While the Army’s airborne units and infantry divisions were dropping into France as part of the D-Day invasion 70 years ago, the cavalry units of today’s Fort Hood were participating in the war on different fronts.
Both the 1st Cavalry Division and the 3rd Cavalry Regiment functioned more as infantry units during World War II, having turned in their horses before the war to become mechanized.
About 10,000 soldiers with the 1st Cavalry Division spent 1943 to 1945 in the Pacific, said Steven Draper, director of the division’s museum.
“They had just completed the liberation of the Admiralty Islands a few weeks before (D-Day) and the division was put into position for the invasion of the Philippines as part of Gen. (Douglas) MacArthur’s island-hopping campaign on the way to Japan,” he said.
It was during this campaign and the liberation of the Philippines that the division earned its nickname the “First Team” for being the first in Manila, Draper said.
“People tend to do a lot of commemorating actions of the European theater and the Pacific war was a completely different war,” Draper said. “It was, I think, a lot dirtier.”
Soldiers had to constantly adjust to environments changing from jungles to mountains, as well as the insects and wildlife living there.
Despite most people’s belief that the Marine Corps handles the Pacific, Draper said the Army had a major role to support those operations.
“Just the logistics of moving ships and equipment and weapons and men across the Pacific, up and down the far east through the island hopping campaign,” he said. “We’re talking of moving supplies thousands of miles.”
Third Cav, known then as the 3rd Cavalry Group, landed in Normandy with 1,550 soldiers two months after D-Day. That was where the unit’s combat action began, said Scott Hamric, 3rd Cavalry Museum director. In November, the unit was the first under XX Corps to cross into Germany.
“Their mission was very little different than what the horse cavalry had done for years and even a couple centuries,” Hamric said. “Simply get out and find the enemy.”
The unit was so effective at its reconnaissance and getting behind enemy lines, the Germans thought they were an entire division, Hamric said.
In May 1945, 3rd Cav arrived in Ebensee, Austria, where soldiers discovered a concentration camp. More than 16,000 starving prisoners were living in “deplorable” conditions and forced to dig into the mountainside by the Germans.
“The Germans were building factories inside these mountains,” Hamric said, adding a display at the museum is focused on this camp’s liberation.