'Red Bull Division' has a storied history
The 1,000 soldiers of the 34th Infantry Division embarking on a historic mission to Iraq this spring will add onto a long revered history.
The Red Bulls, as they are more commonly known, have roots back to the Civil War. They started making a name for themselves during World War I in New Mexico. Created from National Guard troops of Minnesota, Iowa, the Dakotas and Nebraska the division was established in late summer 1917, four months after the United States entered World War One.
While soldiers with the 34th came from all over the Midwest, most of soldiers came from Minnesota, which is why the division was eventually headquartered in the state, said Lt. Col. Eric Andringa, the division historian.
Preparing for action in Europe the division trained at Camp Cody in Deming, New Mexico. Andringa said the division ties to New Mexico are the reason it sports an insignia that does not reflect Minnesota.
The Red Bull badge was based on a design by Marvin Cone of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who drew it for a contest while training with the division at Camp Cody. A steer skull imposed on the shape of a Mexican water jar, called an olla, referred to the division's desert home not far from the Mexican border.
During World War II, German soldiers in Italy referred to the American soldiers who wore the familiar patch as "Red Devils" or "Red Bulls." The latter name stuck and the division soon adopted it officially. The name replaced its World War I nickname of "Sandstorm Division."
"The 34th has a lot of really colorful history to it," said Andringa.
World War II
While the division didn't see much action during World War I, its soldiers would see more than their fair share during the Great War. Andringa said the 34th was the first American division to depart for Europe in 1942 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor threw the United States into the war.
"Attack, attack, attack," became the division's slogan early in its fighting career.
Within five weeks of Pearl Harbor, the first soldiers from the division secretly shipped out for Belfast, Northern Ireland, aboard HMTS Straithard.
When newspapers throughout Great Britain reported that the first Yank had landed, they were referring to Pvt. Milburn H. Henke of Hutchinson, a member of the division's Co. B, 133rd Infantry Regiment, who was first off the boat, according to Andringa.
Throughout 1942 the entire division trained in Ireland and Scotland. It was then the elite First Ranger Battalion was formed under the command of Cpt. William Darby. Some 80 percent of the unit's volunteers were drawn from the 34th, and they soon became famous as "Darby's Rangers."
The division's first taste of war came in November of 1942 when it helped with Operation TORCH, a series of Allied landings that cut off escape routes for Gen. Erwin Rommel's Afrika Corp.
From there, 34th soldiers would support efforts against the Axis powers in both the European and Pacific Theaters. In all, Andringa said the 34th served more than 500 days of front line combat in five major campaigns -- more combat days than any other American division in any theatre of the war, with some elements of the division credited with over 600 days. It suffered 21,362 casualties --3,737 killed, 14,165 wounded, 3,460 missing in action. For their efforts soldiers from the division received 11 Medals of Honor, 98 Distinguished Service Crosses and 1,072 Silver Stars.
In addition the division earned three Presidential Unit Citations, 15 Unit Commendations and 525 separate division citations. The French government awarded the 34th the Croix de Guerre With Palms for gallantry in action alongside French troops.
The 100th "Nisei" Infantry Battalion, composed of United States citizens of Japanese descent and attached to the 34th for much of the Italian Campaign, became the most highly decorated battalion in the United States Army.
Nixed, then reborn
The 34th was deactivated after WW II. Then, in 1968, it was eliminated completely as result of Pentagon-mandated troop reductions. From there the Minnesota based 47th Division took over. Andringa said it was sad considering that the division had a reputation as one of the toughest during the war.
In the early 1990s lobbying efforts started to reinstate the celebrated unit. In 1991 the Red Bulls were reinstated replacing the 47th. Shortly after being reinstated the division headquarters, which double as a the Rosemount Community Center, were built in Rosemount.
Making history again
Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the 34th has played a role in the War on Terror. Right after the attacks the Minnesota Army National Guard mobilized to protect area airports.
Since the United States has entered Iraq, the 34th has served in a number of roles. The 1st Brigade Combat team was the longest deployed unit of the war. Andringa said they were deployed for 25 months.
While it has served in a number of roles, none have been as important as the one its about to take on. In February the 34th will deploy more than 1,000 soldiers to southern Iraq where it will provide leadership for a 16,000-person multinational task force. The Red Bulls will be responsible for eight of Iraq's 18 provinces.
Andringa said it is the first time a National Guard division has led active duty forces in combat. Usually active units control troops in combat zones. The 34th will replace the 10th Mountain Division, an active duty Army division out of Ft. Drum, N.Y.
Years ago, such as move would have caused quite a stir. But the role of the Army National Guard has changed and the 34th is up to the task, Andringa said.
"The 34th has a great reputation," said Andringa.
Andringa will deploy with the 34th as the division's historian. He said he looks forward to recording the history of the division as its being made.
*Andringa provided the numbers and historical information for this article.