General William C. Lee
ParachutistGeneral William C. Lee   "Father of the Airborne"

Bud Miley, Gen. William C. Lee, George Howell

Bud Miley, commander of the Army's first parachute battalion,
Major General William C. Lee and
George Howell, Commandant of the Parachute School

Father of the Airborne

An infantry officer in World War I, Bill Lee graduated from the American and French tank schools in 1929-1930 and later served as a military attaché in France and Great Britain. During the 1930s Lee became painfully aware of German innovations in airborne warfare. A new war was looming, one that would be characterized by speed, mobility and surprise. When Germany used paratroopers and glider men in their "lighting war" in Western Europe in May 1940, the United States War Department turned to Bill Lee to create the same capability for America. Lee, now a lieutenant colonel, was ready. He oversaw the work of the U.S. Army Test Platoon at Fort Benning, Georgia, activated the Provisional Parachute Group in 1941 and brought Airborne Command to Fort Bragg, North Carolina in March 1942. Promoted to general officer, Lee pushed the development of airborne divisions, becoming in August 1942 the first commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division, the "Screaming Eagles".

From Dunn to D-Day

A few hours before the airborne assault that launched the Normandy invasion, Major General Maxwell D. Taylor, 101st commanding general, had urged his troopers to remember Lee, their much-loved former commander, by shouting his name as they jumped into battle. Lee, recuperating from a heart attack at his home in Dunn, could not make this jump that was the culmination of an extraordinary four-year effort to create airborne units. Now, as the jump light in the C-47 airplane turned from red to green, paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division streamed out into the night sky over France, shouting "Bill Lee!" as they rushed toward their "rendezvous with destiny." It was the early hours of June 6th, 1944, a date now known to all the world as "D-Day". The great crusade to liberate Europe from NAZI tyranny was underway, and North Carolina was instrumental in spearheading the attack.

Under Lee's leadership, the Army activated an experimental test platoon of forty-eight paratroopers in the summer of 1940. By D-Day, an Army of tens of thousands of paratroopers and glider troopers was prepared to fight the enemy in Europe and the Pacific. Bill Lee was the architect of these airborne forces that were the "point of the sword" for the United States Army in World War II.

Bill Lee died in 1948 in his hometown of Dunn, NC. His life and times are a vital part of the history of our state and of the nation. It is a story of duty, honor, courage and sacrifice. It is a story that must never be forgotten.

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