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MacArthur's Angels: Mac & the 11th Airborne Division

With the anniversary of General Douglas MacArthur's death (January 26, 1880 – April, 5, 1964) approaching, I thought I would share a fascinating, yet abbreviated history of Mac and my grandfather's 11th Airborne Division which was a favorite "secret weapon" for The Napoleon of Luzon in World War II (a full review of MacArthur's relationship with The Angels can be found in my book, "When Angels Fall: From Toccoa to Tokyo, The 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II" - Amazon $14.95). The Angels were associated with or touched by several of the war's most historic moments, including some that would thrill military historians and enthusiasts around the world.

A Meeting of the Generals - May 1944

As the 11th Airborne Division sailed for Dobodura, New Guinea in May of 1944, their commanding general Major General Joseph May Swing was was headed for Australia to meet with General MacArthur. Swing was widely recognized as one of America's most qualified airborne commanders having been artillery commander for the 82nd Infantry Division when it was converted to the 82nd Airborne Division where Swing quickly became a disciple of airborne tactics. 

After forming the new 11th Airborne Division at Camp Mackall, North Carolina in November of 1942, Swing had flown to North Africa to advise his old Westpoint roommate General Dwigh D. Eisenhower on the airborne operations in Sicily. After returning home General Swing chaired the famous Swing Board at Camp Mackall which published the training circular which became known as “Employment of Airborne and Troop Carrier Forces” which General Douglas MacArthur certainly received and studied. After Swing's 11th Airborne Division performed so admirably during the test known as The Knollwood Maneuvers in December of 1943 the War Department changed its tune regarding the future of airborne divisions, another victory that MacArthur surely noticed about the 11th Airborne as he himself was more than happy to stick it to Washington. 

While I have been unable to uncover any requests made by MacArthur to have General Swing's division sent to his theater, I imagine it was with some satisfaction that he received word that the 11th Airborne Division was being sent his way. To that end, in May of 1943 General Swing headed for 77-79 York Street in Syndey, Australia to meet with General MacArthur and his staff for several days of briefings to learn what role his beloved division would play in the Pacific. For now, the Angels would undergo several months of theater training on New Guinea, though the fresh division would remain in reserve for ongoing operations around Hollandia to the island's north.

After that the Angels would mostly likely be used heavily during the invasion of Luzon (with a bloody and grueling stop on Leyte first).

Eager to lead his division into combat, General Swing told his men, "Think, eat and dream of war. We’re fighting a desperate enemy." 

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The Raid at Los Baños: 75 Years Later

“I doubt that any airborne unit in the world will ever be able to rival the Los Baños prison raid. It is the textbook airborne operation for all ages and all armies.” ― General Colin Powell, former chairman, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff

 

75 years ago two incredible events occurred thousands of miles across the vast Pacific Ocean. The first took place at around noon six United States Marines raised a second, larger American flag atop Mount Suribachi, a moment that was captured in an iconic photograph by Associated Press (AP) photographer Joe Rosenthal. When AP Photograph Editor John Bodkin received the photo on Guam he exclaimed "Here's one for all time!" and immediately transmitted the image to the AP headquarters in New York City. It became one of the most recognized images from the war, indeed in American history.

The prominence of Rosenthal's photo in the press overshadowed, then and now, the accomplishment of another group of fighting men who risked it all to to rescue over 2,100 men, women and children from behind enemy lines over 1,500 miles southwest of Iwo Jima. Theirs was the second incredible event that took place on February 23, 1945 and it is as inspiring as it is impressive.  

When Imperial Japanese forces invaded the Philippines in December of 1941 it began a brutal occupation of the archipelago that lasted until 1945 and the Filipino people suffered tremendously at the hands of the invaders during those years. An estimated 500,000 Filipinos were killed before the occupation was broken by Allied forces, with the cooperation of local guerrilla groups, in September of 1945. 

511th parachute infantry regiment on New GuineaOne of the main forces battling for the liberation of Luzon in early 1945 was America's 11th Airborne Division, a unique fighting force that landed a portion of their TOE amphibiously at Nasugbu on January 31 and then the remainder on Tagaytay Ridge just south of Manila on February 3. Known as The Angels, the 11th Airborne fought up through southern Manila, breaking through the famous Genko Line, and went on to liberate Nichols Field, Fort William Mckinley, Intramuros, Cavite and several other "battlefields" in vicious engagements and close-quarters fighting that have received far too little attention from historians and both the American and Filipino peoples as a whole (which is one of the main reasons I wrote my highly-acclaimed book, "When Angels Fall: The 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II - Amazon $14.95). 

In the midst of all the heavy fighting, the Angels were given another mission, or at least a directive, from General Douglas MacArthur himself who was growing increasingly concerned about the welfare of tens of thousands of POWs and interned civilians on Luzon. With the U.S. Sixth Army pushing southward from the Lingayen Gulf and Eighth Army (i.e the 11th Airborne Division) pressing north from Nasugbu, and after the massacre of 150 Allied POWs on Palawan, the consensus was that the Japanese appeared more ready to kill their prisoners than allow them to be rescued (a fear that was later confirmed with a discovered order from Japan’s Vice-minister of war LTG Kyoji Tominaga).  

