The 1st Infantry Division has served with distinction in all but one major war in the past century

On June 8, 1917, two months after the United States entered World War I, the 16th, 18th, 26th and 28th Infantry regiments, the 5th, 6th and 7th Artillery regiments, and the 1st Engineer Regiment were organized into the 1st Division and rushed to France. On May 28, 1918, the “Big Red One” gave the American Expeditionary Force its first battlefield success when it seized and held Cantigny, followed by victories at Soissons, Saint-Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne.

In 1940 the Army reorganized from “square” to “triangular” divisions, each controlling only three regiments—in the 1st Infantry Division’s case, the 16th, 18th and 26th. When the United States entered World War II, the 1st ID trained for amphibious warfare, which it put into play when landing in North Africa on Nov. 8, 1942, Sicily on July 10, 1943, and on Omaha Beach, Normandy, on June 6, 1944.

  • Members of the 1st Division’s 16th Infantry Regiment settle into their trenches at Gypse Hill, Meurthe-et-Moselle on Nov. 19, 1917. Ahead lay bloody victories at Cantigny, Soissons, Saint-Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne. / 1st Infantry Division Museum
  • Two 1st Division troops survey the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, Germany, after it collapsed on March 17, 1945— not before the Americans had secured the far side of the Rhine. / Getty Images
  • Troops of the 1st ID occupy a mortar position in War Zone C while B-52s bomb enemy positions in nearby Cambodia during Operation Attleboro on Nov. 20, 1966. / AP
  • Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division, supported by a Bradley fighting vehicle of the 82nd Airborne Division, return fire near Fallujah, Iraq, on Nov. 8, 2003. Two were killed and one wounded that day when an improvised explosive device wrecked a Bradley. / Getty Images
  • Carrying both his weapon and boxes of ammunition, an M-60 machine gunner participates in a running fight between the 1st ID and the Viet Cong 273rd Regiment 25 miles east of Saigon in May 1967. / AP
  • Troops of the Big Red One encounter an Iraqi civilian while securing Samarra, 125 miles north of Baghdad, on Nov. 13, 2004. / Getty Images
  • Staff Sgt. John Gregory leads a dismounted patrol of 1st ID troops through Adhamiya, Iraq, on April 10, 2007. / US Army

The division fought in such memorable battles as Kasserine Pass, El Guettar, Aachen and the Hürtgen Forest before celebrating V-E Day in Czechoslovakia. By war’s end 16 members of the 1st ID had received the Medal of Honor.

During the 1950–53 Korean War the division faced down Soviet forces in Germany. But it saw battle in Vietnam (1965–70), numbering its commander, Maj. Gen. Keith L. Ware, among those killed in action when his helicopter was shot down on Sept. 13, 1968.

After seeing the Cold War to its end, the Big Red One participated in the Gulf War (1990–91), helped keep the peace on and off in the Balkans (1996–2003) and has fought in the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Having served with distinction in all but one major war in the past century, the 1st ID stands ready for whatever the next century may bring. MH

This article appeared in the May 2021 issue of Military History magazine. For more stories, subscribe here and visit us on Facebook: