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Archives Experience Newsletter - May 30, 2023

  • The Screaming Eagles

The 101st Airborne Division is one of the most famous (and feared) in U.S. armed forces history. From landing behind enemy lines just before D-Day to protecting the first group of Black students to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, the 101st Airborne has taken part in many of the most consequential interventions both at home and abroad.
In this week’s issue, parachute behind Nazi enemy lines, join the charge in Desert Storm, and learn the story behind the unit’s strangest nickname: the “chicken men”…

In this issue

An Optimistic Ending
The 101st Airborne Division was disbanded…
Striking Fear
The 101st Airborne earned the reputation of being the most feared division…
A Nomadic War
The Screaming Eagles earned the nickname “the nomads of Vietnam”…
Behind the Lines
We’re ready to defend every inch of NATO soil…


An Optimistic Ending



Shoulder patch: 101st Airborne Division
National Archives Identifier: 6425131

I was shocked and elated when I found out I was going to the 101st Airborne Division because what it meant to me was “The 101st, they’re going to be in a lot of fighting.” And that scared me. The tales and the movies and the patch with the Screaming Eagle on it. But I was so excited to write home to my father and say, “I’m in the 101st Airborne Division. Screaming Eagles.”

—James Bombard
Rifle Platoon Leader
101st Airborne Division
Phan Rang
December 1967 – February 1968

Al Santoli. Everything We Had: An Oral History of the Vietnam War. New York: Random House, 1981

The storied 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army was established at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, on November 2, 1918, but it came to an abrupt ending just nine days later, when World War I ended. In December of that same year, the division was disbanded with the mindset that the Great War had been “the war to end all wars.” It was reorganized as a reserve unit in 1921, at which time it adopted its logo, the “Screaming Eagle.”


Striking Fear

On August 15, 1942, the reserve unit was dissolved, and the next day, the 101st Airborne Division was activated at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, for the specific purpose of defeating the Nazis powers and ending World War II.
The 101st trained at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and then in England, in preparation for Operation Overlord, the invasion of Europe on D-Day. On June 6, 1944, the soldiers of the 101st Airborne parachuted into France behind enemy lines to clear the way for the 1st and 4th Infantry Divisions, which had stormed Utah and Omaha Beaches. By September, the paratroopers were fighting their way across Europe to liberate Holland, a mission that took more than two months.
Pulled back to France for a respite, the 101st was abruptly returned to action in the Battle of the Bulge in November 1944. Completely surrounded by German forces at Bastogne, Belgium, the 101st, the African American 969th Artillery Battalion, and Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division held out despite constant enemy bombardment and sniper fire. In near-Arctic weather conditions, including snow, fog, and freezing rain, until December 26, when the 4th Armored Division of General George A. Patton’s 3rd Army plowed through the enemy lines and relieved the U.S. soldiers. At this point, the 101st Airborne earned the reputation of being the most feared division by the Nazi powers, and even Hitler himself.



Draft of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Little Rock speech
Source: NARA’s DocsTeach

The Battle of the Bulge was the bloodiest and costliest of World War II. The U.S. Army alone suffered more than 100,000 casualties, with approximately 19,000 soldiers killed, 47,500 wounded, and more than 23,000 missing. About the same number of Germans soldiers were killed, wounded, or captured. More importantly, the Nazis’ attempt to cut the Allied forces in two at the Ardennes Forest failed, which marked the beginning of the end for Hitler’s attempt to conquer Europe by military force.
The 101st Airborne then fought across Alsace and the Ruhr Valley. In Bavaria, the division liberated the Landsberg concentration camp. Continuing on, they eventually captured Berchtesgaden, where Kehlsteinhaus (the Eagle’s Nest), Adolf Hitler’s mountain retreat, is located. The unit was preparing to be deployed in the Pacific when the war ended. The division was inactivated on November 30, 1945.
The 101st Airborne did not see significant military action again for 30 years, although in 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower activated the 1st Airborne Battle Group, 327th Infantry, to Littler Rock as Operation Arkansas, where the soldiers escorted the “Little Rock Nine”—the first Black students admitted to high school in the state—to Central High School to protect them from protesters.

