The 3rd Infantry Division was the third of the sixty-one infantry divisions raised to fight in World War I. The 3rd ID arrived in France May 1918 and two months later established itself as the Rock of the Marne, providing one of the principal defenses against the last major German offensive, the Second Battle of the Marne. General Pershing described the 3rd ID’s actions in the Second Marne as “the most brilliant of the United States military history.”
World War I began the long history of 3rd ID soldiers earning Medals of Honor. The 3rd ID has the distinction of more decorated heroes, notably more Medal of Honor recipients, than any other division of the US Army.
The first MoH recipient ifn the 3rd ID was 1st Lt. George Price Hays, who during the defense of the Marne rode under heavy German bombardment to coordinate return artillery fire, having seven horses shot from under him and being personally severely wounded. Hays went on to become a Lt. General and command the 10th Mountain Division in World War II. The second was Private First Class John L. Barkley, who in battle discovered an enemy machine gun, which he swiftly repaired, mounted on a French tank, waited with under cover of the tank’s armor, and used once the enemy had presented itself at close range to inflict many casualties. Pfc. Barkley withstood a German counterattack, including a hit against the tank by a German 77mm gun at point blank range to break a second attack, sufficiently disrupting enemy forces to allow the capture of a strategic position.
In World War II the 3rd Infantry Division saw action in North Africa, Italy, and France. In North Africa the 3rd ID was one of the first US units to see combat, landing in French Morocco in November 1942, and seizing a large part of the colony. Eight months later the 3rd ID assaulted and captured Sicily, followed by the capture of Salerno, opening mainland Italy. The 3rd ID followed this by joining the assault on Anzio, January 1944, one of the hardest campaigns of the war, where the 3rd took the heaviest casualties in any action it has ever faced, withstanding faced three German divisions in one day, counterattacking 29 February. This fighting finally broke when the 3rd spearheaded out of Anzio and captured Rome. After a short respite the 3rd trained for the invasion of France - southern France, landing as part of Operation Dragoon. This landing allowed the 3rd ID to advance rapidly up through France and link with Allied forces on the Rhine, and continued into Germany itself. Heavy fighting to capture Nuremberg followed, and once the city was captured, on through southern Germany. At the end of the war elements of the 3rd ID were part of the force that captured Hitler’s personal residence, Eagles Nest, in Berchtesgaden.
World War II is the conflict that saw the most 3rd ID Medals of Honor earned, including the MoH earned by (at the time) 2nd Lt. Audie Murphy, who stood under fire, on a burning tank destroyer, firing a .50 M2 machine gun against German attackers for an hour, wounded, and withdrawing only when out of ammunition; he then reorganized his men and finished repelling the German attack. Major Murphy went on to a film career, and was one of the first public figures to speak out on the subject of PTSD, which he suffered. He was the most famous of forty-one Medal of Honor recipients from World War II.
In the Korean War the 3rd ID was deployed to Wonsan, and rapid established a reputation for rapid response to crises, earning the nickname “Fire Brigade.” The 3rd ID fought several actions in Korea, notably the relief of the Marines at Chosin Reservoir and the defense of Hungnam. Eleven more Medals of Honor were earned by 3rd ID soldiers in Korea.
After Korea the 3rd ID was posted to various bases in West Germany, until Germany reunited in 1990; shortly after this the 3rd ID was one of the units sent to Operation Desert Storm. In 2003 the 3rd ID spearheaded the invasion of Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, making the Thunder Run and capturing Baghdad. The 3rd has made several return tours in Iraq and sent units to Afghanistan as part of the Global War on Terror.