This is Part 2 of our series on the legendary Colonel Orin D. "Hard Rock" Haugen #18254. You can read "Part 1: Who Was Colonel Orin D. "Hard Rock" Haugen?" by clicking here.
While there is an unfortunate scarcity of research out there in regards to the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and the 11th Airborne Division to which the 511th PIR belonged, there has been even less written or documented regarding the men who fought as Angels in World War II. While the 511th PIR served under two leaders during the war whom were greatly revered, the man who laid the foundation for the regiment's historic achievements was given an appropriate nickname for such accomplishments: Hard Rock.
Four days after Colonel Orin D. Haugen's 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment closed on North Carolina's Camp Mackall in March of 1943, they became the first fully-formed unit of Major-General Swing, Joseph May's new 11th Airborne Division, the first unit to headquartered at the new camp.
Opened just six weeks prior to the 511th’s arrival, the 56,000-acre post (a sub-installation of Fort Bragg) was originally named Camp Hoffman after the nearby rail station. On February 8, the War Department issued General Order Number 6 renaming the post after Private John T. Mackall, a paratrooper from the 503rd PIR killed by strafing Vichy French fighters during Operation Torch (John was wounded on November 8, the same day construction on the camp began, then died three days later).
When Colonel Haugen’s regiment arrived at Mackall, they found their new beds spotlessly made by the barrack’s previous tenants, the 82nd Airborne’s 504 and 505 PIRs. The luxuries did not last as Hard Rock ordered their clean, white sheets replaced with rough wool blankets. His paratroopers thought the actions harsh until they discovered that their small coal-fed heaters were less-than-adequate against the night’s chill (those bunking far from the stoves stoked them red hot at night which singed the eyebrows of the closer men).
Haugen’s young regiment was joined at Mackall by the 457th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion and the 187th and 188th Glider Infantry Regiments. Of the original 12,000 men who volunteered for the 511th, only 2,176 remained (2,000 enlisted, 173 officers and three warrant officers). Camp Toccoa’s endless PT, Haugen's enthusiastically-supported brutal runs on Currahee, the mock jump towers, and Hard Rock's demands for excellence had eliminated nearly 10,000 men who did not meet the Colonel's standards.
And yet, unlike their Commanding Officer, most of the men were not yet paratroopers and while they could wear parachutist patches on their garrison caps, they had yet to earn their jump wings. That was about to change. While Colonel Haugen's cadre fought to select who would serve as their NCOs and in their squads, Hard Rock decided to give his regiment one final test before jump school. Orin ordered a two-week bivouac maneuver that included a twenty-five-mile march out to the mission area where the 511th lived in pup tents and participated in several combat simulations and problems. The last night was spent hiking the twenty-five miles back to Mackall in full kits.
Averaging five miles an hour, the men were told that if they fell out, they would be transferred. Given that many were suffering from dysentery at the time, the march was doubly challenging, yet the regiment finished Haugen’s exam. When the column passed through Mackall’s gates and turned into the 511th’s area, Col. Haugen and his staff stood proudly outside RHQ where Hard Rock loudly proclaimed his congratulations for a job well done.
“It almost made it worthwhile!” commented D Company’s new Company Mail Orderly Cpl. Murray Hale, reminding us of Orin's penchant for withholding praise. Not because he didn't care or was oblivious to his men's accomplishments, but rather because it just wasn't his style.
After three additional months of training under Haugen's watchful eye, the 511th changed locale once more and this time his men felt greater anticipation.
“We were on a high all the time,” Private First Class Billy Pettit explained.
On May 14, Orin's regiment loaded into trucks for the six-hour trip to Fort Benning’s parachute school.