The soldiers who died Thursday in a Newfoundland plane crash were members of the "Screaming Eagles," the 101st Airborne Division, which has a long and storied history in the Army.

The division, according to the order that created it in 1942, "has no history, but it has a rendezvous with destiny." That destiny included combat at the Battle of the Bulge and in Normandy.

The only Army division equipped for almost total movement by helicopter, the 101st Airborne includes about 16,000 soldiers. It lost 248 of them Thursday, virtually all members of its 3rd Battalion.

They were returning home after six months as part of a multinational peace-keeping force stationed in the Sinai Desert between Egypt and Israel.

The 101st has been commanded by at least three men who went on to become Army chief of staff -- William C. Westmoreland, Maxwell D. Taylor and the current chief, Gen. John A. Wickham Jr. The division gained fame in World War II during 33 days of continuous fighting in France after the D-Day invasion of Normandy June 6, 1944. During Christmas week that year, five German armored divisions surrounded the 101st at Bastogne, Belgium, in the Battle of the Bulge. On Dec. 20, the German commander issued a surrender ultimatum to the encircled unit.

Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe, the division's acting commander, made history with his answer: "Nuts." Six days later, the U.S. 4th Armored Division lifted the siege.

The 101st expects and receives intense loyalty. When it returned from Vietnam duty, its alumni group took only a few months to raise money for a memorial at Arlington National Cemetery to fallen "Eagles."

Elements of the division spent almost seven years in Vietnam, participating in 15 major campaigns.

In peacetime, the division, whose troops wear a shoulder patch featuring a white-plumed eagle, also helped enforce school desegregation in 1957 in Little Rock, Ark.