On 25 Feb 05, the 187th Infantry Regiment (Rakkasans) completed sixty-two years of unbroken service to our nation, people and the United States Army. In itself this is not an occasion unique amongst the Regiments of the army, for many can lay claim to as much and more service.
However, the Regiment’s history is unique because of the exceptional nature of its’ service. The 187th is the only airborne regiment of the army to have served in all major conflicts and wars (WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Iraq) since the inception of airborne warfare in the US Armed Forces in 1940. Further, it is the only Regiment to have served in combat in all forms of airborne warfare to include air landing, glider, parachute and air assault. No other Regiment in the army can lay claim to that distinction and it is doubtful that any Regiment of any army in the world can claim a similar record.
The 187th was constituted and designated on 12 Nov 42 and activated on 25 Feb 43 as a glider regiment and assigned to the 11th Airborne Division at Camp Mackall, NC. Following the poor results of airborne operations in Sicily and the Italian mainland in 43, many senior leaders felt that divisional size airborne forces were impractical and should be abandoned. The 11th Airborne Division in company with the 17th Airborne Division, was selected to conduct a major airborne maneuver (Knollwood) in early 44 to ascertain the practicality of divisional size airborne units. The results were spectacular and the 187th along with its’ sister Regiments, the 188th and 511th saved the concept of major sized airborne units in the US Forces and paved the way for the use of division sized forces in combat. In truth, the heroic combat records of the famous US Airborne Divisions of WWII (11th, 13th, 17th, 82nd, 101st) might never have been recorded had the 187th and its’ sister Regiments failed to prove the validity of the concept.
The “Rakkasans” deployed to the pacific in mid-1944 with the 11th Airborne Division and saw combat service in New Guinea, Leyte and Luzon. The 187th was the first Airborne Regiment in company with the 188th, to conduct a combat amphibious landing on enemy held shores, landing in Lingayen Gulf to flank the Japanese lines on Luzon. In the bloody battles of Purple Heart hill, Tagatay Ridge, Nichols Field, Manila and Mount Macelod the Rakkasans decimated their foe. They also earned the distinction of being the only allied airborne force to meet and destroy an enemy combat parachute operation on their positions when Japanese airborne units tried to recapture airfields on Leyte taken by the Rakkasans.
The 187th, joined by its sister Regiments (188th and 511th), was one of the leading units involved in the liberation of Manila, the first enemy held friendly nation capital liberated in the Pacific campaigns and were the only Airborne Regiments to earn that honor in WWII. For conspicuous gallantry, the 187th was awarded a Presidential Citation for action at Tagatay Ridge and later a Philippine Presidential Citation for valorous combat performance in the liberation of Luzon and Manila. The Rakkasans were given the honor of garrisoning the city of Manila to clear the city of enemy stragglers and death squads and prevent the infiltration of Japanese elements who threatened the establishment of the Philippine government.
When the war ended the 187th, as part of the 11th Airborne Division, was chosen to spearhead the occupation of Japan and thus became the first foreign troops to set foot on Japanese soil in over a thousand years. They also participated in the securing of Tokyo and by this action were instrumental in being among the first American combat forces to occupy an enemy nation capital in the Pacific Theater. No other Airborne Regiment in WWII achieved that honor.
As part of the occupation forces the 187th established bases in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of the Japanese Empire held by American Forces. Opposite them on the island of Karafuto they confronted Soviet Forces in what can truly be called the first example of the future cold war period in the Pacific Basin.
During 1945 and 1946 the 187th was engaged in disarming two Japanese Army Corps and the residue of Japanese Naval and Air Forces located on Hokkaido. These troops were first line forces of the Japanese army and were combat ready in every sense of the word. In mid 1946 on the island of Hokkaido, the Rakkasans supervised the first democratic elections ever held in the Japanese Empire.
In 1949 the Rakkasans returned to the United States with the 11th Airborne Division and were stationed at then, Camp Campbell, KY, where they comprised part of the strategic forces of the Army. Along with their sister Regiments of the 11th and 82nd Airborne Divisions, the Rakkasans participated in operation “SWARMER”, the largest peacetime airborne maneuvers ever conducted. Their performance in this exercise in Feb/Mar 50 is directly related to their being chosen to deploy to Korea as an Airborne Regimental Combat Team to provide Gen MacArthur with an airborne capability in Korea following the North Korean invasion of South Korea. In Sep 1950 elements of the 187th were attached to the 1st Marine Division to participate in the amphibious landings at Inchon.
