Eighty years ago here, on August 16, 1940, while World War II was raging but before the United States had entered the war, a platoon of Soldiers completed four days of parachute jumps in a test that led to creation of the Army’s elite paratrooper units, known as the Airborne.
Russia and Germany already had parachute forces, and now the United States, not yet in the war, sought to build such a force of its own.
It established the U.S. Army Parachute Test Platoon, which began that first series of test jumps that ran from Aug. 13 through Aug. 16. Soon, U.S. Army Airborne units were formed.
Later, with the nation in the war on both sides of the globe, it was some of those same units that made history parachuting into the darkness over Nazi-occupied France on D-Day, June 6, 1944. They seized key terrain and disrupted German communications ahead of the massive Allied amphibious landings that began hours later on the Normandy coast.
August 16 is National Airborne Day, which President George W. Bush in 2001 established to commemorate the Test Platoon’s foundational efforts.
The day holds additional importance for Fort Benning, which, because of the test platoon, counts itself proudly as “the birthplace” of America’s Airborne. Moreover, it’s also home of the U.S. Army Airborne School, which trains paratroopers for the Army and for the other armed services.
“First and foremost, Fort Benning is the birthplace of the Airborne,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Robert K. Fortenberry, senior enlisted leader of the prestigious U.S. Army Infantry School here, and himself a veteran paratrooper and Infantry Soldier. The Airborne School is part of the Infantry School.
In past years, Fort Benning has marked National Airborne Day with spectator events in which historical re-enactors in World War II paratrooper uniforms jump onto Fryar Drop Zone from a World War II-vintage C-47 transport plane.
As this year’s National Airborne Day approached, Fortenberry reflected on the special role and qualities of the Airborne.
Being able to drop paratroopers into combat affords a relatively quick way to get a tough fighting force right in over the enemy’s head and landing in his backyard, there to wreak immediate havoc.
Airborne Troopers we thank you!
“lego ergo scribo”