly and are trusted to reach the front.

The 101st Airborne bald eagle insignia.
The 101st Airborne bald eagle insignia.
They get the nickname Screaming Eagles from the bald eagle on their insignia.

One of the most highly decorated units in the Army, the 101st started as an airborne unit made up of a fleet of airplanes, paratroopers, and gliders. The unit then moved from an airmobile unit to finally an air assault unit. This means the unit went from using airplanes to helicopters. The 101st stopped parachuting in 1968.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower with the Screaming Eagles right before they jumped into France.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower with the Screaming Eagles right before they jumped into France.

Operation Overlord

Originally activated at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana on August 16, 1942, the 101st Airborne Division currently resides at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. In 1942, the unit began training and two years later the Screaming Eagles were the first allies to land in German-occupied France. Shortly after midnight on June 6, 1944, the 101st Airborne Division landed on the beaches of Normandy, France in order to secure Germany’s secondary beach defenses, secure causeway exits, and capture the bridges. The 101st’s mission was to the secure area before ground groups came in on D-Day. Fog and enemy fire threw off the airplanes’ formation and many members of the Screaming Eagles missed their drop-points. The 101st Airborne Division lost 1,500 men to death or capture while they attempted to reassemble at their original meeting points. They called the plan Operation Neptune.

Band of Brothers

506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) E-Company or Easy-Company were not officially a part of the 101st Airborne Division, but were attached. The unit, now famously called Band of Brothers, jumped on Utah Beach during Operation Overlord. The name came from a book written by Stephen Ambrose in 1992 about the men who fought on D-Day. The book was adapted into a highly acclaimed HBO miniseries.

Battle of the Bulge

The 101st Airborne Division also played a big part in another costly battle of WWII—Battle of the Bulge. On December 16, 1944, the Germans made a last ditch effort to reoccupy France. The Screaming Eagles defended Bastogone and the allies came out from the Battle of the Bulge victorious. Winston Churchill described the battle as “…undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war.” It was WWII worst and biggest battle. The official count of casualties from the Battle of the Bulge is 80,987.

Other WWII brave efforts of the 101st Airborne Division include liberating Landsberg concentration camp and Hitler’s vacation home, Bertchtesgaden. The 101st suffered 2,043 deaths in WWII, had 1,590 soldiers missing in action, and another 2,782 injured. During WWII, the unit in total received 2 Medals of Honor, 47 Distinguished Service Crosses, 1 Distinguished Service Medal, 12 Legion of Merit, 516 Silver Stars, and 6,977 Bronze Stars for their efforts during the war.

Hamburger Hill and Vietnam

During the Vietnam War, the 101st Airborne Division transitioned from being an airmobile team to the air assault team they are today. In Vietnam’s most notorious battle, the Screaming Eagles were supposed to take over Hill 937 that occupied by North Vietnamese forces. In 1969, from May 10 to 20, the two sides fought to take over the area. Both sides lost many soldiers and a journalist criticized the strategy creating a media sensation. An already unsupportive America quickly started questioning our tactics and reasoning for being in Vietnam. In fact, the aftermath of Hamburger Hill marked a change in the way we fought in Vietnam, seeing the end of major ground combat. The 101st Airborne Division was the last Army unit to leave Vietnam. The unit received 17 Medals of Honor and by the time the war ended, the 101st had 20,000 members either killed or wounded.

The 101st during Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan.
The 101st during Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan.

Operation Desert Storm

The Screaming Eagles was one of the first units to arrive in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm. The 101st Airborne Division was also the very first unit to fire on the enemy. In August 1990, the unit flew into Kuwait and was the first to air fire. Until August 2003, it was the longest air assault operation ever.

Operation Iraqi Freedom

In August of 2003, the Screaming Eagles conduct another record-breaking air assault in Northern Iraq. In Task Force Band of Brothers, in November 2005, during the unit’s second deployment to Iraq the 101st Airborne Division took over the largest area of operation in Northern Iraq.

Members of the 101st also killed Uday and Qusay Hussein, captured over 500 insurgents, and monitored 5,000 restoration projects.

The units first commanding General was Major General William C. Lee. When the 101st Airborne Division was created, Lee said, “You have a rendezvous with destiny.” The brave efforts of the Screaming Eagles on D-Day paved the way for future members, as the Army unit has continued to make history as one of America’s most specialized and distinguished military units.

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