During the battles that followed the 187th assisted in the liberation of Seoul, thus earning the distinction of being the only Airborne Regiment to have helped liberate a second friendly nation’s capital held by enemy forces. For this action the 187th received a Navy Presidential Citation, the only Airborne Regiment so decorated.
During their service in Korea the 187th conducted the two most successful combat parachute operations in history of regimental size or larger and were the first American airborne unit to conduct combat heavy drop operations bringing in their artillery and light armored vehicles to accompany and support the infantry battalions. The Rakkasans combat parachute assault in Oct 1950 assisted in the capture of Pyongyang, the North Korean capitol and the cut off of retreating North Korean forces from the capitol. This action again distinguished the 187th as being the only Airborne Regiment to assist in the capture of an enemy capitol for the second time in as many wars.
Following the Chinese intervention in the Korean War in Nov 1950, the 187th, in company with the British 27th Brigade was designated to form a rear guard force to hold, at all costs, defensive positions to prevent the Chinese Forces from breaking through and overwhelming the US Eighth Army Forces attempting to withdraw to regroup and reorganize. For twelve days the Rakkasans and their British comrades in arms held the Chinese at bay and prevented them from capitalizing on their initial success and denied them the opportunity to pursue the disrupted UN Forces.
Again at Wonju in Feb 51 the Rakkasans were called upon to block a major Chinese offensive aimed at encircling a US Army Corps and a companion South Korean Corps. The Chinese had broken through the main line battle positions of these two Corps and were poised to encircle the rear areas and achieve a major victory. During the bloody five day battle the 187th in company with the 23rd and 38th Inf Regiments, blocked over 30,000 Chinese troops, decimating their units and enabling the two Corps to reestablish their forces and counterattack. The after action reports of this bloody battle characterized it as the most intense infantry engagement in modern history, and while the 187th sustained almost 15% total casualties, the Chinese lost ten times that number killed in action alone!
In March 1951 the Rakkasans engaged the enemy in another combat parachute operation at Munsan-Ni, denying the enemy strategic routes of communication and forestalling a major Chinese offensive. At Inje and Kumwha. The Rakkasans broke through Chinese main lines and penetrated their rear areas forcing the Chinese to abandon their offensive and return to a defensive posture.
Throughout their Korean war service the Rakkasans earned another Presidential Unit Citation and two Korean Presidential Citations and added five Battle Campaign Streamers to their colors, thus becoming the only Airborne Regiment to bear such battle honors. In fact, except for Ranger Infantry Companies(ABN), no other airborne force, friendly or enemy, saw combat in the Korean war.
Returned to the United States in 1955 the Rakkasans were stationed at Fort Bragg. When the army reorganized into the battle group concept the Rakkasans were formed into three battle groups. In mid-50s, the Rakkasans deployed to Europe as part of the 11th Airborne Division becoming one of three out of twenty-two WWII Airborne Regiments to serve as occupations forces in both the European and Pacific theatres. In 1958, the Rakkasans as part of the 24th Abn Bde, 24th Inf Div, deployed to Lebanon in the first major use of American Forces in the mid east to establish peace and preserve that nation’s independence. Throughout its history elements of the 187th were assigned to the 11th, 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, becoming the only Airborne Regiment to have served in three of the five WWII Airborne Divisions.
In 1963 the elements of the 187th were assigned to the 11th Air Assault Division (Test), to spearhead testing the new Air Assault concept and to develop tactics and procedures for such. Their performance in this critical role gave birth to the concept of helicopter- borne combat forces in the US Armed Forces. Shortly following their outstanding performance in this role the 3/187th was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division and premiered the conversion of that division to dual status as a Parachute and Air Assault unit.
