From the Trenches of the Great War to The Capture of Saddam

Steadfast and Loyal

There are a handful of units with long, storied histories that have always been known as America’s elite fighting forces. When asked to name the most notable or well-known units one might first think of something like Vietnam’s Air Cavalry units, 101st or 82nd Airborne, Big Red One, or maybe the Navy Seals. Jumping out of planes, flying planes and choppers, and special warfare are most certainly considered the “sexy” side of military service. Those stories are exciting, and those units have more than earned their reputation and status. This article highlights a slightly lesser-known unit that you might not consider “sexy” – but a unit of pure grit and determination. The 4th Infantry (IVY) Division has been on the front lines since WWI and has played a huge role in countless important missions and battles all the way through the Middle East.

The Division’s history begins in a time many other famous units did. The 4th Infantry Division was formed at Camp Greene, NC the same year we entered World War I in 1917. Loaded with draftees they were sent to France not even a year later where they were thrown into the trenches until the end of the war. They were the only unit to serve in combat with both the French and British forces, in addition to all American Corps. After WWI the division was de-activated as most were, to be re-activated prior to WWII.

Their participation in WWII is the most impressive, not only because of the major battles they were involved in, but because of the prolonged fighting they had to endure from D-Day to E-Day. What are the most famous battles from WWII? Name one and the IVY Division was there and played a major role in victory. They were chosen as the spearhead amphibious assault unit of the D-Day landing at Normandy, at 0630 hours Ivymen were the first troops to land at Utah Beach. They continued their assault through the Cotentin Peninsula where they captured the port of Cherbourg in late June of 1944 – almost a month of constant action. The next month of July brought the battles of the hedgerows where they again spearheaded a breakthrough near Saint-Lo, which opened up the Allies’ move further into France. By late August they were the first Allied troops to enter Paris and earned the tag of liberating Paris from Nazi rule. No doubt there was a very short R & R as the newly liberated Parisians paraded through the streets celebrating the Allies, but the 4th Infantry Division had Germans to pursue and continued to push through another month of intense combat toward Germany. In September, men of the IVY Division were the first Allied troops to step foot in Germany, but their most intense fighting was still ahead of them. Ivymen fought through the Siegfried Line and into the Hurtgen Forest by November which was the bloodiest battle of Division history. Then came the Bulge. After enduring severe casualties from the Hurtgen Forest the Division halted the southern shoulder of the German’s offensive at the Bulge and kept them from reaching Allied flanks. This allowed the rest of the Allied forces to pummel the Germans and according to General George Patton “saved the City of Luxembourg”. The 4th Infantry Division saw 199 days of straight contact with Germans and suffered over 5,000 KIAs in 11 months of fighting in Europe.

Once the war was over in Europe, they returned home to Camp Butner, NC in July of 1945 to begin preparing for the invasion of Japan. A couple Atom Bombs saved them and any other Americans from another massive invasion overseas.

One could say the Division deserved a break from combat after WWII. While many other units were sent to fight communists in Korea, the IVY Division returned to Germany to deter any communist threats to Western Europe and missed combat during Korea. Then they were called home to Ft. Lewis awaiting the next assignment in defense of American freedom. That next call came by the name of Vietnam.

2nd Brigade was the first to be called up and sent to Vietnam in 1966, shortly followed by 1st and 3rd Brigades. Once again, as in WWII, the next generation of Ivymen in Vietnam saw extended combat and covered a massive geographic area. The Division was on combat assignment from their first days in 1966 all the way through 1970 and had the largest assigned area of any division. The main responsibility was at the Southern Vietnam border to thwart any offensive action down the Ho Chi Minh trail, but the Ivymen saw combat all over the theatre. The most notable action The Division saw in Vietnam was during the Battle of Suoi Tre on March 21, 1967. Americans killed 647 NVA with only 36 American KIAs. In about 4 years The Division lost just shy of 2,500 soldiers – half the amount that were lost in only 11 months of fighting during WWII.

Between Vietnam and Iraq, The Division saw no combat. During this time, they acted as a somewhat experimental unit of the Army. Five armored battalions were added from the deactivated 2nd Armored Division; they developed and tested many communications and weapons systems that would lead the way into 21st Century combat. In early 2003 The Division received orders for Operation Iraqi Freedom which was their first of 4 tours to Iraq between then and 2011. They played every role there was over the years in Iraq, from aggressive offensive actions hunting down the enemy to helping rebuild Iraqi security forces and infrastructure. Beginning in 2009 The Division started deploying to Afghanistan one brigade at a time. An entire article could be written about The Division’s accomplishments in the Middle East, but the most famous occurred during their first tour in Iraq. After Saddam Hussein’s regime fell and Saddam fled into hiding, the 4th Infantry Division occupied an area that included Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit. After months of intelligence gathering the Army concluded Saddam was hiding on a farm just south of Tikrit. Operation Red Dawn was born and Ivymen from the 1st Brigade Combat Team and Task Force 121 targeted two nearby farmhouses. At first Saddam was no where to be found, until new intelligence revealed his actual hiding spot. They arrived at a walled off mud hut compound where soldiers discovered a small, concealed hole inside a metal lean-to. They uncovered the hole and there emerged Saddam Hussein. He had a pistol, an AK-47, and about $750,000 USD in cash with him, but peacefully surrendered.

Armed Forces Reunions is very proud to partner with the National 4th Infantry (IVY) Division Association, as we are with every group we’ve worked with over the decades. One of the most enjoyable parts of military reunion planning is learning the history of each group and about the unique experiences their members had in service. We’ve heard some incredible hospitality room stories from The Greatest Generation to the veterans of Vietnam and Desert Storm. Very soon we’ll be hearing hospitality room stories from Iraq and Afghanistan as those veterans join well established associations like the National 4th Infantry (IVY) Division Association and form their own. Veterans of the Ivy Division are currently sharing these stories at their annual reunion in Kansas City, and in 2023 will be meeting in Jacksonville, FL – which will be the 20th Anniversary of the War in Iraq. There’s nothing quite like veterans of the same unit sharing experiences from completely different eras of service and combat. The way they fight may change over the decades, but the camaraderie will never change. If you’re a young veteran, look up your unit’s reunion association – there’s a good chance one exists and has been meeting long before your time in service.


Contact us today for more information on our services. We’re happy to point you in the direction of your unit’s reunion association or coach you through starting a reunion group of your own.

Charley Dey