A Brief History of the 501 Parachute Infantry Regiment.
The 501 Parachute Infantry Regiment (501 PIR) was activated in Toccoa,
GA in 1942 where the young men who volunteered from hazardous duty
were given basic training. They earned their paratrooper wings at
Fort Benning in May, undertook unit training at Camp McCall in North
Carolina throughout the summer and went on maneuvers in Tennessee
thereafter. The 501 PIR, commanded by Colonel Howard Johnson (Jumpy
Johnson), was attached to the 101st
during WWII. They made their first jump into Normandy in the early
morning hours of D-Day, June 6, 1944. After combat in Normandy,
they returned to England to prepare for the jump into Holland on
September 17, 1944.
The 501 PIR dropped in at Veghel, 25 miles behind the German front
lines, to seize and hold the highway and railroad bridges across
the Willemsvaart Canal, a major water barrier on the route of Montgomery’s
Second British Army to the “bridge too far” at Arnhem. This corridor
is known as Hell’s Highway.
In late November, the 101st
division was returned to
France to receive replacements, replace missing equipment and prepare
for a Rhine crossing in March. Three weeks later the German winter
offensive in the Ardennes erupted and the 101st
into trucks for an overnight rush to Bastogne in Belgium on Dec.
. The 501 PIR was the first unit to arrive and moved
out at dawn to meet the approaching German column three miles beyond
the town. It stopped the enemy cold and held until the rest of the
division could arrive. The “Battered Bastards” staved off elements
of seven German divisions before Patton broke through the encirclement
on December 26th
. The fighting became even heavier as
the Airborne then went on the offensive.
On January 20, 1945 the now tattered Airborne division was hurried
to Alsace where Hitler’s “Operation Nordwind” offensive, under the
personal direction of Heinrich Himmler, was threatening a sector
of the Seventh Army front. The 501PIR, now to 60% strength, occupied
defensive positions there until returning to France early in March.
As the war in Europe was nearing its end, the 101st
was sent to the Ruhr pocket to help in mop up operations. The 501st
remained in France, preparing to jump on POW camps if deemed necessary
to rescue American prisoners – which it never was. In August the
regiment was detached from the 101st
and sailed for home
to be deactivated at Fort Benning, GA.
In the course of the three campaigns, 517 members of the regiment
were killed or died of wounds in action among total causalities
of 1751, including wounded or missing in action, according to the
Airborne Division records
Stu’s Notes; I met Tim Timmons and his wife Leona, years
ago, we both belong to the Tri county Retired Labors Lo. 185 Group.
They take all Union Construction Workers in the area. I am a retired
Ironworker and Tim is a Retired Operating Engineer. “Spud” Mathis
and Lee Williams are the leaders. Tim trained at Camp Roberts when
it was not much more than a camp in the mud. He was in the 101st
Airborne, 501st Regiment. Tim, as Staff Sgt and the “Old
Man”, 22, trained many a young man for the jumps on D-Day and Market
Garden. They also fought at Bastone, bearing the brunt of the first
attacks by the Germans at the little town of Wardin, Dec. 19, 1944.
Soon they were at Fort Benning GA at camp McCall, for more training.
Then to England and moved into a horse stable to train six more
months until D-Day. June 4th they went to the planes
but it was cancelled. The next day they went to the planes again,
Ike came out and talked to his men, they got on the planes at 10pm
on June 5th and flew across the English Channel. He was
amazed to see the 22 mile channel full of boats. They flew across
the southern coast of France under heavy anti-aircraft fire. As
jump master, Tim stood in the door looking for landmarks. When his
plane broke off course, they jumped at about 12:05AM June 6th.
Tim was wounded on the first day, surrounded by Germans, he lay
on the beach for 3 more days and spent eight months in English and
American Hospitals. His men went on to fight until the end of the
war. He is immensely proud of them and of his commander Colonel
Howard “Jumpy” Johnson, who was fatally wounded in a mortar attack
near Heteren, on October 8, 1944. As he was being evacuated, his
last words to LTC Julian Ewell were, “Take care of my boys”.(and
he did). Tim is now one of the few men left of the 501. His friend
Michael C. Finn, who kept their reunions together has passed on.
The story of the 501st is little known, as most of their
officers were killed.