The Army Airborne and the start to Camp MacKall

Airborne, Camp MacKall

The original idea for an American airborne came from Gen. Billy Mitchell in 1918.  His  commander, Gen. Pershing agreed, but once the WWI Armistice was signed, the plan was terminated.  In the late 1920’s, Germany began training parachute units and in the 1930’s, they led the world in gliders.  Russia created the Air Landing Corps in 1935.  Japan started in 1940 with German instructors.  The U.S. did not take note until Germany was successful on Crete in 1941.

Smitty, 187th RCT/11th Airborne Division, Camp MacKall 1943

The American tradition was born when 48 men jumped at Ft. Benning on Aug. 16, 1940, where  Private Eberhard, promised to yell to his buddies below, was the first to shout out “Geronimo”.  General William Lee is considered the “Father of the Airborne.”  My father, Everett Smith or “Smitty” (as you’ll get to know him),  did not care for heights or jumping, so I asked him – “Why volunteer?”  He shrugged and said, “They pay you more in the paratroopers.”  Smitty had a dry sense of humor which you will see more of in the letters he wrote to his mother in future posts.  He did however accept his boot camp, sharp shooting, glider & parachute training as a way  of learning new things he would otherwise have never experienced. [One of his statements driven into me – ” Like any job, always try your best.”]  Since he was 27 and much older than other recruits, he was often referred to by the nickname of “Pops.”

Camp MacKall postcard

The 11th Airborne Division was formed on Feb. 25, 1943 and their conditioning was so severe that most of the men felt combat would be a breeze.  They were the first A/B division formed from scratch, so instead of following the manuals – they were writing their own.  The camp was under construction 24/7 and they took classes sitting in folding chairs and easels were used for map reading, first-aid, weapons, foxholes, rules of land warfare, communications, field fortifications, and so on.  Between May and June one battalion at a time went to Fort Benning for jump school.

glider jumping

When the time came for Stage A of jump school, it was scratched since the men were already as fit as possible.  Stage B, was learning to tumble, equipment knowledge, sliding down a 30′ cable and packing a parachute.  In Stage C, they used a 250-foot tower, forerunner to the one at Coney Island, to simulate a jump.  Stage D, they earned their jump wings and boots.  In June, the units began training in every circumstance that might arise in combat.

The gliders used were WACO CG 4A, boxlike contraptions with wings.  The skeleton was small gauge steel covered with canvas; a wingspan of 84 feet, length of 49 feet and carried 3,700 pounds = two pilots and 13 fully loaded soldiers or a jeep and 6 men. The casualty list developing these appeared endless to the men.  Smitty could not listen to “Taps” without tearing up, even in his later years.

WACO glider in take off from Camp MacKall field.

21 June, the division entered the unit training program.  During July, all units went on 10-day bivouacs and to Fort Bragg.  Glider formal training occurred at Maxton Air Base.

In July, in Sicily, Operation Husky went terribly awry, due to the weather conditions –  3,800 paratroopers were separated from their gliders and each other.  The casualty rate was exorbitant.  This created serious doubts about the practicality of a division size airborne.  Proof would rest on the shoulders of the 11th and their commander, Gen. Joseph May Swing.  A demonstration called the “Pea Patch Show” was displayed for Sec. of War, Stimson.  He gave Swing a positive review, but it did not convince Gen. Marshall or McNair.  The fate of the Airborne Command rested on the upcoming Knollwood Maneuvers.

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Smitty’s hometown of Broad Channel sent out a free issue of their newspaper, “The Banner”, to every hometown soldier and this became another source of back front info, along with news from his mother and friends:

News that Smitty got from home at this point:  Broad Channel was getting their own air raid siren.  (Broad Channel is one-mile long and about 4-blocks wide).  His neighbors, the Hausmans, heard from their POW son in the Philippines.  And – his divorce papers were final, Smitty was single again.

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Military Humor –

‘I dropped out of Parachute School.’

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Farewell Salutes – 

Robert Ashby – Sun City, AZ; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO

Carl Bradley – USA; US Navy, WWII, Fireman 2nd Class, USS Oklahoma, KIA (Pearl Harbor)

Leo Brown – Lima, OH; USMC, WWII, PTO, USS Colorado,3rd Marine Division

Benjamin Goldfarb – Toronto, CAN; US Army, WWII, PTO, Surgical tech, 54th General Hospital, Philippines

Daniel C. Helix – Concord, CA; US Army, Korea & Vietnam, MGeneral, Purple Heart / Mayor

Denis H. Hiskett – USA; US Navy, WWII, Fireman 1st Class, USS Oklahoma, KIA (Pearl Harbor)

Robert L. Moore – Queens, NY; USMC, Korea & Vietnam, Gunnery Sgt.

