FORT BENNING, Ga. -- As the national anthem played, the audience held hands over hearts and watched as a U.S. Army parachutist glided down from an unbroken blue sky, pulling a U.S. flag behind him.
So opened the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning's National Airborne Day observation Aug. 16 at Fryar Drop Zone at Fort Benning. The first paratrooper test jump took place 79 years ago, Aug. 16, 1940, at Fort Benning.
The first test of a U.S. Army paratrooper drop occurred at Fort Benning Aug. 16, 1940, when Lt. (later Col.) William T. Ryder and Lt. (later Lt. Col.) James A. Bassett led the Airborne Test Platoon. The platoon jumped onto Lawson Field (later Lawson Army Airfield), completing the first successful military parachute jump.
After the national anthem, members of the U.S. Army Parachute Team, nicknamed the Golden Knights, from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and members of the Silver Wings parachute team from Fort Benning performed a freefall parachute jump demonstration from a UV18 Viking Twin Otter plane onto Fryar Drop Zone. The Golden Knights jumped in with golden parachutes, and the Silver Wings jumped in with black parachutes.
The final two parachutists to land -- one from the Golden Knights, one from the Silver Wings -- came in one literally on top of the other. The Silver Wings parachutist wrapped his legs into the line of the Golden Knights parachute as if he were sitting on the parachute, and the Golden Knight carried below him a weighted tether and a flag emblazoned with the black-and-gold Army star.
"This is where I started jumping out of airplanes, all the way back in 2006," said Staff Sgt. Houston Creech of the Golden Knights. "Just being here this day, with all the progression I've gone through and the skills I've gained through the Army's training -- being able to be here on this specific day is a tremendous honor."
"It's the pride and history of the unit and the organization," said Staff Sgt. Joshua Porter, on jumping as part of the Silver Wings for National Airborne Day. "Our legacy and our history build the future of what we are right now."
"We're celebrating both those that came before us, those that are currently training and defending our nation, and those that come after," said 199th Infantry Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Roy Young, who jumped as part of the Silver Wings jump team.
The Liberty Jump Team made two jumps of 14 and 16 volunteer parachutists following the Golden Knights and the Silver Wings demonstration. Their members were dressed in period Army uniforms, displaying what Soldiers would have worn during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and Operation Desert Storm. The team jumped from a restored C-47 Skytrain. The particular plane to drop them over Fryar Drop Zone holds the moniker "Greenland Gopher," and participated in D-Day and Operation Market Garden during World War II as well as in the Berlin Airlift.
Retired Sgt. 1st Class Jim Micko, member and senior rigger of the Liberty Jump Team, said his team's jump was in recognition of the "courage and foresight of the people that took that first step," referring to the U.S. Army Soldiers who pioneered airborne operations before and during World War II.
"The fact that they were able to make it work and make it work in time for the war is a phenomenal thing," said Micko.
The Golden Knights are part of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, the mission of which is to "recruit America's best volunteers to enable the Army to win in a complex world." Creech made a practical recommendation to anyone who aspires to become a U.S. Army paratrooper:
"Run," he said. "Practice running a lot. You need very strong legs. Do a lot of squats. If you're going to be jumping out of airplanes, those legs are going to need to be able to support that weight coming."
To learn more about Airborne School or to see more photos from this event, visit the "Related Links" section on this page.