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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Reichley: National Airborne Day — Geronimo!

  • If I was a betting man, I'd bet that not one reader celebrated, or even knew about, a national day yesterday.
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  • If I was a betting man, I'd bet that not one reader celebrated, or even knew about, a national day yesterday. According to the VFW calendar, Aug. 16 is National Airborne Day. Geronimo…and hooaahh, to all airborne troopers, present and past, out there.
    I'm betting no reader knows what person is credited with the idea of soldiers jumping out of perfectly good airplanes. It was Leonardo da Vinci, the ancient Italian with many talents and a vivid imagination, who died almost 500 years ago, who is credited with the idea of such an airborne invasion behind enemy lines.
    It obviously took a few hundred years for his ideas to become reality, as the airplane had to be invented first. Men began by jumping from balloons, the forerunners of airplanes, that entered military inventories about the time of the Civil War.
    If an observation balloon was hit by enemy fire, it would quickly catch fire and descend back toward earth, where the landing would be hard. So early forms of parachutes were developed in an attempt to make the landing less hard for the balloon handler when he jumped from the descending, flaming device.
    Along came the Great War in 1914 and balloons were still used, but the airplane had been invented by then and was also pressed into military use. The French are credited with introducing the word ace, and the Germans were the only pilots whose aircraft had parachutes.
    All combatants saw that aerial warfare was here to stay, and after the Great War, as armies modernized, airborne development began in earnest. The Soviets are credited with the first experiments with soldiers jumping from flying aircraft, and as airborne troops were integrated into battle plans and tactics, the Germans had them as members of the Luftwaffe (air force).
    Twenty years after the War to End All Wars came WW II, which saw the Germans use airborne troops highly effectively in the early months of the war. The U.S. Army got serious about airborne troops in 1940.
    Many years ago I heard a talk about the first U.S. airborne landing in WW II, in North Africa. I'd never read about such a landing, so listened intently as Lt. Gen. (ret) William Yarborough, a WW II airborne officer and later famed Green Beret general, tell of being in that assault.
    The aircraft left from England, but by the time they reached North Africa, weather and a few German fighter planes had gotten the pilots hopelessly off course, so when gas began to run out, the plans landed in the sand "somewhere in North Africa." So much for the start of airborne history.
    Of the five U.S. airborne divisions in WW II, only the 82nd remains today. The famed 101st Airborne Division converted to an "air-assault" division years ago and the other three were disbanded.
    Page 2 of 2 - All soldiers in the Ranger Regiment and Special Forces groups are airborne qualified, as are thousands of other soldiers who are not assigned to the 82nd and 101st.
    I began acquiring airborne insignia, and within a few years had enough items to fill a display case in Bell Hall. An annual salute to world-wide airborne troops became a popular display. In 2006, the famous commandant, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, saw it and had me contacted to see what countries with officers at CGSC I lacked airborne insignia from. I sent word it was six, and listed the countries.
    His aide called a week or so later and said he had something for me. I went to his office, and he handed me seven countries' airborne insignia. I told him there must be a mistake, as I was missing only six. He said the French wings were from Gen. Petraeus, the extra set he was awarded when he went through the French airborne course as a young captain. That set is a prize today. GERONIMO!

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