National Airborne Day, August 16th, is a day of celebration for the accomplishments, bravery, and service of the Army parachute tradition. In 2001, President George W. Bush proclaimed this date to be the annual day to respect airborne activity in honor of the Airborne Rangers. Then following in 2009 the Senate made full recognition of the holiday through Resolution 235. National Airborne Day is on this specific date for this was the day of the first-ever United States military parachuting attempt.
Army parachuting was introduced as a tactic in combat following World War I. The first person in service to notice this style of combat was Brigadier General William Mitchell brought up the notion of trying this tactic. Then to quote Benjamin Franklin who stated, “Ten Thousand Men descending from the Clouds…”, agreed with Mitchell and advocated for this strategy for it brought a new look to combat.
The first parachute jump was completed by the United States Army on August 16th, 1940 to test and see how effective it could be in combat. The first unit of paratroopers was a collective group of 48 soldiers of the 29th Infantry Regiment who would do their training in Fort Benning, Georgia. The biggest question of this new tactic was will it be safe to drop in soldiers behind enemy lines. This new form of attack from the air was seen as dangerous but ultimately has become a critical and successful tactic in combat strategy.
After many tests and trial jumps, parachuting was becoming more and more implemented in the United States military. Some notable parachute jumps in our history involve Operation Torch were the Airborne Troops involved became pioneers in US Army parachuting. Another notable historic airborne activity was D-Day where United States parachuting was used. Both the 101st and 82nd airborne divisions used parachuting as a way to give relief to the attack on Normandy.
Even though there were some complications in landing on targets from these airstrikes on D-Day and during Operation Torch it set the foundation of this new military tactic that is still used to this day. From the success of the military use of parachuting during World War II other branches like the Air Force and Navy also tagged along on this strategy during WWII. The brave men in the trial jumps and first active jumps help create a new strategy and tactic to help revolutionize combat strategy.
This bold new tactic took some time to be fully intergraded going forward but ultimately became a secret approach. Army parachuting brought a new advantage to all branches of the military in many different ways. Being used in surprise attacks, gain territorial control, and a different strategic approach became useful elements in military game plans.
Airborne strategy is one of the most dangerous combat tactics that is used in the United States Military. There is a lot of things that can go wrong when attempting and doing these jumps. From parachute malfunctions, not being at the right altitude when jumping, and many other things have to be perfect on your jumps. One of the biggest difficulties is the landing position of paratroopers. If you do not make your mark you can completely blow your position and cause damage to your troops.
National Airborne Day is a way to celebrate and appreciate ones who are brave enough to do these acts, but there are other ways of honoring the ones who make these heroic jumps. All soldiers in current duty and those who are veterans may receive medals and badges for their service in airborne activities. The medals and badges range from a lot of acts of duty, like training at Fort Benning, being certified to jump and participate in active duty as a paratrooper you receive an Army Parachute Badge for the service that is being done.
Medals and badges help bring recognition to those who are brave enough to do something most wouldn’t. Receiving these are a high honor for working in an admirable line of work, for example, the Navy/Marine Parachute Gold medal is received for completing 10 jumps and training at Fort Benning. The Army Master Parachute is earned by completing 65 jumps, 25 in equipment, and serving in this role for at least 36 months.
As medals are a very honorable way of showing respecting and honoring their service it is always important to learn about some of the veterans who participate in this dangerous tactic. One to highlight is John Leather a World War II veteran, who was a sergeant in the 17th Airborne Division. Leather was a part of some heroic and fatal battles in WWII being the Battle of the Bulge and Operation Varsity.
John Leather has been award medals and awards of all statuses making him one of the most decorated paratroopers in US Army history. Leather has experienced so many difficult deployments and done so many heroic acts he deserves all the acknowledgments Leather has received. Leather has experienced plane malfunctions that have altered his job, dealing with diving into cold temperatures which lead to frostbit and life-threatening conditions, and losing fellow soldiers who became family to Leather. John Leather is one of the many US Army paratroopers that should be represented on this holiday.
Now, this holiday is not nationally celebrated but is important to the current members performing an airborne activity, veterans, and friends and family that have loved ones who served to do these heroic acts. One way you could celebrate this holiday or celebrate the brave men and women is by asking them about what it takes to do these jumps. Also, if you want to help even more visit Support Our PARAs to see how you can help wounded warriors and veterans who participate in the airborne activity.
National Airborne Day is a celebration of a highly skilled group that has benefitted all branches of the United States military. Though it is not a government holiday, still a day of appreciation to a group of individuals who do the unimaginable. Some bases perform National Airborne Day ceremonies on sight, so if you come across one take a second and celebrate with our fellow paratroopers in showing your respect for the difficult task they have learned to master.