The Americal (23rd) Infantry Division is unique in the annuals U.S. Army history. It was the only modern Army division that began with a name and no number assigned to it. Each time it was activated in war it grew out of a Task Force first. All three times the division was activated, it was activated outside the continental U.S. Each time, the Americal served in jungle terrain, earning the moniker of "The Jungle Warriors".
Both times the Americal was brought into existence in wartime, it was to assist the U.S. Marine Corps when the Marines were threatened by overwhelming enemy forces. On Guadalcanal the Americal's arrival kept the 1st Marine Division's defensive lines from being overrun and the Americal's arrival there was the first offensive use of Army units in WWII.
The Americal went on to defeat the enemy wherever it found them in World War II, from the dense and swampy jungles of Guadalcanal and Bougainville to the more open terrain interspersed with thick vegetation and rugged hills of the Philippine Islands.
Activated in Panama during the Cold War from 1954-56, the division received a numeric designation as the 23rd Army Infantry Division, but many of its soldiers, aware of the division's legacy in WWII, called themselves "The Americal." It was a new kind of "war" in the 1950's for which the Americal accomplished
its mission of protecting the Panama Canal and the Caribbean Basin in splendid fashion.
In South Vietnam in 1967 the U.S. Marines were severely stretched in personnel and territorial responsibility in the I Corps area of operations with the enemy continuing to inflistrate vast numbers of soldiers into South Vietnam. The Americal was activated once again to defend the southern half of the I Corps tactical area, fighting in every type of terrain imaginable, from the coastal plains to the rolling hills of the Piedmont and the rugged triple-canopied Annamite Mountains.
In all these periods that the Americal Division served its country, artillery was a crucial support to the Americal accomplishing its mission. Field Artillery units operated in some of the most difficult terrain in the history of indirect fire support. Artillery, coastal artillery and anti-aircraft artillery persevered in intolerable heat, tropical rain and muddy conditions. The artillery of the Americal insured the success of the division wherever and whenever it served to secure the blessings of liberty for America.
World War II-A Division is Born
The Americal Division was formed from task force 6814 in New Caledonia, Southwest Pacific on 24 May 1942. The Americal name was taken from "Americans in New Caledonia" and was the only U.S. Army division with a name and not a number. The task
force was rushed to the southwest Pacific to stem the tide of Japanese invasions and to keep a sea lane open from the United States to Australia and New Zealand. Artillery units of many types were hurriedly loaded onto the shops of the task force, whichever was available at the time in the United States. Many artillery units supported the division in WWII in an assigned, attached or detached status.
Part of the Americal Division went into action on Guadalcanal on 13 October 1942 in support of U.S. Marines, the first army infantry to engage the enemy in World War II. The entire division soon followed to help defeat the enemy forces on the island.
The Americal Division fought in extensive operations against Japanese Forces on Guadalcanal, Bougainville and the Philippine Islands (Leyte, Cebu, Samar, Bojol and Negros Oriental). Sivision operations included amphibious assaults against fiercely defended islands where the Americal's artillery was in close support to the infantry. The division trained on the island of Cebu for the invasion of Japan when the war ended. The Americal Division landed on Japan on 8 September 1945 to take part in occupation duties. The division's artillery units were primarily responsible for securing the area around the cities of Yokohama and Kawasaki. The division's artillery commander was headquartered in Yokohama. The division left Japan in November
to return its soldiers to the United States. On 12 December 1945 the Americal Division was inactivated at Fort Lewis, Washington. In its WWII legacy the Division was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation (Navy) for its service on Guadalcanal.
Cold War-A Different Challenge
The Americal Infantry Division was activated again in the Cold War, this time designated as the 23rd Infantry Division in the Panama Canal Zone, on 2 December 1954. It acquired the lineage, heraldry, jonors and traditions of the Americal of WWII> The division occupied a joint headquarters with HQ, U.S. Army Caribbean (USARCARIB) at Fort Amador, Canal Zone. The Commander of the USARCARIB also commanded the 23rd Infantry Division. Units supporting the division were located on the Canal Zone, in Puerto Rico and in the continental United States, primarily at Fort Benning, Georgia. The mission of the U.S. Army Caribbean was to "keep the art of jungle warfare alive in the army". The 23rd Infantry (Americal) Division supported the USARCARIB in its mission as well as protecting the Panama Canal and Caribbean basin during the Cold War.
The 504th Field Artillery Battalion (105mm towed) stationed at Fort Kobbe, Canal Zone, was in direct support of the 33rd Infantry Regiment, also at Fort Kobbe. The 58th Field Artillery Battalion (105mm towed) stationed at Henry Barracks, Puerto Rico was in direct support of the divisions 65th Infantry Reigiment (Puerto Rico National Guard) at Camp Losey, Puerto Rico. The 23rd Artillery Batallion (105mm) and 219th Artillery Battalion (155mm) were located at Fort Benning, Georgia, along with the 29th Infantry Regiment. These units had dual missions of supporting the infantry center at Fort Benning while training to round-out the units needed to allow the 23rd (Americal) Division to deploy in war. The two Fort Benning Artillery Battalions rotated training at Fort Benning to become fully deployable under the Army Training Program (ATP).
Vietnam War-Freedom Calls Again
Task Force Oregon was designated the 23rd "Americal" Infantry Division on 26 September 1967 in Chu Lai, Southern First Corps, Republic of South Vietnam. The division, although designated the 23rd Infantry Division, was most often referred to as the Americal Division from its jungle fighting legacy in World War II.
The division became the largest infantry division in teh Vietnam War and its heavily contested area of operations in Quang Ngai and Quang Tin Provinces included more territory than any other division in Vietnam. It operated in diverse terrain from the triple-canopied mountainous central highlands to the heavily foliaged piedmont to the flat and open coastal plains. Its diverse missions against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army included search and destroy, search and clear, rice harvest protection and accelerated pacification. These missions required the division's artillery support units to be deployed on many hilltops, in isolated areas, always subject to direct attack from the enemy. The division was inactivated on 29 November 1971 at Fort Lewis, Washington. For its service in Vietnam the Americal Division and its units received numerous awards of the U.S. Army Presidential Unit citation, U.S. Navy Presidential Unit citation,Valorous Unit award, Meritorious Unit award, and The Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm.