WW1 officer’s uniform, 9th Infantry, 2nd Division

Tomorrow the 2nd Infantry Division will observe 100 years of service to the nation. Perhaps a few words about the organization of large military formations are in order here. In the 1917 U.S. Army the ascending math goes like this: a company was several platoons, a battalion was several companies, a regiment was several battalions, a brigade was two regiments, a division was two brigades, a corps was more than one division and an army was more than one corps. Got it?

During the Civil War both Northern and Southern forces had armies, corps, divisions, brigades and regiments, but vastly different in size, and all except some regiments were disbanded after the war. The scale of operations in 1917 required the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) to re-establish this structure. First came regiments, then divisions and a system of numbering had to be devised, since there were no usable precedents. The division numbers 1 through 25 were allocated to the Regular Army, to be filled with serving soldiers and volunteers, the numbers 26 through 75 were reserved for the National Guard and the numbers 76 and up were for the National Army, which would be made up of draftees. As the war progressed all of this got muddy because of the urgent need for replacements and so by war’s end there were both Guardsmen and draftees serving in Regular divisions.

Therefore the 2nd is Regular Army; the second such division formed, although not the second division formed, as the seventeen National Guard divisions came into being earlier. Due to the small size of the 1917 Regular Army and its service commitments elsewhere it took time to free up Regular regiments for the AEF.

By October 1917 there were two unattached Army regiments in France, the 9th and the 23rd Infantry, both of which had been withdrawn from Far Eastern service. Four regiments of infantry were needed, and when the brand-new  5th and 6th Marine regiments arrived, they were slotted in. Thus from inception the 2nd Division was an odd duck: one Army brigade and one Marine brigade. Furthermore, for most of WW1 the 2nd was commanded by Marine generals. The Marine brigade’s successful assault on Belleau Wood in June 1918 became an essential part of the heritage of the Corps.

It is claimed that the 2nd spent more time in action (depending on how one defines ‘action’) in WW1 than any other US division, participating in six of the big 1918 battles.  Dr. Perry Walters has posted a piece about a Tonganoxie man who served with the 2nd in WW1 which you can read about here.

The 2nd had a distinguished record in WW2, but let’s fast forward to Korea, where the 2nd arrived in Pusan on August 24th, 1950, stopped an all-out enemy offensive and remained in Korea until the fall of 1954. No other American unit was more heavily involved in the Korean War.

Strange composition returned for the 2nd in Korea. They were given a battalion of French and two battalions of Dutch soldiers as well as Korean (ROK) personnel assigned under the Korean Augmentation program (KATUSA). These ROK soldiers were actually incorporated into 2nd Division units as low as the platoon level, and over 27,000 KATUSA’s served with the 2nd.

During the 1950’s and 60’s the 2nd went through several reorganizations, some of them experimental, until a re-shuffling of units ultimately led to the 1st Cavalry moving to Vietnam in 1965 and the 2nd returning to Korea, where its headquarters remain today, at Camp Red Cloud in Uijeongbu.

The division continues to be an odd duck. The 1st and 2nd brigades are presently based outside of Korea under other command, so the infantry under the 2nd division are the ROK 16th Mechanized Brigade and a ‘rotational’ brigade from another U.S. division which comes to Korea for a nine-month tour. Currently this brigade is from the 1st Cavalry.

Yet another command anomaly happened in 2004: the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Division served in Iraq’s Fallujah Triangle as a component of the 2nd Marine Division, a reverse flashback to 1918.

James (“Jim”) Patton BS BA MPA is a retired state official from Shawnee, Kansas and a frequent contributor to several WW1 e-publications, including "Roads to the Great War," "St. Mihiel Tripwire," "Over the Top" and "Medicine in the First World War." He has spent many hours walking the WW1 battlefields, and is also an authority on British regiments and a collector of their badges. An Army Engineer during the Vietnam War, he does work for the US World War 1 Centennial Commission and is affiliated with the WW1 Historical Association, the Western Front Association, the Salonika Campaign Society and the Gallipoli Association.