503d Parachute Regimental Combat Team,
World War II began with the activation of the
503d Parachute Battalion in Fort Benning,
Georgia on 21 August 1941. The Battalion was the third of four Parachute Battalions formed
prior to the beginning of World War II. The others were
501, 502 and 504.
A CONDENSED HISTORY OF THE
503D PARACHUTE REGIMENTAL
On 2 March 1942 the 503rd Parachute Battalion was
the nucleus around which the
503d Parachute Infantry Regiment was formed. This was the
first of a number of such regiments organized over the next few years. The Regiment was
transferred to Fort Bragg, North Carolina in March 1942.
On 20 October 1942 the Regiment left the POE San
Francisco on the
MS Poelau Laut. The first stop was the Panama Canal Zone where the 501st
Parachute Battalion was picked up. This battalion was re-designated as the Second Battalion
of the 503d PIR, replacing the original 503d's Second Battalion which had been sent to
England and, eventually, re-designated as the 509. The Regiment landed in
on 2 December 1942 after a voyage of 43 days and 42 nights. Later the Regiment was
expanded into a Combat Team with the assignment of the
462d Parachute Artillery Battalion
on 29 March 1944 and the
161st Parachute Engineer Company on 13 September 1944.
During its more than three years service in the
Southwest Pacific Theater, the 503d served in five major combat operations. A number of
other missions were planned but called off by higher headquarters.
1. The Regiment jumped in the
Markham Valley, New
Guinea, on 5 September 1943, in the first successful Airborne Combat Jump. The Regiment
forced the Japanese evacuation of a major base at Lae to take a route which proved to be
disastrous for them. The third Battalion of the 503d had a major skirmish with the rear
guard of this exodus. The successful employment of Parachute troops, in the Markham
Valley, has been credited with saving the concept of vertical envelopment from being
abandoned following several less than successful engagements in Europe.
2. Two rifle Battalions of the 503d Regiment jumped
on the Island of Noemfoor off the coast of Dutch, New Guinea early in July 1944, followed
by an amphibious landing by the other rifle Battalion a few days later. The Regiment was
employed in the elimination of the Japanese garrison on that Island. Airfields constructed
on Noemfoor after its capture played a significant role in supporting the advance of
Allied troops from New Guinea to the Philippines.
Sergeant Ray E. Eubanks was awarded the
Congressional Medal of Honor, posthumously, for his actions on Noemfoor.
3. Following a non-combat landing on the Island of
Leyte, in the Philippines, the 503d Parachute Regimental Combat Team made a major
amphibious landing on the Island of
Mindoro, in the central Philippines on 15 December
1944. Originally, it was intended for the 503rd to jump on Mindoro but due to inadequate
airstrip facilities on Leyte an airborne landing was not possible. The purpose of this
landing was to secure sites for air strips providing forward Air Corp bases to support
later landings at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon. The Combat Team was subjected to intense air and
naval actions during this operation, at one point being shelled for 25 minutes by a
Japanese Naval task force.
One Company of the Combat Team engaged in a fierce
battle against a Company-size enemy air raid warning station on the North end of Mindoro.
4. The Combat Team jumped on
Fortress Corregidor on 16 February 1945 to liberate that Island from occupying Japanese
forces. This was the most vicious combat action in which the Combat Team engaged during
its existence. Corregidor was the bastion which withstood a fierce Japanese siege for
nearly five months in 1941 and 1942, thereby interrupting the Japanese advance toward
Australia. The 503rd was proud to have been allowed to have the honor of recapturing the
Island. Japanese sources, within recent years have estimated there were 6550 Japanese on
the Island when the 503rd landed. Of those, only 50 survived. The 503rd, however, lost
men killed and many wounded or injured. The 503rd was awarded the Presidential Unit
Citation for its actions.
Private Lloyd G. McCarter
was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery on Corregidor.
5. Almost immediately after returning to Mindoro
from Corregidor, the Combat Team was called upon to bolster the 40th Division which was
bogged down on the Island of Negros, in the Central Philippines. The Combat team was
inserted into Negros by landing craft, although it had been alerted for another combat
jump. The objectives of the proposed jump, a strategic bridge and a large lumber mill,
were destroyed by Japanese forces, thereby eliminating the first objectives of the 503d.
The 503rd engaged in fierce battles against frantic Japanese resistance in the mountainous
areas of Negros for more than five months. The 40th US Division convinced higher
headquarters there were only a few enemy troops remaining on the Island and were moved to Mindanao, leaving the 503rd to battle the Japanese alone.
At the end of the War with Japan
in August 1945, about 7,500 of the surviving Japanese troops surrendered to the 503rd
Parachute Regimental Combat Team.
Official U.S. War Department sources
estimated the 503rd killed over 10,000 Japanese troops during its combat operations in the
Southwest Pacific. Unfortunately, the 503rd lost a lot of good men in accomplishing its
missions. The names of 392 of these men have been identified.
By early November 1945 the 503rd Parachute
Regimental Combat Team ceased to be operational. All men with lengthy service in the
Southwest Pacific had been rotated to the United States while those who had served the
Combat Team for a shorter time had been reassigned to the 11th Airborne Division and sent
as occupation troops to Japan. The Regiment was inactivated on 24 December 1945 at Camp
Veterans of the 503rd, who served during World War
II, began holding informal get-togethers almost immediately after 1945. An Association was
established and National
Reunions have been held each year since 1957.