The Rakkasans deployed to Vietnam as a part of the 101st Airborne Division in 1967. There, the 187th became known as the “nomad” unit as they were used in every corps area in the theatre in “hot spots” of enemy action. While in Vietnam the 187th earned two more Presidential Citations, two Valorous Unit Citations, a Meritorious Unit Citation and three Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry and one Vietnamese Merit Citation as well as 12 Battle Campaign Streamers. Though far from being the most major battle of their service in Vietnam, it was the Rakkasans that defeated first line North Vietnamese Army Forces in the Battle for Hamburger Hill.
The Rakkasans returned to Fort Campbell in 1972 and were again consolidated as a full regiment of three battalions and assigned as the 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). In addition, two Battalions of the 187th (one designated airborne) were assigned to the 193rd Inf Bde in Panama constituting the only U.S. Army Airborne capability in the Caribbean. As part of the strategic forces of the Army the Rakkasans participated in providing peacekeeping forces in the Sinai preserving the line of demarcation between Israeli and Egyptian forces.
In 1990 the Rakkasans again went to war in the Persian Gulf with the 101st Abn Div(Air Assault). During the 100 day ground combat portion of the war, the Rakkasans launched the largest and longest air assault by helicopter in history. They landed behind Iraqi lines and secured the crossings over the Euphrates River thus preventing the Iraqi Republican Guard Divisions from reinforcing or extricating themselves from Kuwait. During this operation the Rakkasans decimated two enemy divisions without the loss of one KIA!
While in the Persian Gulf, the Rakkasans added two more Battle Campaign Streamers to their colors and the distinction of proving conclusively that airborne vertical assault by helicopter against a modern, well equipped foe, was the equal, and perhaps superior to that by parachute.
In the “GWOT” (Global War on Terrorism) Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, the Rakkasans (3rd Bde Combat Team, 101st Abn Div(Air Assault) conducted operations against the Taliban forces and were instrumental in liberating that nation from dominance by Muslim extremists. Less than a year later the Rakkasans deployed with the 101st Abn Div(Air Assault) in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the war to defeat Saddam Hussein and free the Iraqi people from his dictatorial form of government. Conducting several Bde sized air assaults, the Rakkasans leap frogged into central Iraq and participated in the liberation of Baghdad, thus adding another enemy capital city being liberated to those of WWII and Korea. In the post-war phase of operation the Rakkasans conducted operations against guerrilla forces along the Syrian border and in the Tikrit triangle region of Iraq.
The 187th derives their name “Rakkasans” from the Japanese who addressed them as such in dispatches during WWII. Loosely translated, it means “falling down umbrella man”, the closest word for paratroopers in the Japanese language. The troopers of the 187th liked the term and it is now part of the official designation of the 187th. It is the only Airborne Regiment that bears an official name deriving from a past enemy’s designation of a unit against whom combat should be avoided, if possible. It is also the only unit whose company guidons are authorized to bear a “Torii” (the gateway of honor), at the staffhead in lieu of the standard spearhead.
Of interest, is the fact that the Japanese now, and during WWII, identify their airborne forces with the same title. Of even more interest is that the present Japanese Airborne Forces stem from the stimulus provided by the 187th during their post Korea stationing in Japan. The present Airborne Brigade of the Japanese Self Defense Ground Forces traces its’ origin to the training provided by the Rakkasans during the mid-50s.
In four wars the Rakkasan airborne troopers have been awarded four Medals of Honor, twenty five Distinguished Service Crosses, four hundred and twenty six Silver Stars, six hundred and twelve Bronze Stars for valor and three thousand eight hundred and forty one Purple Hearts. In combat in four wars, nine hundred and seventeen Rakkasans made the supreme sacrifice and over 4000 were wounded in action. Their names are engraved on a granite wall which, with an obelisk, constitutes an everlasting memorial at Fort Campbell, KY, to all Rakkasans, past, present and future!
To the foregoing, and yet to be added, are the honors, awards and sadly, the casualties accorded the Rakkasans for Operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It is because of the heroic service of these brave airborne soldiers that the colors of the Regiment fly proudly, fifteen Citations for Valorous and Meritorious service and twenty three Battle Campaign Streamers. No other Airborne Regiment can equal that record and the Rakkasans stand proudly at, and have earned, “the right of the line”, amongst their sister Airborne Regiments, ever mindful of their Regimental motto,
”Ne Desit Virtus” — “Let Valor Not Fail”! They have not —– and shall not!