By Chris Fletcher, Fort Jackson LeaderApril 2, 2015
CAMDEN, S.C. (April 2, 2015) -- More than 20 World War II veterans celebrated completing the U.S. Army's first mass parachute drop at the 82nd Airborne Division Memorial Sunday.
Though the parachute drop 72 years ago was successful and helped pave the way for mass parachute operations in Africa and Europe, three paratroopers died during the training event.
The magnitude of this initial jump was conveyed in a letter written by Barbara Gavin, the daughter of Lt. Gen. Jim Gavin, who commanded the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, or PIR.
"Training leads to perfection in performance, and without this jump in Camden, which is being commemorated here today, those combat jumps during the war might have had a different ending," read military historian Robert Anzuoni, from Gavin's letter to the audience of more than 100.
Anzuoni also noted how Gavin felt for the paratroopers who sacrificed their lives in training so others could get it right in combat.
"Today, I believe my father's spirit is there with you, honoring those three paratroopers who lost their lives taking part in this operation in Camden," Anzuoni read from Gavin's letter. "It led to four magnificent combat jumps of the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II."
Before the jump 72 years ago, the largest parachute drop consisted of a battalion-sized operation. The entire 505th PIR, three battalions from the 82nd, participated in the Camden parachute drop.
Anzuoni said the parachute assault on Camden left no doubt about the feasibility of regimental-sized parachute operations.
Highlighting the event were vignettes and anecdotes from retired Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Merritt and former Maj. T. Moffat Burriss, both participants of the jump in Camden, S.C. and a number of combat jumps in World War II.
"I had just made squad leader after being in the Army only five months," said Merritt, of his jump into South Carolina 72 years ago. "I was so determined to do something good; the first thing that happened was I lost my compass and my South Carolina map."
Merritt added he was called up to see his supply officer after the training operation and told he would have to pay $16.98 for the lost compass, which equaled one-third of his monthly basic pay.
U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson and retired Army Maj. Gen. Julian Burns also spoke at the event.
The commemoration allowed today's generation to jump into the past with World War II re-enactors dressed the part and period-piece equipment displays on hand for spectators.