The primary mission of the 3d Marine Division is to execute amphibious assault operations and other such operations as may be directed. The Division is supported by Marine aviation, and force service support units and is prepared to be employed, as an integral part of a Marine Expeditionary Force in amphibious operations.
The Division is divided into the Third Marine Regiment at Kaneohe Bay, HI, the Twelfth Marine Regiment located at Camp Hansen, and the Fourth Marine Regiment at Camp Schwab. In addition, we are further broken down into a Headquarters Battalion on Camp Courtney, and a Force Recon Battalion located at Camp Schwab. The Division includes elements forward deployed under the Unit Deployment Program (UDP), reporting aboard for six month rotational training cycles.
The 3d Marine Division officially activated 16 September 1942 at Camp Elliott, San Diego, California. It was built around the 9th Marines, commanded by Colonel Lemuel C. SHEPHERD, Jr. who later became the 20th Commandant of the Marine Corps. Major General Charles D. BARRETT was the first Commanding General of the Division. By August 1943 the Division was stationed on Guadalcanal where special training and rehearsals for the Bougainville operation were intensified. On 1 November 1943 the Division landed at Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville. For approximately two months, the Division participated in the fight against stiff and heavy enemy resistance. On 16 January 1944, with the transfer of command in the area to the Army's XIV Corps, the last elements of the Division returned to Guadalcanal.
Following the Bougainville operation the Division began training for the next campaign. Verbal instructions received in February 1944 led to planning for an operation against the Japanese on Emirau Island. The projected Emirau operation was subsequently cancelled and instructions were received to initiate planning for an operation against enemy forces at Kavieng, New Ireland. This operation was also called off. A few days later, the Division received word to start training for the amphibious assault against the Japanese on Guam, Marianas.
The Division embarked at Guadalcanal on 2 and 3 June 1944 and sailed for Kwajalein, Marshall Islands enroute to the Marianas. It remained afloat off Saipan from 15 to 28 June 1944 as part of the reserve force for the Saipan operation, then being carried out by the 2d and 4th Marine Divisions in conjunction with the 27th Infantry Division. With the situation on Saipan well controlled the Division returned to its restaging area awaiting the target date for the Guam operation.
On 21 July 1944, as a part of the Southern Troops and Landing Force, the Division landed on western beaches of Guam in the vicinity of Asan Point. After twenty days of savage fighting, the Division troops reached the northern coast of the island. On 10 August 1944 Guam was declared secure. Until its departure for the Iwo Jima campaign in the middle of February 1945, the Division remained on Guam taking part in the mopping up operations.
Initially, the Division remained afloat off Iwo Jima as Expeditionary Troops Reserve. The Division landed on 24 February, and the next morning the 3d Marine Division launched an attack in its zone between the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions. The 3d Marine Division faced well-organized and determined enemy resistance. The terrain, ideal for defense, was heavily fortified by pillboxes, caves, and covered artillery emplacements. Progress was slow and casualties heavy during the first few days of fighting. The Division slowly pushed the enemy back and by 3 March had severed the last enemy east-west artery of communication by occupying positions overlooking the sea. The 3d Marine Division secured its zone of action on 11 March and then initiated intensive patrolling and mopping-up operations. On 16 March, units of the 3d Marine Division relieved elements of the 5th Division and delivered the final attack of the Iwo Jima operation - a drive to Kitano Point. Iwo Jima was declared secure on the same day. On 4 April the 3d Marine Division was relieved by Army units.
By mid-April 1945, the Division was back on Guam preparing for the next operation. On 3 August 1945 the Division received initial plans for the "Olympic" operation which called for an amphibious landing of Kyushu about 1 November 1945. The 3d Marine Division, along with the 2nd and 5th Marine Divisions, was assigned to the V Amphibious Corps for the projected operation. Japan's agreement to cease hostilities and subsequent surrender cancelled "Olympic", and the Division remained on Guam until the date of its disbandment on 28 December 1945.
The Division was reactivated on 7 January 1952 at Camp Pendleton, California. Immediately after its activation and still in its organizational state, the Division began intensive combat training, including new tactics and maneuvers based on lessons learned in Korean War. During the remaining part of 1952 elements of the Division participated in numerous exercises and training problems, including vertical envelopment (helicopter landing), air-borne operations and attack, and defense against atomic weapons and missiles.
In August 1953 the Division arrived in Japan to support the 1st Marine Division in the defense of the Far Eastern area. In March 1956 the Division moved to Okinawa and remained there in a readiness posture until 1965.
On 6 May 1965, the 3d Marine Division opened the Marine Compound at the Danang Air Base, Vietnam. The Division operated in Vietnam from this time participating in operations from Danang to Phu Bai to Quang Tri/Dong Ha Combat Base. The Division departed Vietnam in November 1969 and moved to Camp Courtney, Okinawa, where it is presently located.
From 2004 to 2011, elements of the 3d Marine Division participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom. From March to May 2011 the Division participated in humanitarian relief efforts during Operation Tomodachi. From 2004 to present the Division remains successful fulfilling its mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and theater security cooperation exercises in the Pacific region. The Division continues to operate in an increasingly challenging and dynamic landscape and will be prepared to fight and win, tonight.