First in Combat
Organized on June 8, 1917, for duty on the Western Front in World War I, this first permanent division in the regular US Army has seen action in all American wars since 1917, except the Korean, and has performed magnificently in all of its service.
Often the first unit of the U.S. Army to deploy and engage the enemy, the division has been characterized by an ability to learn systematically from experience and to distill this learning into techniques and methods to improve battlefield performance. Central to this learning has been the training of soldiers and the development of competent leaders at all levels. In the process the “Big Red One” (so called for the red numeral that has adorned its shoulder patch since 1918) has also been characterized by a remarkable esprit that has remained with the veterans long after their active service has ended. That human experience is an important part of the American national experience. The 1st Infantry Division’s contributions to this nation’s defense offer insights into the history of the Army and the United States.
First Division FAQs
Q. What sets the 1st Infantry Division apart from other divisions of the US Army?
A. The 1st Infantry Division is the oldest and continuously active division in the US Army today.
Q. What is a division?
A. The division is the smallest unit in the US Army that is capable of sustained, independent action in the field.
Q. Does the division have a nickname?
A. The 1st Infantry Division has two nicknames. It has been called the Fighting First, but the more common nickname is the Big Red One.
Q. Why is it called the Big Red One?
A. The nickname is based on the Division’s shoulder patch insignia. The shoulder patch is composed of a red numeral one centered on a green shield and was adopted in 1918.
Q. Does the 1st Infantry have a memorable saying embodying its spirit?
A. Yes. The motto of the Big Red One is “No Mission Too Difficult. No Sacrifice Too Great. Duty First!”
Q. In what major conflicts has the division participated?
A. WWI, WWII, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, Bosnia/Kosovo, and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Q. Please explain why there is no mention of the Korean War in the division’s history or the museum?
A. The 1st Infantry Division did not participate in the Korean War. The division was stationed in Germany from 1945 to 1955. There, it was the main American military unit holding the line against any potential Soviet invasion against Western Europe.
Q. Where is the 1st Infantry Division?
A. The Big Red One is headquartered at Fort Riley, Kansas.
Q. Why is there a museum about the division located in the suburbs outside Chicago?
A. Col. Robert R. McCormick, the late editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune, owned this estate. His service with the Fighting First during WWI had so impressed him that he renamed his estate Cantigny in honor of the Division’s first battle in France. When Col. McCormick passed away, his will set up a trust to open and maintain his estate as a public park. The trustees honored the Colonel’s love of the division by establishing a First Division Museum on the estate.