AUGUST 16, 2021


History of National Airborne Day

In terms of young or old warfare tactics, using American airborne forces to surprise an enemy by landing behind battle lines has only been a “thing” since the 1940s. It was just after World War I when, perhaps looking back in hindsight with better vision, Brigadier General Billy Mitchell first came up with a viable version of the idea of “dropping” troops into combat. The idea was developed and tested at Fort Benning, Georgia, and first “went live” in the North African campaign of the Second World War, meeting with decisive success.

Perhaps best illustrated by the film “Saving Private Ryan,” paratroopers in WWII suffered some disadvantages when they parachuted into German territories, such as disorientation or losing their sense of compass directions during a nighttime paratrooper assault. The second was a lack of ready supplies. Airborne troops sometimes had to scrounge, be cunning, and exploit every resource to procure food, weapons, and ammunition. And that’s to say nothing about being surrounded by the enemy on all sides!

With paratroopers now jumping out of an aircraft at the rate of about 118.5 feet per second, National Airborne Day is also a time to recognize the vigorous training of airborne units in the Army. The safety of this training is also important to note. A jumpmasters attention to detail is critical, with equipment checked regularly. 

Airborne tactics have steadily advanced alongside other military strategies, up until 2002, when President Bush’s proclamation made the anniversary of the first airborne assault a holiday. The U.S. Senate backed that up in Senate Resolution 235 in 2009. Since then, August 16 is a patriotic day with a special cachet because airborne troops are said to be the elite of the elite, earning top honors across the Armed Services.

National Airborne Day timeline

Ahead of his time

Following the first successful manned balloon flight, Benjamin Franklin writes on the possible dangers of air attack, envisioning “ten thousand men descending from the clouds.”

A first time for everything

The 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion is deployed in French North Africa as part of Operation Torch.

“Let’s get this ball rolling!”

Former President George W. Bush signs his proclamation, reading in part, “Airborne combat continues to be driven by the bravery and daring spirit of sky soldiers.”

Now it’s official

Senate Resolution 235 officially recognizes and ratifies National Airborne Day.