We meet again

  • Published
  • By Brian Smith
  • 317th Airlift Group Historian
Airmen from the 317th Airlift Group were recently reunited with another unit who shares little known history forged in combat over 70 years ago. While deployed to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, members of the 317th AG flew elements of the 503rd Infantry Regiment from their base in Italy to Eastern Europe as part of a NATO show of force during the on-going crisis in Ukraine.

Soon after the American entry into WWII, two Army units were both formed and activated in February 1942, as part of the larger effort to quickly expand our military forces to eventually defeat the Axis powers in the Pacific and Europe. The 317th Troop Carrier Group was initially organized around 83 personnel and two worn-out C-47 transport aircraft in San Antonio, Texas. Before shipping out to the Pacific at the end of 1942, the 317 TCG would grow to more than 1,000 personnel and take acceptance of 56 new C-47 aircraft. During the same time, the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment was formed at Fort Benning, Ga., and would eventually grow to a 2,000 paratrooper unit.

Both the 317th TCG and the 503rd PIR arrived in Australia within a few weeks of each other. Over the next 27 months of combat the two units became the nucleus of Gen. MacArthur's airborne assault team, which helped drive Japanese forces from the doorstep of Australia all the way back to Japan and an eventual unconditional surrender. The 317th TCG took part in all five major American airborne campaigns of the Pacific War with the 503rd PIR as the main paratrooper regiment in three of those airdrops.

The precision and teamwork between the 317th TCG and 503rd PIR culminated in the battle to retake Corregidor Island, Philippines, in February 1945. Gen. Wainwright, along with 11,000 Filipino and American troops, surrendered Corregidor to the Japanese in April 1942, after five months of fierce fighting. The Japanese reinforced the island as a fortress protecting the entrance to Manila Bay. During four massive airdrop waves over two days, the 317 TCG's four squadrons of C-47s airdropped more than 2,000 503rd PIR paratroopers onto Corregidor.

Despite concentrated anti-aircraft and small arms fire, the 317th delivered the paratroopers over the target sustaining battle damage to more than half of its 51 aircraft. The assault on Corregidor was the most intense combat action in which the 503rd PIR engaged in during its history. During the airborne phase of the battle 12 paratroopers were killed and 267 were wounded. Both units were awarded Presidential Unit Citations for their actions in retaking Corregidor Island.

Since WWII, the 317th AG and 503rd IR have crossed paths in various conflicts around the globe. More recently the 317th AG resupplied the 503rd IR in 2004 and 2005, during the fighting in and around Ramadi, Iraq. The two units teamed up again in 2007 and 2008, fighting insurgents in Eastern Afghanistan where the 317th airdropped critical supplies to 503rd forward operating bases in the Kunar Province.

Both unit nicknames were forged during WWII combat. The 317th's "I Gain By Hazard" was coined as the unit flew into the uncharted interior of New Guinea to help drive out the Japanese forces. The 503rd earned its nickname "The Rock Regiment" from the blood of its paratroopers who retook Corregidor. Each with their own rich heritage, the 317th Airlift Group and the 503rd Infantry Regiment continue to work together when called upon to execute our nation's toughest military challenges.