Thomas O’Keefe – Washington D.C.; US Army, Korea, 187th RCT  /  CIA

George Semonik Jr. – Sewickley, PA; US Army, Chief Warrant Officer, 82nd Airborne Division (Ret. 20 y.)

Shelby Treadway – Manchester, KY; US Navy, WWII, Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class, USS Oklahoma, KIA (Pearl Harbor)

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About GP

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GP is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on March 22, 2021, in Broad Channel, Home Front, SMITTY, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 135 Comments.

  1. The Swing vote didnt fly for Stimson.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is fascinating reading!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Even after all that rigorous training, I imagine the real war scene was still much different than expected. Having a sense of humor, like your dad, would have been a real asset.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh yes. The training had actually only just begun, little did they know. So much so, they felt that the war would be a relief. But like you said, combat was a lot different, but the training was vital to the fact that they performed so well and their casualty rate was so low.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thoroughly enjoyed that blog. Great story told very well and full of information. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting that your father got “pops”. I remember my father talking about a 28 year old who they called “dad”. Thinking back it’s amazing how young we all were in the army — anyone in their 30s was an old man to us.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Amen and Hallelujah!! GOD BLESS ALL our USA VETERANS!!

    Love ❤ Always, YSIC \o/

    Kristi Ann

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Parachuttisten moeten moedige mannen geweest zijn om in oorlogsgebieden zo maar n

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It must have been a terrifying experience in Italy so soon after the short time of training. I am glad your father survived

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for a great post, GP. I love the photo of jump school.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for your like of my post, “Road To Tribulation 13 – Instruction For Those Left Behind – 1;” you are very kind.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Ironic that at 27 your father was called pops. In Vietnam there were guys much, much older.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. NO NEED TO PUBLISH THIS COMMENT: GP, here is a blog post you would be interested in. The veterinarian here is my old vet who retired back in 2016. He was in the Army before he went to vet school. This particular post I think you could relate to, though you won’t have a dry eye when you are done reading it.
    https://docsmemoirs.com/2021/03/26/widow-womans-ranch/

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Always interesting history here, GP! I am looking forward to reading more of your father’s letters, too! My father was also one of the older ones when he joined the Marines. I don’t know if he had a nickname, but I would bet he did.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It would be odd if your father didn’t have nickname, Lavinia. haha I thinking making them up is favorite pastime for them. I’m very happy you’ll be sticking around.

      Liked by 2 people

  14. Always fascinating. It reminds me of a friend who’s dad served with my dad in WW11. I keep in touch. It brings these stories to mind. A time of reflection. Thanks GP! 💔

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like hearing that the children of that fantastic generation stay in touch. I often hear from children and grandchildren of those who served in the 11th Airborne and I get chills!!

      Liked by 2 people

  15. Every little detail has made for a wonderful story. Except, its true. Height adverse myself, I can’t imagine how he went forward – or downward – other than he was made of something special.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Your father sounds like quite a character, and a pretty stoic man as well, but I guess needs/must at the time, and such a positive attitude much have helped through what was to come. I’ve done a couple of parachute jumps, but cannot begin to imagine what the training must have been like at the time (doing it for real, of course, even less).
    Thanks for sharing it. These stories should never be forgotten. Stay well.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Your father definitely had a nice humor. 😉 But as parachutist you at least have an overview. Lol
    BTW This “In the late 1920’s, Germany began training parachute units” was new to me, because i never thought my “friends” has begun so early after WWI.
    Thank you for this very interesting information, as i am know also knowing where the name of the first ? nuclear rockets are came from :-)) Have a nice day, GP! Best wishes, Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  18. That sounds absolutely terrifying (regardless of how well it paid.)

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I love ““They pay you more in the paratroopers.” But it was a very dangerous job! There is no second chance. You have to be precise and know exactly what you are doing. But then again, if you number is up, you are up.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. I look forward to the next installment of Smitty’s story.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. When I was a kid in the Netherlands in 64-67 while my dad was stationed there in the Air Force, I used to frequently find relics of the war. My Dutch friends knew where they were and took me to see the remnants of German and US tanks, trucks and downed aircraft. On base, there were aircraft wrecks and even a half-buried tank with the guts removed. But the most intriguing relic was this wide deep hole by the commissary. That hole was deep and dark, at least to a 6-7 year old kid. It was even more interesting when my buddies told me a paratrooper had landed in the hole during the war. I used to peer into that hole every chance I got to see if he was still in there. Such was the imagination of a young kid probably being made game of by his, marginally, smarter buddies.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Such closeness to the war must be an unusual experience. Here in the States, no child grew up around such ‘mementoes’. Thanks for telling us your story, Will. We tend to forget what went on after the war.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Imagine being called “Pops” at 27 but the sad truth is most of the troops were much younger. My Dad was 17. Home at 21 and scarred for life I think. Thanks for a great post

