Background on the 511's Regimental Commander Orin Haugen & Regimental Sargent Major Frederick Thomas  

The cadre of the 511th PIR was selected mainly from the 505th PIR at Fort Benning, GA, during the late 1942. The INFANTRY PARACHUTE REGIMENT, Table of Organization, No. 7-31, WAR DEPARTMENT, Washington, Feb. 17, 1942, was composed of 140 commissioned, 5 warrant officers and 1,884 enlisted. Aggregate 2,029. The cadre assembled at Camp Toccoa, GA, Jan. 5, 1943 to receive recruits and form this new parachute regiment.



Orin D. Haugen was born Aug. 18, 1907, Wyndemere, N.D. He attended St. Olaf College, then Cornell College in 1925. In 1930, Orin was commissioned 2nd Lt., U.S. Military Academy at West Point, then assigned to Fort Snelling, MI. June 1, 1931, married Marion Sergeant, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. W.E. Sergeant, Minneapolis, MN. One son, William. The couple are active in the horse shows at Twin Cities. Orin became a good polo player, and enthusiastically rode to the hounds on fox hunts.

In 1943, Orin was ordered to the 21st Infantry, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. In 1936, attended Regular Course, Infantry School, Fort Benning, GA., then joined the 23rd Infantry, Fort Sam Houston, TX. While with the 32nd Infantry, Fort Ord, CA, 1940, the War Department requested officers for parachute training. He was among the first to volunteer for this hazardous duty.

Captain Haugen was assigned as Commander of Company "A" of the 501st Parachute Battalion, the first tactical Parachute unit created by the War Department. He joined the unit on Nov. 16, 1940, in the morning, and that afternoon made his first parachute jump. The Major served as Battalion Commander, 502nd PIR, then Executive Officer, 505th PIR.

In the late 1942, Lt. Col. Haugen was assigned Commander, 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment, then being activated at Toccoa, GA. A few months later, he was promoted to Colonel. He often shouted encouragement to his troopers. "YOU ARE THE BEST." Later, they proved it in combat.



During vigorous training at Camp Mackall, NC, Col. Haugen earned the nickname "Hard Rock" derived from his stern discipline combined with respect and affection. This was a true tribute to his durability. The "Rock" was immensely proud of his tough, young paratroopers, whose average age was just under 19 years. The deeds of Col. Haugen in combat will be published in later columns on the Leyete and Luzon Campaigns, Philippines. He was mortally wounded in action 13 February 1945 at Manila and on 22 February 1945 died of wounds in the Army hospital on Biak Island. He is survived by his son, William Haugen Light, Ph.D., Redding, CA.




Enlisted 18 July 1940. Served in 34th Infantry Regt., Fort Jackson, SC. First parachute jump, Sept. 1941 as a Corporal, 503rd Prcht. Bn/Regt., Fort Benning. Technician 4thGrade, 505th PIR, Nov., 1942. When his talents became known to Lt. Col. Haugen, he made this Staff Sgt., Action M/Sgt. Cadre 511th PIR, Fort Benning, Dec., 1942. In early 1943, Master Sergeant, Regimental Sergeant Major, 511th PIR, Camp Toccoa, GA, to New Guinea. Preferring tactics, he served as Regt. Operations Sgt., New Guinea, Leyte and Luzon. Honorable discharge, Aug. 21, 1945.

At Camp Toccoa, Jan., 1943, we began receiving all volunteer, new recruits for the 511th. In accordance with Lt. Col Haugen’s orders, all were tested in every phase of physical and mental ability. Each was individually selected by the Battalion and Company Commanders. 1st Bn., Major Ernest LaFlamme; 2nd Bn. Major Norman Shipley; 3rd Bn. Major Edward Lahti. Lt. Col. Glen McGowen was the Regt. Executive Officer. Of these 12,000 (approx.) Recruits, only 3,000 (approx.) Were selected to start their basic training. This overage allowed further cuts to get down to T/O strength before going overseas. Elite camaraderie developed.

The "Hard Rock" received a telegram from the War Dept. saying his selection process was too critical and to desist. He laughed and said, "They were too late." He had his men. These patriots came to the 511th from big cities and little farms across the USA. Poet Edward Michael Catfish (1906-1979) wrote, "EAGLES DO NOT FLOCK. YOU FIND THEM ONE AT A TIME."

At age 20 , M/Sgt. Fredrick Thomas was the youngest Regimental Sergeant Major in the U.S. Airborne Forces during World War II, and probably in the history of the entire U.S. Army.

Veterans Activities: After retirement, Frederick Thomas worked diligently with the 511th PIR History Task Force. In 1985, he returned to the 511th PIR battle fields on Luzon, P.I., and on Leyte carrying his camera and maps, he hiked into the foot hills at Burauen, then Ormoc.

In 1987, at the Static Line Awards Festival in Atlanta, GA, Fred was awarded "Angel of the Year," 11th Abn. Div. Frederick Thomas is a role model of the highest order of non-commissioned officers, U.S. Army.


M/Sgt. Frederick Thomas died 27 December 1997. He is survived by his wife, Romelle, a son, and his daughter, Mrs. Marsha Vinoski, Beaufort, SC.

Airborne, Stay Tough Jim Lorio

Source: STATIC LINE, February, 1997, Don Lassen, Editor, Box 87518, College Park, GA. 30337-0518.

WINDS ALOFT, quarterly Newsletter 511th Parachute Infantry Association, Editor, James W. Lorio, M.D., Issue No. 4, January, 1998 and Issues 10-11, July, 1989 and October, 1989.

Reproduced: James L. Dendy, Esq., and Mrs. Rhonda Graham, Baton Rouge, LA, July 29, 1998.

Copyright Patrick O’Donnell