Winston Churchill and General Dwight Eisenhower review 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, France. (U.S. Air Force Number 53972AC) – National Archives Identifier: 204889833
Photograph of 101st Airborne Division D-Day Uniform – National Archives Identifier: 284835086
Gi’S Of The 101St Airborne Division’S 327Th Glider Infantry Regiment Look Out Over The Beautiful Bavarian Alps. (U.S. Air Force Number K3420) – National Archives Identifier: 205003161
Eisenhower talks with paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division in Newbury, England on June 5, 1944 prior to their departure “Full victory, nothing less” – Source: NARA’s Prologue Magazine
“Full victory, nothing less”
Photograph of paratroopers before the initial launch on D-Day – Source: NARA’s Prologue Magazine
The pathfinder unit of the 101st Airborne Division, dropped by parachute, sets up radar equipment near Bastogne, Belgium – Source: NARA’s DocsTeach
Photograph of Bomb Damage in Bastogne, Belgium – Source: NARA’s DocsTeach
American Troops Moving through Carentan, France, June 12, 1944 – National Archives Identifier: 176888618
American Troops Moving through Carentan, France, June 12, 1944 – National Archives Identifier: 176888620
Maj. James T. Nelson, of the 101st Airborne Division of the 9th AF reads in a camouflaged foxhole, an effect made by parachute silk – National Archives Identifier: 204891532
Berchtesgaden, Germany — The Stars And Strips Is Raised Over The Former Headquarters Of Field Marshal Keitel, Chief Of The German General Staff – National Archives Identifier: 204900879
1/12 - Winston Churchill and General Dwight Eisenhower review 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, France. (U.S. Air Force Number 53972AC) – National Archives Identifier: 204889833
2/12 – Photograph of 101st Airborne Division D-Day Uniform – National Archives Identifier: 284835086
3/12 – Gi’S Of The 101St Airborne Division’S 327Th Glider Infantry Regiment Look Out Over The Beautiful Bavarian Alps. (U.S. Air Force Number K3420) – National Archives Identifier: 205003161
4/12 – Eisenhower talks with paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division in Newbury, England on June 5, 1944 prior to their departure “Full victory, nothing less” – Source: NARA’s Prologue Magazine
5/12 – “Full victory, nothing less”
6/12 - Photograph of paratroopers before the initial launch on D-Day – Source: NARA’s Prologue Magazine
7/12 – The pathfinder unit of the 101st Airborne Division, dropped by parachute, sets up radar equipment near Bastogne, Belgium – Source: NARA’s DocsTeach
8/12 – Photograph of Bomb Damage in Bastogne, Belgium – Source: NARA’s DocsTeach
9/12 – American Troops Moving through Carentan, France, June 12, 1944 – National Archives Identifier: 176888618
10/12 – American Troops Moving through Carentan, France, June 12, 1944 – National Archives Identifier: 176888620
11/12 – Maj. James T. Nelson, of the 101st Airborne Division of the 9th AF reads in a camouflaged foxhole, an effect made by parachute silk – National Archives Identifier: 204891532
12/12 – Berchtesgaden, Germany — The Stars And Strips Is Raised Over The Former Headquarters Of Field Marshal Keitel, Chief Of The German General Staff – National Archives Identifier: 204900879
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Winston Churchill and General Dwight Eisenhower review 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, France. (U.S. Air Force Number 53972AC) – National Archives Identifier: 204889833
Photograph of 101st Airborne Division D-Day Uniform – National Archives Identifier: 284835086
Gi’S Of The 101St Airborne Division’S 327Th Glider Infantry Regiment Look Out Over The Beautiful Bavarian Alps. (U.S. Air Force Number K3420) – National Archives Identifier: 205003161
Eisenhower talks with paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division in Newbury, England on June 5, 1944 prior to their departure “Full victory, nothing less” – Source: NARA’s Prologue Magazine
“Full victory, nothing less”
Photograph of paratroopers before the initial launch on D-Day – Source: NARA’s Prologue Magazine
The pathfinder unit of the 101st Airborne Division, dropped by parachute, sets up radar equipment near Bastogne, Belgium – Source: NARA’s DocsTeach
Photograph of Bomb Damage in Bastogne, Belgium – Source: NARA’s DocsTeach
American Troops Moving through Carentan, France, June 12, 1944 – National Archives Identifier: 176888618
American Troops Moving through Carentan, France, June 12, 1944 – National Archives Identifier: 176888620
Maj. James T. Nelson, of the 101st Airborne Division of the 9th AF reads in a camouflaged foxhole, an effect made by parachute silk – National Archives Identifier: 204891532
Berchtesgaden, Germany — The Stars And Strips Is Raised Over The Former Headquarters Of Field Marshal Keitel, Chief Of The German General Staff – National Archives Identifier: 204900879
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A Nomadic War