In his autobiographical book Reminiscences MacArthur noted: “I hoped to proceed as rapidly as possible, especially as time was an element connected with the release of our prisoners.… I knew that many of these half-starved and ill-treated people would die unless we rescued them promptly.”

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Who Was Colonel Orin D. "Hard Rock" Haugen? Part 1

While there is an unfortunate scarcity of research out there in regards to the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and the 11th Airborne Division to which the 511th PIR belonged, there has been even less written or documented regarding the men who fought as Angels in World War II. While the 511th PIR served under two leaders during the war whom were greatly revered, the man who laid the foundation for the regiment's historic achievements was given an appropriate nickname for such accomplishments: Hard Rock.

Early Years:

Orin Doughty Haugen (018254) was born on August 18, 1907 in Wyndmere, North Dakota, bringing the population at the time to around 570. Orin's health was poor for much of his developmental years and as such he became a target for school bullies who often picked on the future Angel. it was during these years that Orin decided he would never back down from a fight or run away in fear, an attribute he would instill in his paratroopers nearly two decades later. 

West Point to Pearl Harbor

After high school Orin attended first St. Olaf's College in Northfield, MN then Cornell College in 1925 before, at age 19, he was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point on July 1, 1926 where he spent four years learning what it meant to be a good soldier and an exceptional leader. For reasons Orin never fully clarified publicly, he hated his time at West Point, but he was dedicated to his pursuit and applied himself fully to the task. As such, Cadet Haugen graduated 3rd in his class with a Bachelor's of Science degree and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Infantry on June 12, 1930.  

His first posting was to historic Fort Snelling at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, an assignment that was made considerably brighter when he met Minneapolis-native Marion Sargent who was the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. W. E. Sargent. After the two were married in a happy, but modest celebration on June 1, 1931, Marion dutifully accepted the life of a "soldier's wife". The young couple shared many adventures and common interests together, including horse back riding which the two were quite proficient at. In fact, the Haugens appeared in several horse shows around the Twin Cities area and Marion's horse "Whiskey" has a prominent burial site at Fort Snelling.

By this time Orin had also become quite proficient in polo and over the course of the ensuing years would travel intermittently to play and compete for the Army. He also continued his passion for running, a habit he formed while running cross-country at West Point and one that would heavily influence the training of his future 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment (much to the men's dismay). 

It was somewhere around this time that, ironically, the athletic Haugen started smoking cigarettes, a habit that was common at the time and would lead to several officers who served with Orin to label him a definitive "chain smoker." In fact, when fighting alongside the paratroopers of his 511th PIR in the mountains of Leyte in late 1944, Haugen was seen searching for cigarette butts to spear with a stick to get one final puff. 

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Camp Toccoa & the 511th PIR

 

With America officially at war, in 1942 the country's military leadership began to accelerate the training of their still very new parachute troops. And Camp Toccoa, Georgia, now made famous by the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers", played an important role in that effort.

While Toccoa was, by comparison, a “little camp outside a little town far off the beaten path", over 18,000 young men and officers would train there and go on to fight overseas in northern AND southern France, in Holland, and at the Battle of the Bulge then "liberate" Hitler's Kehlsteinhaus, or Eagle's Nest, and then march down Pennsylvania Avenue after the war was over "over there".

At least, that is the limit to what most airborne enthusiasts and even some historians believe to be the case. Far too often the story of the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment is overlooked or forgotten although it was the third of the four regiments (the 506th, 501st, 511th and 517th in that order) that formed at Camp Toccoa. Like all original Toccoa-men, the 511th cut its teeth (and "sweat blood") on the area's famous Currahee Mountain before, according to its future commander Colonel Edward H. Lahti, going on to create a "record unmatched in history".

But it is a record that most people know nothing about and it is of no surprise that my grandfather, 1st Lieutenant Andrew Carrico, III disliked most history books on the war since his beloved 511th PIR was hardly covered, if it was mentioned at all. His was a common sentiment among the "old troopers" of the 511th, and the 11th Airborne Division to which they belonged, a feeling of resentment they griped about at post-war regimental reunions for decades as attested to by my grandmother, Jane Carrico. Jane is a proud "Angelette" who became dear friends with many troopers and their wives and continues to champion the cause of the mighty 511th even after most of its men have made "the final jump."  

With countless Hollywood movies, documentaries, television series, magazines articles, blog posts, podcasts and books dedicated to the 82nd (517th PIR), 101st (501st & 506th PIRs) and 17th Airborne Divisions (517th PIR), the question many 11th Airborne Division troopers painfully had for the remainder of their lives was: What about us?  

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