3rd Marine Division (United States)

3rd Marine Division

3rd Marine Division insignia
Active 1942–1945, 1952–present
Country  United States of America
Branch United States Marine Corps
Type Marine ground combat element forces
Role Command and control organization containing three Marine regiments and several separate combat support battalions
Size Marine Division (Approximately 13,000)
Part of III Marine Expeditionary Force
Garrison/HQ Camp Courtney[1]
Nickname(s) "Fighting Third"
Motto(s) Fidelity, Valor, Honor
Engagements World War II
* Battle of Bougainville
* Battle of Guam
* Battle of Iwo Jima
Vietnam War
* Operation Starlite
* Operation Hastings
* Operation Buffalo
* Operation Kingfisher
* Operation Kentucky
* Battle of Khe Sanh
* Con Thien
Operation Enduring Freedom
Major General Richard L. Simcock II
MajGen Charles D. Barrett,
MajGen Graves B. Erskine,
BrigGen William E. Riley

The 3rd Marine Division is an infantry division in the United States Marine Corps based at Camp Courtney, Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler and Okinawa, Japan. It is one of three active duty divisions in the Marine Corps and together with the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (1stMAW) and the 3rd Marine Logistics Group (3rd MLG) forms the III Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF). The division was first formed during World War II and saw four years of continuous combat in the Vietnam War.

Subordinate units


World War II

The 3rd Marine Division was officially activated on 16 September 1942 at Camp Elliott, San Diego, California. Most of the original members of the division were drawn from the cadre staff of the 2nd Marine Division.[2] The division was initially built around the 9th Marine Regiment, commanded by Colonel Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr. who later became the 20th Commandant of the Marine Corps. Major General Charles D. Barrett was the first commanding general of the division.

The division echeloned into Auckland, New Zealand between January and March 1943. In June of that year they moved onto Guadalcanal for additional training. 27 September 1943 saw the division land as part of the Battle of Bougainville and fight on the island until their last unit to arrive, the 21st Marine Regiment, embarked on 9 January 1944. During the course of the battle the division had approximately 400 Marines killed.[3]

They returned to Guadalcanal in January 1944 to rest, refit and train. The next operation the division took part in was the Battle of Guam. From 21 July 1944 until the last day of organized fighting on 10 August, the division fought through the jungles on the island of Guam. During these 21 days of fighting, the division captured over 60 square miles (160 km2) of territory and killed over 5,000 enemy soldiers.[4] The next two months saw continuous mopping up operations in which the Marines continued to engage left over Japanese forces. At the end of the battle the division had sustained 677 Marines killed, 3,626 wounded and 9 missing.[5]

The division remained on the island of Guam for training purposes until they embarked as part of the landing force for the Battle of Iwo Jima. The 3rd Marine Division was initially in reserve for the battle[6] however they were committed one regiment at a time as the initial regiments that landed needed to be relieved. The 21st Marines came ashore on 20 February[6] followed by the 9th Marines and were reinforced by a battalion from the 3rd Marines on 25 February.[7] The Marines of these two infantry regiments, supported by the artillery of the 12th Marine Regiment and tanks of the 3rd Tank Battalion, fought on Iwo Jima until the end of organized resistance on 16 March and the subsequent mopping up operations for the next month. All elements of the Division were back on Guam by 17 April 1945.[8] The fighting on Iwo Jima would cost the 3rd Marine Division 1,131 killed in action and another 4,438 wounded.[9]

After the return to Guam, the Division began preparing for the invasion of Japan. This however never took place as Japan surrendered in August 1945. The division was inactivated on 28 December 1945.[10]

Korean War

The division was reactivated on 7 January 1952 at Camp Pendleton, California. Immediately after its activation and still in its organizational state, the division began intensive combat training, including new tactics and maneuvers based on lessons learned in the then-ongoing Korean War. During the remaining part of 1952 elements of the division participated in numerous exercises and training problems, including vertical envelopment (helicopter landing), airborne operations and attack, and defense against atomic weapons and missiles.

In August 1953 the division arrived in Japan to support the 1st Marine Division in the defense of the Far Eastern area. In March 1956 the division moved to Okinawa and remained there in a readiness posture until 1965. The 3rd Marine Division moved to Okinawa in June 1955 making an amphibious landing.

Vietnam War

Da Nang, Vietnam. A young Marine private waits on the beach during the Marine landing, August 3, 1965.