At the start of the Vietnam War, on July 29, 1965, the 1st Brigade of the 101st landed at Cam Ranh Bay. The rest deployed to Vietnam in December 1967. The Screaming Eagles earned the nickname “the nomads of Vietnam” because they fought all over the country. Altogether, they fought in 45 operations spanning seven years. Seventeen members of the 101st Airborne received the Congressional Medal of Honor for their conduct in combat in this conflict. The unit officially came home to Fort Campbell on April 6, 1972.
The 101st Airborne suffered heavy casualties during the Vietnam War despite their combat expertise. 4,011 were killed in action, and 18,259 were wounded. This was over twice the amount of soldiers lost during WWII from their unit. One of the most grueling battles the unit participated in was the battle of Ap Bia Mountain. It was a controversial battle, as the hill had no real strategic importance, but the fight for control over it lasted a miserable 10 days. The carnage wracked up on both sides of the battle earned the site the grim nickname, “Hamburger Hill.” After 11 brutal assaults on the Vietcong, the 101st Airborne forces finally gained control of the hill, only to abandon it days later due to its lack of value.
The Vietnam War earned the 101st Airborne division another name. Viet Cong noticed the distinctive eagle patches on the 101st Airborne uniforms, and mistook the eagles for chickens. They often communicated to each other to avoid the “chicken men” at all costs.

Vietnam….Brigadier General Willard Pearson of the 101st Airborne Brigade briefs troops on the forthcoming Operation “Eagle Bait.”, June 25, 1966 – National Archives Identifier: 531445
US Soldiers Clearing the Barrel of a 105mm Howitzer, September 17, 1967 – National Archives Identifier: 66956742
Soldiers of the 327th Infantry, 101st Airborne Brigade, prepare to move across a rice field in search of Viet Cong (VC), January 23, 1966 – National Archives Identifier: 100310304
Soldiers of Company “A”, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry, 101st Airborne Brigade in Quang Ngai Province, Republic of Vietnam, September 8, 1967 – National Archives Identifier: 100310306
Photograph of Members of Headquarters Command Raising the US Flag on Top of Ranger Hill, September 8, 1967 – National Archives Identifier: 66953700
Photograph of a UH1D Helicopter Dropping an Army “Mule” Near Base Camp, February 27, 1966 – National Archives Identifier: 66956591
SP4 Hendrick Greenwood eats his first hot meal in five days, September 8, 1967 – National Archives Identifier: 100310256
Vietnam….Members of the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile), join the children of Ap Uu Thoung hamlet in a game of baseball – National Archives Identifier: 531465
1/8 – Vietnam….Brigadier General Willard Pearson of the 101st Airborne Brigade briefs troops on the forthcoming Operation “Eagle Bait.”, June 25, 1966 – National Archives Identifier: 531445
2/8 – US Soldiers Clearing the Barrel of a 105mm Howitzer, September 17, 1967 – National Archives Identifier: 66956742
3/8 – Soldiers of the 327th Infantry, 101st Airborne Brigade, prepare to move across a rice field in search of Viet Cong (VC), January 23, 1966 – National Archives Identifier: 100310304
4/8 – Soldiers of Company “A”, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry, 101st Airborne Brigade in Quang Ngai Province, Republic of Vietnam, September 8, 1967 – National Archives Identifier: 100310306
5/8 – Photograph of Members of Headquarters Command Raising the US Flag on Top of Ranger Hill, September 8, 1967 – National Archives Identifier: 66953700
6/8 – Photograph of a UH1D Helicopter Dropping an Army “Mule” Near Base Camp, February 27, 1966 – National Archives Identifier: 66956591
7/8 – SP4 Hendrick Greenwood eats his first hot meal in five days, September 8, 1967 – National Archives Identifier: 100310256
8/8 – Vietnam….Members of the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile), join the children of Ap Uu Thoung hamlet in a game of baseball – National Archives Identifier: 531465
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Vietnam….Brigadier General Willard Pearson of the 101st Airborne Brigade briefs troops on the forthcoming Operation “Eagle Bait.”, June 25, 1966 – National Archives Identifier: 531445
US Soldiers Clearing the Barrel of a 105mm Howitzer, September 17, 1967 – National Archives Identifier: 66956742
Soldiers of the 327th Infantry, 101st Airborne Brigade, prepare to move across a rice field in search of Viet Cong (VC), January 23, 1966 – National Archives Identifier: 100310304
Soldiers of Company “A”, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry, 101st Airborne Brigade in Quang Ngai Province, Republic of Vietnam, September 8, 1967 – National Archives Identifier: 100310306
Photograph of Members of Headquarters Command Raising the US Flag on Top of Ranger Hill, September 8, 1967 – National Archives Identifier: 66953700
Photograph of a UH1D Helicopter Dropping an Army “Mule” Near Base Camp, February 27, 1966 – National Archives Identifier: 66956591
SP4 Hendrick Greenwood eats his first hot meal in five days, September 8, 1967 – National Archives Identifier: 100310256
Vietnam….Members of the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile), join the children of Ap Uu Thoung hamlet in a game of baseball – National Archives Identifier: 531465
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Behind the Lines

