The 2-509th PIR carried out the first American combat jump during the invasion of North Africa. The transport planes flew all the way from English airfields to the African coast. This first operation was unsuccessful, with 7 of its 39 C-47s widely scattered. Only 10 aircraft actually dropped their troops, while the others unloaded after 28 troop carriers, nearly out of fuel, landed on the Sebkra d'Oran, a dry lake near their target. The 509th marched overland to occupy its objective, and on 15 November 300 paratroopers successfully dropped on the Youks-les-Bains Airfield.
Forty-six Paratroopers from the 509th participated in the liberation of Ventotene, a small Italian island, on 9 September 1943. The German commander was tricked into surrendering to the weaker American force before realizing his mistake. An account of this is given in John Steinbeck's "Once There Was a War."
Later, the 509th PIR saw two more combat jumps in Italy and Southern France. After landing, they were often used as elite mountain infantry in the Italian mountains and French Alps. Corporal Paul B. Huff, a member of the 509th, was the first American paratrooper awarded the Medal of Honor on 29 February 1944 for action at Anzio, Italy.
On 10 December 1943 the battalion was redesignated as the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion.
During the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944, the 509th fought in Belgium to blunt the German attack. An account of this battle is described in the book "Bloody Clash at Sadzot." The war ended for the 509th at the end of January 1945 near St. Vith, Belgium, with only about 50 remaining unwounded of the original 700 who entered the battle. Effective 1 March 1945 the 509th PIB was disbanded, and the men left were used as replacements for the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division.
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