The centerpiece of 82nd Airborne Division’s Distinctive Unit Insignia, often referred to as a unit crest, is a fleur-de-lis, frequently used in Army heraldry to signify service in France during world War I and/or World War II. Behind the fleur-de-lis are wings, emblematic of the nature of the Division’s mission, and the motto at the bottom—“In Air, On Land”—summarizes the unit’s modus operandi.

One of the 82nd’s most famous achievements was one that ultimately did not lead to victory on the battlefield, but nonetheless displayed the type of courage, determination, and resolve upon which success in combat is ultimately based. In August 1944, the Division became part of the First Allied Airborne Army and was assigned to take part in Operation Market Garden, the combined ground and parachute assault crafted by British General Bernard Montgomery to seize key bridges over the Rhine and capture the city of Arnhem as a base of operations.

One of the 82nd Airborne’s primary objectives was to seize a bridge at Nijmegen, which was vital to ensure that the ground component of the operation, the British XXX Corps, would be able to advance and support the airborne troops. For a variety of reasons, this was not achieved on the first day of the operations, September 17, as plans had called for. On September 20th, the 3rd Battalion of the Division’s 504th Infantry Regiment set out to cross the Waal river under heavy fire from German tanks, artillery, and infantry; a shortage of canvas boats meant the troops had to be ferried across in shifts, and an inadequate number of paddles meant some Soldiers were using rifle butts as oars. The Battalion began the operation with 26 boats; only half would survive the day’s fighting, with only eight able to make more than one crossing.

Despite all this, the 82nd Division’s soldiers claimed the northern end of the bridge. While it ultimately proved to be ineffectual in helping the Allies achieve the strategic goals of the operation, the courage and heroism displayed in this action would never be forgotten by the Soldiers who were there. To honor their achievement, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne conducts an annual competition in which different teams of 15 Soldiers cross Kiest lake near Fort Bragg. Besides serving as a team-building exercise, it also remind members of the Division of the proud tradition they uphold as members of the “All-Americans.”

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