The 101st Airborne deployed to Saudi Arabia in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in late 1990, firing the first shots of Desert Storm and making the longest and largest air assaults in history. A ceasefire was declared on February 28, 1991, and the unit was home on May 1 of that year. They not only fired the first shots of the Gulf War, but they also pushed 155 miles behind enemy lines, making their campaign in Iraq the deepest air assault operation in history.
The 101st also served in humanitarian operations in Somalia in 1992 and 1993, and supported U.N. peacekeeping operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, the Sinai, Haiti, and Panama throughout the 1990s. Since the 9-11 attacks in the U.S., the Screaming Eagles have been deployed to Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Iraq several times.
As part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne was sent to Europe for the first time since World War II. The air-assault team arrived in Romania, complete with all their equipment, in October 2022, “ready to fight tonight” should Russia encroach on NATO’s eastern border in its fight with Ukraine.
“We’re ready to defend every inch of NATO soil,” Brigadier General John Lubas told CBS News. “We bring a unique capability, from our air assault capability….We’re a light infantry force, but again, we bring that mobility with us, for our aircraft and air assaults.”
Over its 80-plus year history, the 101 Airborne Division has transformed itself from solely an infantry unit to a light infantry division that specializes in air assaults. It is uniquely qualified to quickly move massive numbers of troops and huge amounts of equipment in very short order into combat situations with difficult terrain and little to no infrastructure. It has continuously evolved with the times and technology, changing, for instance, from primarily relying on airplanes in the 1940s to helicopters as its main means of transport in the 1970s.
The 101st Airborne is swift, nimble, and feared by its opponents. Consequently, it is one of the first units to be sent into battle, “the tip of the spear,” as former Secretary of State Robert Gates once called it.

