History of the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment

By Don Abbott
Lt. D Co. (Nadzab & Noemfoor), The Executive Officer In E CO. (Corregidor) and Company Commander of A Co. (Negros)

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The 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team, World War II began with the activation of the 503rd 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 501st, 502nd and 504th. On 2 March 1942 the 503rd Parachute Battalion was the nucleus around which the 503rd 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 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 redesignated as the Second Battalion which had been sent to England and eventually, redesignated as the 509th. The Regiment landed in Cairns, Australia 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 if the 462d Parachute Field Artillery Battalion on the 29 march 1944 and the 161st Parachute Engineer Company on 13 September 1944.

During it's more than three years service in the Southwest Pacific Theater, the 503rd 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 503rd 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 form being abandoned following several less than successful engagements in Europe.

  2. Two rifle battalions of the 503rd 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 riffle 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 form 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 503rd 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 at 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 Lingyen 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 the occupying Japanese forces. This was the most vicious combat action in which the Combat Team was engaged in 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 169 men killed and many more 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 503rd. 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 surviving Japanese troops surrendered to the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team.

  6. 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.

  7. 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 Anza, California.

  8. 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.
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