Happy 76th to the ‘Forgotten 551st’
The 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion (551st PIB) was formed 26 November 1942 at Fort Kobbe in the Panama Canal Zone, drawing its cadre came from Company C of the 501st Parachute Infantry Battalion and fleshed out with new recruits, formed initially to storm the Vichy French Caribbean island colony of Martinique. With the Vichy government folding before that could happen, the 551st was sent to Europe, dropping as part of the provisional 1st Airborne Task Force into Southern France in August 1944.
Over the next five months, the 551st would be bled white.
Attached later to the 82nd Airborne, they were wiped out at the Battle of the Bulge and the 110 remaining officers and men were folded into other All American units and the 551st quietly disbanded 27 January 1945 without ceremony at Juslenville, Belgium.
The official motto of the 551st, seen on the early unit patch above, “Aterrice y Ataque” is Spanish for “land and attack.” The insignia depicts an eagle on which is superimposed a shield bearing a palm tree and a machete. The green palm tree represents Panama, where the 551st was activated and began training in late 1942. The machete represents jungle warfare and the 551st original mission to invade Martinique. The red lightning bolt is symbolic of the battalion’s rapid insertion, quick-strike capability.
Long all but lost to history, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism during the Battle of the Bulge to the unit during an official ceremony at the Pentagon on 23 February 2001.