On 6 May 1965, the 3rd Marine Division opened the Marine Compound at the Da Nang Air Base, Vietnam. They were the first American combat troops to be sent to Vietnam to protect the Da Nang Air Base.[11] By the end of 1965 the Division had all its regiments (3rd Marines, 4th Marines and 9th Marines) on the ground. In October 1966, then commanding general Lew Walt was ordered to establish strong points just south of the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The division moved its headquarters from Da Nang to Phu Bai in late 1966. At the same time the division was also building outposts along the southern half of the DMZ at Con Thien, Gio Linh, Cam Lộ and Đông Hà. During this period, Lima Company of the 3rd Marines was commanded by John Ripley, who became famous for single-handedly destroying the bridge at Dong Ha in 1972, slowing the advance of the North Vietnamese army.[12] The first major multi-regiment operations against the North Vietnamse Army was Operation Hastings in July 1966. Operation Prairie followed in October. This area would come to be known as Leatherneck Square. In late 1967 the headquarters moved again from Phu Bai to Đông Hà in the Quang Tri Province and more outposts were opened. Camp Carroll, Rockpile, Ca Lu and Khe Sanh. The two main enemy divisions the Marines fought were the 324B NVA Division and the 320th NVA Division. On November 14, 1967 the 3rd Marine Division commander General Bruno Hochmuth was killed northwest of Hue City in a helicopter crash. Some of the major operations in 1967 and early 1968 in this area were Operation Prairie III, Operation Prairie IV, Operation Hickory, Operation Cimarron, Operation Buffalo, Operation Kingfisher and Operation Kentucky. Nearly 8,000 NVA were killed during this time period. The Marines suffered over 1400 killed and over 9,000 wounded. There were five Medal of Honors awarded and nearly 40 Navy Crosses given during this period of time. For its service in the Republic of Vietnam the division was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation in 1967.

During the Tet Offensive, the division conducted operations along the DMZ with a portion of the division fighting in Huế. The operational tempo increased with the initiation of the Tet Offensive in late January 1968. At the time, 3rd Marine Division intelligence estimated the combat strength of NVA and VC forces in the DMZ area was 40,943 troops.[13] The NVA and VC stepped up their attacks by fire on every combat base in the division area of operations. This included daily attempts at interdiction of naval traffic on the Cua Viet River near Đông Hà. The division had to invest many of its assets to open the Cua Viet River to traffic. BLT 5/l, the Landing Force of SLF B, remained under the operational control (OPCON) of the division throughout February 1968. BLT 3/l continued Operation SALINE under operational control of the 1st Amtrac Bn with the mission of clearing the area adjacent to the Cua Viet River between Cua Viet and Đông Hà . BLT 2/4, the Landing Force of SLF A, remained under operational control of the Division throughout the month. BLT 2/4 conducted operations in the LANCASTER II and KENTUCKY areas.[14]

During the Vietnam War, the 3rd Marine Division suffered 6,869 men killed in action.[15] The division departed South Vietnam in November 1969 with more than 20 Marines receiving the Medal of Honor and moved to Camp Courtney, Okinawa, where it is presently located.

Unit awards

A unit citation or commendation is an award bestowed upon an organization for the action cited. Members of the unit who participated in said actions are allowed to wear on their uniforms the appropriate ribbon of the awarded unit citation. 3d Marine Division has been awarded the following:

Streamer Award Year(s) Additional Info
Presidential Unit Citation Streamer with one Bronze Star 1945, 1965–1967 Iwo Jima, Vietnam War
Navy Unit Commendation Streamer with one Bronze Star 1945, 2002–2003 Iwo Jima, Western Pacific
Meritorious Unit Commendation Streamer 2004–2005 Indonesia Tsunami Relief
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Streamer with four Bronze Stars
Bougainville, Northern Solomons, Guam, Iwo Jima
World War II Victory Streamer 1942–1945 Pacific War
National Defense Service Streamer with three Bronze Stars 1950–1954, 1961–1974, 1990–1995, 2001–present Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, War on Terrorism
Korean Service Streamer

Vietnam Service Streamer with two Silver and one Bronze Stars April 1965 - May 1969, March - May 1975 Quang Tri, Quang Nam, Thua Thien, Evacuation Operations in Vietnam and Cambodia
Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Streamer

Global War on Terrorism Service Streamer 2001 – present
Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm Streamer

Structure 3rd Marine Division

See also


  1. Cordero, Jeffrey (26 September 2008). "3rd Marine Division celebrates 66th birthday". U.S. Marines in Japan. United States Marine Corps. Retrieved 2008-12-09.
  2. Rottman (2002): 134
  3. Astor and Cohlmia (1948): 80
  4. Astor and Cohlmia (1948): 162
  5. Astor and Cohlmia (1948): 168
  6. 1 2 Astor and Cohlmia (1948): 228
  7. Astor and Cohlmia (1948): 230
  8. Astor and Cohlmia (1948): 250
  9. Astor and Cohlmia (1948): 252
  10. Rottman (2002): 135
  11. "Facts about the Vietnam Veterans memorial collection". NPS.gov. 2010. Archived from the original on 28 May 2010. Retrieved April 26, 2010.
  12. http://www.amazon.com/Bridge-Dong-Ha-Bluejacket-Books/dp/155750587X
  13. Pike, COL Thomas F., Military Records, February 1968, 3rd Marine Division: The Tet Offensive, p. 115, ISBN 978-1-481219-46-4. NVA and VC Order of Battle information is located on pages 114-127.
  14. COL Thomas Pike, Military Records, February 1968, 3rd Marine Division: The Tet Offensive http://www.amazon.com/Military-Records-February-Marine-Division/dp/1481219464/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1396477612&sr=1-1&keywords=3rd+marine+division+Pike
  15. CDR Kenneth Davis, USN (ret), and associates of the Coffelt Database of Vietnam casualties.


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