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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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