With the motto, "Duty First", the 1st Infantry Division were the first to arrive in France, the first to be stationed on the front, the first to engage in combat, and the first to suffer casualties during World War I.
Through their reputable number of firsts in the First War, they earned the moniker “Fighting First Division,” “Red One Division,” and “Big Red One” which is still used throughout this day and age.
Often the first unit of the U.S. Army to deploy and engage with the enemy, the 1st Infantry Division was organized as the first permanent division in the U.S. Army on June 8, 1917.
Upon entering the First World War in April 1917, the United States did not possess any Army Divisions. Under the Presidency of Woodrow Wilson, who promised to send a U.S. Army Division to the Allies in France, President Wilson sent four infantry regiments and three artillery regiments to France as the “First Expeditionary Division.”
On Oct. 23, 1917, a First Division artillery unit fired the first American shell into German lines. A few days later on October 25th, the division suffered their very first American casualty of war from the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry during a night raid.
On May 28, 1918, the first American victory of World War I was achieved when the First Division defeated the German army at the Battle of Cantigny. Located to the north of Paris, France, Cantigny was a small village town occupied by German forces and posed a significant threat to the Allied lines. While suffering heavy losses, the First Division attacked the German defenses, defeated the German forces, and successfully held the village against numerous counter-attacks.
This victory convinced the British and French Allies that the United States was a successful fighting force capable of operating independently and effectively. The victory raised the morale of allies and the confidence of the First Division Soldiers.
The First Division suffered 4,964 casualties, approximately 17,201 wounded in combat, and 1,056 missing. Five division Soldiers received the prestigious Medal of Honor by the end of World War I.
From the Western front of World War I, the First Infantry Division, “Big Red One” has been engaged in every United States conflict, with the exception of Korea, and has become one of the most recognized formations within the United States Army.