Original U.S. WWII 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion (509th PIB) Named Grouping
Original Items: One-of-a-kind grouping. James Earl Duncan born on August 7th, 1924 enlisted in1942, was assigned to the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and spent 25 months overseas and in combat. Genuine WWII 509th PIR material is, perhaps, the most difficult of the Parachute Infantryman to locate.With the advent of World War II, the United States Armed Forces foresaw a need for highly mobile units that the Allies could quickly insert into the theater of battle. The 509th PIR was originally constituted on 14 March 1941 as the 504th Parachute Battalion and activated on 5 October 1941 at Fort Benning, Georgia. The 503rd and 504th Parachute Infantry Battalions were joined together to form the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment on 24 February 1942 at Fort Bragg, NC. The 504th PIB was reorganized and redesignated as the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, and its Companies A, B, and C were redesignated as Companies D, E, and F, respectively, of the 503rd PIR.
In June 1942, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Edson Duncan Raff, the 2nd Battalion, 503rd PIR was detached from the 503rd PIR and sailed to Scotland, becoming the first American parachute unit to go overseas in World War II. It was attached to the British 1st Airborne Division for training, which included mass tactical jumps from C-47 aircraft at 350 feet, extensive night training, and speed marching for 10 miles to and from the training area daily; and on one occasion, marching 32 miles in 11 hours. In summer 1942, Allied forces were completing the task of planning Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, with the 2nd Battalion, 503rd PIR scheduled to take the lead and make the first combat jump.
Operation Torch was the first joint military action undertaken by the Allies in World War II. This was the springboard for the idea, formed by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, of attacking the "soft underbelly of Europe" before attempting a cross-channel attack from England onto mainland Europe. The main objective of Torch was to seize French Northwest Africa and, for political reasons, the Americans would lead operation. The airborne segment of the operation entailed flying 1,500 miles from England to seize two French airfields near Oran.
Just prior to Operation Torch, on 2 November 1942 the battalion was again redesignated, as the 2nd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment. On this momentous day, as C-47s flew over the English countryside, the 509th paratrooper was born.
The 2-509th PIR carried out the first American combat jump during the invasion of North Africa. The transport planes flew all the way from English airfields to the African coast. This first operation was unsuccessful, with 7 of its 39 C-47s widely scattered. Only 10 aircraft actually dropped their troops, while the others unloaded after 28 troop carriers, nearly out of fuel, landed on the Sebkha d'Oran, a dry lake near their target. The 509th marched overland to occupy its objective, and on 15 November 300 paratroopers successfully dropped on the Youks-les-Bains Airfield.
Forty-six Paratroopers from the 509th participated in the liberation of Ventotene, a small Italian island, on 9 September 1943. The German commander was tricked into surrendering to the weaker American force before realizing his mistake. An account of this is given in John Steinbeck's "Once There Was a War."
Later, the 509th PIR saw two more combat jumps in Italy and Southern France. After landing, they were often used as elite mountain infantry in the Italian mountains and French Alps. Corporal Paul B. Huff, a member of the 509th, was the first American paratrooper awarded the Medal of Honor on 29 February 1944 for action at Anzio, Italy.
On 10 December 1943 the battalion was redesignated as the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion.
During the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944, the 509th fought in Belgium to blunt the German attack. An account of this battle is described in the book "Bloody Clash at Sadzot." The war ended for the 509th at the end of January 1945 near St. Vith, Belgium, with only about 50 remaining unwounded of the original 700 who entered the battle. Effective 1 March 1945 the 509th PIB was disbanded, and the men left were used as replacements for the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division.
Genuine WWII 509th PIR material is, perhaps, the most difficult of the Parachute Infantryman to locate. Included in this set are the following items:
- Class A four pocket jacket with 5th Army patch as issued in Italy with Italian Theater-made PARACHUTE tab made of Italian wool uniform scrap. Tab was made to distinguish members of the 509th PIB from other 5th Army personnel. The 509th did not have an authorized shoulder sleeve insignia due to being only a battalion. The 509th was attached to the 5th Army while in Italy 19 Nov 1943 - 15 Jul 1944 which authorized their personnel to wear the 5th Army shoulder sleeve insignia. Jacket also features medal ribbon bar with the following awards: Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, Army Good Conduct Medal, European- Africa- Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four bronze battle stars, Belgian Red and Green Fourragère shoulder cord, Sterling silver parachute jump wings over a blue felt backing, a Combat Infantryman Badge, Rifleman Expert badge, ruptured duck, Presidential Unit Citation, and four overseas service bar on right sleeve.
- Original Wartime Photo of Duncan and two of his buddies, the back reads "Italy 1944" James E. Duncan (Center).
- June 1982 USAR ID Card
- 509th Geronimo Parachute Infantry Association Membership Card
- Aluminum "good luck" coin
- DUNCAN post war uniform name patch
- Official Army records of Duncan's service from 1943 through 1972. He received purple heart with 3 oak leaf clusters throughout his career and it documents his awards and campaigns in WWII.
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