By Capt. Ken Woods, Fort Benning Public Affairs /
The 76th National Airborne Day was celebrated at Fort Benning Aug. 16 with a commemorative jump by cadre of the 1st Battalion (Airborne), 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, during a C-130 static line ramp jump over Fryar Drop Zone.
National Airborne Day traces its heritage back to Aug. 16, 1940, when 48 Soldiers in the volunteer Parachute Test Platoon successfully completed the Army’s first official airborne jump over Lawson Field. In doing so, they made history by becoming the U.S. Army’s first paratroopers.
The history of Airborne training and operations is steeped with the actions of volunteers who paved the way for today’s modern paratroopers.
Following Germany’s successful use of airborne forces during their concentrated assaults, or “Blitzkrieg”, during World War II, the United States quickly realized the effectiveness of parachute forces and began preparations for an American parachute force.
According to Luke V. Keating, Airborne historian and technical writer for the 1st Battalion (Airborne), 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, in April 1940, the War Department approved plans for the formation of a test platoon of Airborne Infantry to form, equip and train under the direction and control of the Army’s Infantry Board. In June, the commandant of the Infantry School was directed to organize a test platoon of volunteers from Fort Benning’s 29th Infantry Regiment. Later that year, the 2nd Infantry Division was directed to conduct the necessary tests to develop reference data and operational procedures for air-transported troops.
In July 1940, the task of organizing the platoon began. 1st Lt. William T. Ryder from the 29th Infantry Regiment volunteered and was designated the test platoon’s platoon leader, and 2nd Lt. James A. Bassett was designated assistant platoon leader. The test platoon was given an assistant platoon leader in the event Ryder was injured during the dangerous initial test jumps. Less than 50 days after its formation, the test platoon completed its mission.
Lt. Col. William C. Lee, a staff officer for the Chief of Infantry, was intently interested in the test platoon. He recommended that the men be moved to the Safe Parachute Company at Hightstown, New Jersey, for training on the parachute drop towers used during the New York World’s Fair, said Keating. Eighteen days after organization, the platoon was moved to New Jersey and trained for one week on the 250-foot free towers.
The effectiveness and realism of the drop towers were quickly recognized by the Army and two were purchased and built on Fort Benning on what is now called Eubanks Field. Two more towers were added later. Three of the original four towers are still in use by the 1-507th PIR. The fourth tower was destroyed by a tornado in 1954.
On May 15, 1942, the Army’s Parachute School was activated by the newly created Airborne Command headquarters.
Prior to this, qualification training had been the responsibility of the Parachute Section of the Infantry School. Airborne School has grown immensely in size and scope since then.
“1-507th PIR trains 14,000 Soldiers in the basic airborne course, 600 jumpmasters and 600 pathfinders annually,” said CPT Jesse Sheehan, Battalion Executive Officer, 1-507th PIR.
For more photos of the 76th National Airborne Day ramp jump, go to fortbenningphotos.com.