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perhaps it was better than my father was older. I have tried many times to remember any signs of PTSD in him and can not. The main reaction with him was “Taps”.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. What did Geronimo yell when he made his first jump? “Meeeeeeee.” 😂😂

    Liked by 2 people

  24. In Europe, paratroopers and gliders always seemed to have a huge death toll attached to them. In Sicily the British suffered enormous casualties (“only 12 of the 147 gliders landing on target and 69 crashing into the sea, with over 200 men drowning”). In Crete, German paratrooper casualties were such that Hitler abandoned the idea of airborne troops there and then, It certainly took a very brave man indeed to be a paratrooper in WW2!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That operation that killed so many in Europe should never have been done due to the weather and lack of training. I have read a little about Crete, but not enough to comment on.
      Thank you for helping me to put their courage into perspective.

      Like

  25. Being a pioneer in something like parachuting takes guts. If you get it wrong there’s no second chance!

    Liked by 1 person

  26. I got kick out of “They pay you more in the paratroopers.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Before starting this blog, I wanted to put Dad’s letters into a book and that’s what I was going to use as the title. I just might some day.

      Like

  27. The casualties in the development of the gliders can’t have helped morale….but that generation just kept on regardless.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I sure know Dad hated the funerals they had to go to, but it was the respectful thing to do. Manners and respect for others don’t seem to be instructed by parents to their children these days.

      Liked by 1 person

  28. That sounded like an extensive training regimen, G. I guess it would have to be. A fascinating story. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  29. It’s new to me but what a great story

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Amazing story, GP. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Strange to think of being called ‘Pops’ at 27. Just shows how young so many soldiers are in wartime.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. I cannot imagine doing what he did, especially since he was afraid of heights. It takes a special kind of courage to do something that scares you. He really had an amazing attitude.

  33. I just found out that Ken Smith had a bunch of photos from Camp MacKall and also from his time in the PTO. Many of the photos have names of his buddies in the 187th. He also had a set of postcard-size official photos from the camp. These were found by my wife while cleaning out her father’s house .I am scanning them now. Are you interested in seeing them when I have them processed?

    Liked by 1 person

  34. What a great story-memoir. There are great reasons I’m sure to join the paratroopers. I like Smitty’s–‘the pay is better’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A lot of the men didn’t even know what a paratrooper was, so the added pay was great incentive. Trouble is, you had to be perfect or you were out on your keister!

      Liked by 1 person

  35. I really liked the Einstein quote!

    Liked by 1 person

  36. The training to become a member of the airborne division was definitely not for weaklings. To get through the entire training program must have given to those who succeeded a tremendous sense of pride.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. There had to be a special kind of satisfaction associated with breaking new ground in so many ways. We owe so much to men like your father. I smiled when I read “always try your best.”

    Thanks for another episode, GP. I hope you have a great week.

    Liked by 1 person

  38. A fascinating read! I have a few photos of classes standing against a spread chute in Fort Brag in the mid-50s; an incredible training regime based on the lessons learned in WW2!

    Liked by 1 person

  39. This was a great story. I spent three lovely weeks at Ft Benning for training before going to Germany for further training before deploying to Bosnia (or in my case Hungary). The base has improved a lot, but the red clay and muddy brown rivers of GA are eternal, as are the heat and humidity (and this was in March!). Gotta love Smitty. You answered my idle curiosity with the divorce papers sentence. Love the cartoon about dropping out of parachuting.

    Liked by 1 person

  40. As Smitty ‘did not care for heights or jumping’ this puts a new perspective on his courage.

    Liked by 1 person

  41. Pierre Lagacé

    Even more interesting even if I know the whole story…

    Liked by 1 person

  42. Always enjoy your posts.

    On Mon, Mar 22, 2021 at 05:15 Pacific Paratrooper wrote:

    > GP posted: ” The original idea for an American airborne came from Gen. > Billy Mitchell in 1918. His commander, Gen. Pershing agreed, but once the > WWI Armistice was signed, the plan was terminated. In the late 1920’s, > Germany began training parachute” >

    Liked by 1 person

  43. Thank you for linking up, Will!

    Like

  1. Pingback: The Army Airborne and the start to Camp MacKall — Pacific Paratrooper – Marshall in the Middle

  2. Pingback: The Army Airborne and the start to Camp MacKall - The Washington County Auditor

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