The 1st Marine Division was activated aboard the battleship USS Texas on 1 February 1941. It is the oldest, largest, and most decorated division in the United States Marine Corps, with nine Presidential Unit Citations (PUCs). The 1st Marine Division comprises a Headquarters Battalion, the 1st, 5th, 7th, and 11th Marine Regiments, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st and 3d Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalions, 1st Tank Battalion, and 3d Assault Amphibian Battalion. These units represent a combat-ready force of more than 22,000 Marines and Sailors.
The Guadalcanal campaign in 1942 was the first major American Pacific campaign in World War II and the first time the 1st Marine Division conducted combat operations as a division. The division received its first PUC for its actions and sacrifices on Guadalcanal. 1st Marine Division also received PUCs for the battles of Peleliu and Okinawa. Three weeks after Japan surrendered, the division was dispatched to North China for occupation duty. While in China, the division had numerous encounters with the Chinese Communists. “The Old Breed,” as the division became known, provided the Pusan Fire Brigade when war broke out in Korea. The division was then chosen to land at Inchon on 15 September 1950. The division subsequently fought into the mountains around the Chosin Reservoir. The Chinese Communists suffered more than 37,500 casualties trying to stop the Marines’ march out of the “Frozen Chosin.” The division received its fourth, fifth, and sixth PUCs for its actions in Korea.
The 2d Battalion, 1st Marines deployed to Guantanamo Bay for two months in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. More than 11,000 Marines of the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade participated in the naval blockade, which forced the withdrawal of the missiles from Cuba. In 1965, 7th Marines participated in the first major engagements for American ground troops in South Vietnam. March 1966 saw 1st Marine Division Headquarters established at Chu Lai. By June, the entire division was in South Vietnam. Its zone of operation included the southern two provinces of I Corps Quang Tin and Quang Ngai. Between March 1966 and May 1967, the division conducted 44 named and unnamed operations. Major engagements included Operations HASTINGS and UNION I and II. In these operations, 1st Marine Division units decisively defeated the enemy. During the 1968 Tet Offensive, the division was involved in fierce fighting with both Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army elements. It successfully beat back and decimated every enemy assault in its area of operations, pursuing the enemy into its sanctuaries. It was during this period that the division received its seventh and eighth PUCs.
After six hard years, the 1st Marine Division returned to California in 1971, closing another chapter of dedicated service to Corps and country. In 1975, the division supported the evacuation of Saigon by providing food and temporary shelter at Camp Pendleton for more than 50,000 Vietnamese refugees as they arrived in the United States.
In 1990, the 1st Marine Division formed the core of the force sent to Southwest Asia in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. During Operation DESERT SHIELD, the division provided the ground combat element of I Marine Expeditionary Force in Saudi Arabia against the Iraqi threat. In 1991, the division fought alongside the 2d Marine Division under I MEF and with the rest of the Coalition Forces in Operation DESERT STORM. In 100 hours of offensive ground combat, 1st Marine Division destroyed the enemy in its path as it led the breakthrough to Kuwait City.
Immediately following the Persian Gulf conflict, the division sent units to assist in disaster relief efforts in Bangladesh (Operation SEA ANGEL) and the Philippines (Operation FIERY VIGIL). In 1992, 2d Battalion, 9th Marines and the 15th MEU brought relief to famine-stricken Somalia. The final phase of the operation involved the transition from a U.S. peacemaking force to a United Nations peacekeeping force. U.S. Marine involvement in Operation RESTORE HOPE officially ended 27 April 1993 when the humanitarian relief sector of Mogadishu was handed over to Pakistani forces. Elements of the division ultimately participated in the extraction of U.N. forces from Somalia.
In early 2003, the Division deployed by air and sea to link up with its advance headquarters deployed to Kuwait under I MEF. In a high-speed attack the Marines and Sailors conducted the deepest penetrating ground operation in Marine Corps history. Attacking to Baghdad, and eventually seizing Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, the division again showed the Marine Air-Ground Task Force team in action. The 1st Marine Division conducted stability operations in Baghdad, Tikrit, and then in south-central Iraq from May to October 2003. The division then returned home to Camp Pendleton and 29 Palms and prepared for redeployment. The division received its ninth PUC for its actions in Iraq.
In March 2004 the 1st Marine Division assumed the area of operation in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle. During Operation IRAQI FREEDOM II, the division conducted counterinsurgency operations throughout the Al Anbar Province, culminating in Operation AL FAJR, which liberated the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah and enabled the first legitimate elections to occur in Iraq. During February and March 2005, 1st and 2d Marine Divisions successfully conducted the largest relief in place in the history of the Marine Corps.
Throughout the course of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, 1st Marine Division personnel and units deployed to Afghanistan to provide both advisory support and maneuver elements. In 2010, 1st Marine Division (Forward) deployed to Helmand province, Afghanistan, as part of the surge of more than 30,000 troops into the country. While in Afghanistan, the Division served as the ground combat element for Task Force Leatherneck, leading a multinational coalition and working alongside Afghan National Security Forces. They conducted large-scale offensive operations throughout Helmand province, including Sangin and Musa Qal’eh districts.
In 2012, 1st Marine Division deployed to Afghanistan to serve as the headquarters for Task Force Leatherneck, the ground combat element for Regional Command (Southwest). During the year, the division focused primarily on training and advising Afghans to take over security and stability operations. They assisted with the closure and transition of many posts throughout Helmand province. During spring and summer, coalition and Afghan forces cleared large areas of insurgent forces as part of Operation JAWS.
Today, the 1st Marine Division continues to support overseas combat operations by providing fully trained units and personnel in support of Marine Rotational Force - Darwin, Marine Expeditionary Units, and Unit Deployment Program requirements.