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Published on: Friday, Nov 4, 2005

508th Parachute Infantry Regiment to be reactivated

 By Kevin Maurer
Staff writer

The three paratroopers from the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment held their ground against the withering fire of the German counterattack.


Dug in on the side of a hill in the Normandy countryside, Cpl. Ernest T. Roberts, Pvt. Otto K. Zwingman and Pvt. John A. Lockwood held off a battalion of German infantry with tanks for two hours while their comrades set up a better defensive position during the early hours of the D-Day invasion.


Months later, 1st Sgt. Leonard A. Funk led more 508th paratroopers in a counterattack to clear a landing area in Holland for glider-borne troopers and artillery during Operation Market Garden. Funk received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions.


These stories - along with others from World War II, Vietnam and Grenada - are part of the history of the 508th. The unit's history will pick up again with its reactivation as part of Fort Bragg's 82nd Airborne Division.


Division officials announced Thursday that the 508th will become the unit's fourth brigade. The announcement comes as the 82nd is starting to reorganize under an Army plan to make its units more effective.


The 82nd Airborne is expected to grow by almost 3,500 paratroopers as it adds the 508th. The division will have more helicopters and add support soldiers.


The overall Army plan calls for growth from 33 combat brigades to 48 in an effort to provide more forces to rotate overseas and decrease reliance on reserves for combat units.


The 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment will be made up of the 3rd Battalion of the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment and the 3rd Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, said Lt. Col. Michael Wehr.

Historical links

The 508th jumped during the D-Day invasion with the 82nd. The regiment remained with the 82nd when the division jumped into Holland and fought at the Battle of the Bulge.


The regiment was deactivated after World War II. It was reactivated in the late 1950s and fought in Vietnam, Grenada and Panama, before being deactivated again in the 1980s. In 1996, the unit was reactivated as the 1st Battalion of the 508th and assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vicenza, Italy. The battalion was part of the 173rd's combat jump into Iraq in 2003 and is serving with the unit in Afghanistan.


With the 82nd activating the 508th, the battalion in Italy will be redesignated.

Troop stability

One byproduct of the transformation plan is more stability for the division's paratroopers and their families, Wehr said.


Under the new system, the brigade combat team - with all of its support, artillery and engineering units - will train together.


"If you are part of the team, you know what your schedule is," Wehr said.

Soldiers can expect to be at Fort Bragg for an average of seven years. Long tours means less turnover, improving training and readiness. It also allows military spouses to find and keep better jobs, officials said.


Wehr is overseeing the transformation process, which will begin in January.


The 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment will undergo reorganization first. The 3rd Battalion of the 505th will be re-trained and become the RISTA - an acronym for the division's reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition squadron. The unit will be re-flagged the 73rd Cavalry Regiment, Wehr said.


The unit will be equipped with unmanned aerial vehicles and other intelligence-gathering devices.


Most units - such as the 3rd Infantry Division and the 101st Airborne Division - avoided deployments while they were being reorganized. The 82nd will be an exception, its leaders said. The division will continue to be the Army's first-response force, said Brig. Gen. Rodney Anderson, assistant division commander for support.


"It is all about what the nation needs," he said.


Staff writer Kevin Maurer can be reached at maurerk@fayettevillenc.com or 486-3587.

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