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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.

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: