Why We Honor National Airborne Day
National Airborne Day, observed on Aug. 16th each year, is a momentous occasion that commemorates the remarkable achievements of the Army parachute tradition. The Army's Airborne Rangers and the Army Golden Knights parachute team stand as iconic symbols of American paratrooper organizations. Throughout more than seven decades of dedicated service, Army paratroopers have left an indelible mark, including their pivotal role in the Iraq war in 2003.
National Airborne Day will be observed on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023.
A Brief History Of Army Airborne
The concept of employing parachutes as a strategic tool in warfare is believed to have emerged in the aftermath of World War I, particularly within the U.S. Army. Brigadier General William Mitchell is credited with being the first to explore the idea of deploying paratroopers during combat operations to enhance existing forces.
Benjamin Franklin is often credited as one of the earliest advocates for the use of an airborne assault force, as early as 1874. He proposed the idea of using five thousand balloons, each capable of carrying two men, as a cost-effective alternative to traditional naval forces. Franklin envisioned the potential chaos that ten thousand men descending from the clouds could cause before an opposing force could be assembled to counter them.
In 1940, the United States Army conducted its first parachute jump as a test to evaluate the effectiveness of deploying troops by air. Forty-eight soldiers from the 29th Infantry Regiment underwent training at Fort Benning, Georgia, becoming the inaugural U.S. Army airborne infantry force. The primary focus of their training was to determine the feasibility of dropping troops behind enemy lines.
The First Test Parachute Jumps
Shortly after completing their training, the test platoon made their very first jump over Lawson Army Airfield. Leading the way was 1st Lieutenant William T. Ryder, followed by Private William N. King, who became the first enlisted soldier to humorously "jump out of a perfectly good airplane" as the old Army paratrooper joke goes.
Early Jumps for Combat
Around a year after the initial test jumps conducted by the U.S. Army, Adolf Hitler made the decision to launch an airborne invasion of Crete, Greece. Unfortunately, this operation resulted in significant losses for the Axis powers, leading them to abandon any plans for similar attempts. However, the Allied powers saw the potential of paratroopers and utilized them in various ways, including the groundbreaking Operation Torch in 1942. This offensive involved a major combined assault by both land and air forces.
The 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment flew from Britain to present-day Algeria with the mission to capture two airfields near Oran. This operation is widely recognized as the inaugural Airborne combat jump in history.
Airborne Rangers are Ready for Action
Two years later, the awe-inspiring Operation Overlord offensive was launched on D-Day with a staggering 1,200 aircraft. Looking back, the outcome of this offensive was a mixed bag. While American paratroopers from the 101st and 82nd Airborne divisions provided crucial support during the Normandy invasion, they faced challenges such as missed landing zones and other issues that prevented D-Day from being a resounding success for the Army Airborne Rangers.
Two years later, Operation Varsity marked the final major airborne operation of the war, showcasing the incredible feat of Army paratroopers completing their largest single-day mission at that time. This operation overwhelmed German forces, resulting in an unknown number of casualties, with over 3,500 enemy soldiers captured as prisoners of war.
Since then, the use of paratroopers has become an integral part of American military tactics. It's important to note that the Army isn't the sole branch of service that employs paratroopers. Other U.S. military parachute missions include Air Force Pararescue, which also has its origins in World War Two. Additionally, the United States Navy has the renowned SEAL teams who carry out parachute operations, and the Navy also boasts a parachute demonstration team known as Leap Frogs.
What Is National Airborne Day?
President George W. Bush honored the Airborne Rangers in 2002 with a presidential proclamation, designating Aug. 16th as National Airborne Day. In his statement, the President expressed the following sentiments:
“Airborne combat continues to be driven by the bravery and daring spirit of sky soldiers. Often called into action with little notice, these forces have earned an enduring reputation for dedication, excellence, and honor. As we face the challenges of a new era, I encourage all people to recognize the contributions of these courageous soldiers to our Nation and the world.”
In 2009, seven years after President George W. Bush proclaimed National Airborne Day, the Senate further recognized this significant occasion with Resolution 235.
How Is National Airborne Day Celebrated?
As National Airborne Day is not officially recognized as a national holiday, it is often left to the local communities of Airborne Rangers to take the initiative and organize activities and events to honor August 16th. These events are often planned by Airborne Ranger Associations, which operate in a similar manner to college alumni associations.
As an illustration, in 2015, the Benavidez-Patterson Chapter of the 82nd Airborne Division Association in El Paso, Texas, joyfully commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Army's inaugural airborne jump with a delightful chapter open house event.
In 2017, The Airborne & Special Operations Museum Foundation hosted an exciting public event to commemorate National Airborne Day. The event showcased thrilling parachute demonstrations and a spectacular High Altitude-Low Opening (HALO) jump performed by the renowned Army Golden Knights parachute team.
How Do I Find A National Airborne Day Celebration Near Me?
To find a National Airborne Day celebration near you, the first step is to locate the nearest chapter of an Army Airborne Association, such as the 82nd Airborne Division, the 101st Airborne Division, or the 3rd Infantry. There are numerous associations to choose from, so a simple Google search for "Army Airborne Association" can be helpful in finding the right one for you.
There are several diverse Airborne Associations, with some focusing on bringing together paratroopers from various military service backgrounds, while others specifically concentrate on a particular Airborne division.
Another way to honor National Airborne Day is to pay respects to loved ones, friends, and family who have served as Army Airborne Rangers; thanking a service member for their sacrifices is never a bad thing, but especially on military-specific holidays and observances such as this one.