Big Red One Celebrates 94 Years of Continuous Service
June 8, 2011
Achieving 94 years is generally considered a monumental victory within itself; add to that countless medals, honors and battle streamers and the achievement becomes that much greater.
The 1st Infantry Division, the oldest division in the U.S. Army, celebrated its 94th birthday June 8 with a cake-cutting celebration at the division’s headquarters.
Formed at Fort Jay on Governor’s Island in New York Harbor, it didn’t take long for the brand new division to be put in to action. Officially organized June 8, 1917, it was only six days later, June 14, 1917 (which also marked the U.S. Army’s 142nd birthday) that the first units from the division set sail for Europe. With their arrival at St. Nazaire, France, the Soldiers became the first American combat unit to set foot on European soil. By the end of the war the division had earned the nickname “The Fighting First.”
“This division has always been at the forefront and often the first to go to fight for the values of this great country, to fight for our freedom,” said Maj. Gen. William Mayville, commanding general of the 1st Inf. Div. and Fort Riley.
By World War II, the distinctive red numeral that Soldiers wore on their uniform sleeves had earned the division another nickname, the “Big Red One.” 1st Inf. Div. Soldiers were the first to reach England and to fight in North Africa and Sicily, as well as the first Soldiers to fight on the beaches of Normandy.
The Big Red One has continued to play a prominent role in American military history since, leading efforts in Vietnam, Desert Storm, the Balkans and, most recently, operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It’s a history that we can be proud of,” Mayville said. “(The Big Red One) is a team. It’s a team of teams. It has been this way for 94 years.”
Today, nearly 22,000 Soldiers wear the patch of the historic division, which returned its headquarters to Fort Riley, Kan., Aug. 1, 2006 following ten years at Wurzburg, Germany.
Assisting Mayville and Division Command Sgt. Maj. Jim Champagne in cutting the birthday cake were four special Soldiers selected from the ranks. Pfc. Danielle Smythers, 17, the division’s youngest Soldier, Staff Sgt. Jim Taylor, 58, the oldest Soldier in the division, sliced into the cake using 19th century sabers, representing the cavalry tradition of Fort Riley. Capt. Nicholas Fender and 1st Lt. Joshua Gorczynski, 15th place finishers in the Army’s annual Best Ranger Competition, also cut the cake using modern bayonets.
“What you see behind me is who we are, who you are, where our history has been and where we will go forward,” Mayville said of the Soldiers participating in the celebration. “Congratulations and happy 94th birthday, Big Red One.”