Members of the 101st Airborne Division transport a heat stroke victim on a litter during Operation Desert Shield, January 23, 1991 – National Archives Identifier: 6459391
Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) board a transport aircraft bound for Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield, January 23, 1991 – National Archives Identifier: 6462503
AH-64A Apache advanced attack and OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters of the 101st Airborne Division Operation Desert Storm, March 3, 1991 – National Archives Identifier: 6473884
Soldiers of Co. A, 3rd Bn., 502nd Inf. Regt., 101st Airborne Div. urban warfare training exercise during Operation Desert Shield, April 1, 1992 – National Archives Identifier: 6471080
101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) marches across the apron to board the aircraft to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield, January 23, 1991 – National Archives Identifier: 6462502
Co. A, 3rd Bn., 502nd Inf. Regt., 101st Airborne Div. use an abandoned town for urban warfare training during Operation Desert Shield April 1, 1992 – National Archives Identifier: 6471087
101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) soldiers drink water at the tent of a Kuwaiti man in Kuwait, Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, March 24, 2003 – National Archives Identifier: 6642002
101st Airborne Division and 4th Iraqi Army Division ask Iraqi civilians for information during a joint patrol operation in Tikrit, Iraq on April 18, 2006 – National Archives Identifier: 6679369
Members of B Company, 1-502nd Infantry Battalion, 101st Airborne Division move through an orchard – National Archives Identifier: 6677731
B Company, 1-502nd Infantry Battalion, 101st Airborne Division patrol with Iraqi National Guard on the afternoon of April 20, 2006 – National Archives Identifier: 6677751
UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the 101st Airborne Division airlift troops and M-151 light vehicles during joint Exercise Bright Star ’83 – National Archives Identifier: 6677751
US Army Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Clifford West, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), at an outpost on the Kosovo border.  May 30, 2001 – National Archives Identifier: 6597229
1/12 - Members of the 101st Airborne Division transport a heat stroke victim on a litter during Operation Desert Shield, January 23, 1991 – National Archives Identifier: 6459391
2/12 - Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) board a transport aircraft bound for Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield, January 23, 1991 – National Archives Identifier: 6462503
3/12 - AH-64A Apache advanced attack and OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters of the 101st Airborne Division Operation Desert Storm, March 3, 1991 – National Archives Identifier: 6473884
4/12 - Soldiers of Co. A, 3rd Bn., 502nd Inf. Regt., 101st Airborne Div. urban warfare training exercise during Operation Desert Shield, April 1, 1992 – National Archives Identifier: 6471080
5/12 - 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) marches across the apron to board the aircraft to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield, January 23, 1991 – National Archives Identifier: 6462502
6/12 - Co. A, 3rd Bn., 502nd Inf. Regt., 101st Airborne Div. use an abandoned town for urban warfare training during Operation Desert Shield April 1, 1992 – National Archives Identifier: 6471087
7/12 - 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) soldiers drink water at the tent of a Kuwaiti man in Kuwait, Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, March 24, 2003 – National Archives Identifier: 6642002
8/12 - 101st Airborne Division and 4th Iraqi Army Division ask Iraqi civilians for information during a joint patrol operation in Tikrit, Iraq on April 18, 2006 – National Archives Identifier: 6679369
9/12 - Members of B Company, 1-502nd Infantry Battalion, 101st Airborne Division move through an orchard – National Archives Identifier: 6677731
10/12 - B Company, 1-502nd Infantry Battalion, 101st Airborne Division patrol with Iraqi National Guard on the afternoon of April 20, 2006 – National Archives Identifier: 6677751
11/12 - UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the 101st Airborne Division airlift troops and M-151 light vehicles during joint Exercise Bright Star ’83 – National Archives Identifier: 6677751
12/12 - US Army Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Clifford West, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), at an outpost on the Kosovo border. May 30, 2001 – National Archives Identifier: 6597229
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Members of the 101st Airborne Division transport a heat stroke victim on a litter during Operation Desert Shield, January 23, 1991 – National Archives Identifier: 6459391
Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) board a transport aircraft bound for Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield, January 23, 1991 – National Archives Identifier: 6462503
AH-64A Apache advanced attack and OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters of the 101st Airborne Division Operation Desert Storm, March 3, 1991 – National Archives Identifier: 6473884
Soldiers of Co. A, 3rd Bn., 502nd Inf. Regt., 101st Airborne Div. urban warfare training exercise during Operation Desert Shield, April 1, 1992 – National Archives Identifier: 6471080
101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) marches across the apron to board the aircraft to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield, January 23, 1991 – National Archives Identifier: 6462502
Co. A, 3rd Bn., 502nd Inf. Regt., 101st Airborne Div. use an abandoned town for urban warfare training during Operation Desert Shield April 1, 1992 – National Archives Identifier: 6471087
101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) soldiers drink water at the tent of a Kuwaiti man in Kuwait, Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, March 24, 2003 – National Archives Identifier: 6642002
101st Airborne Division and 4th Iraqi Army Division ask Iraqi civilians for information during a joint patrol operation in Tikrit, Iraq on April 18, 2006 – National Archives Identifier: 6679369
Members of B Company, 1-502nd Infantry Battalion, 101st Airborne Division move through an orchard – National Archives Identifier: 6677731
B Company, 1-502nd Infantry Battalion, 101st Airborne Division patrol with Iraqi National Guard on the afternoon of April 20, 2006 – National Archives Identifier: 6677751
UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the 101st Airborne Division airlift troops and M-151 light vehicles during joint Exercise Bright Star ’83 – National Archives Identifier: 6677751
US Army Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Clifford West, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), at an outpost on the Kosovo border.  May 30, 2001 – National Archives Identifier: 6597229
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