Thursday, August 16, 2012

National Airborne Day

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), along with 23 bipartisan co-sponsors, introduced a Senate Resolution (S Res 527) – passed by unanimous consent – that designates 16 August 2012 as National Airborne Day, to commemorate the enormous contributions of the paratroopers – in all the services, but primarily from the Army – to the wars and conflicts of our nation from World War II to present day.  Why 16 August, you may ask?  I had to remind myself by reading the resolution:
Whereas August 16 marks the anniversary of the first official Army parachute jump, which took place on August 16, 1940, to test the innovative concept of inserting United States ground combat forces behind a battle line by means of a parachute … 
"It beats walkin' ... "

The idea of troops attacking from the sky can be said to be an early American idea, stretching all the way back to Benjamin Franklin, who in 1783 was stunned to observe the demonstration of a Montgolfier (as hot-air balloons were known then, after the inventors) while Franklin was ambassador to France.  He quickly assessed the possibilities:
Where is the Prince who can afford so to cover his country with troops for its defense, so that ten thousand men descending from the clouds might not, in many places, do an infinite amount of mischief before a force could be brought to repel them?
The idea lacked a tangible possibility until many years later, and the first plan formulated for the use of paratroopers was created by the Americans in 1918 during World War I, an idea of the visionary and controversial General Billy Mitchell, to land American troops behind the German lines near Metz.  The plan, though, was overtaken by events, specifically the surrender of Germany in November.  The first formation of an airborne unit was left to the Italians in 1927, followed quickly by the Soviets, Germans, and Poles, with the Americans lagging behind until inspired by the German airborne operations prior to our entry into World War II.

There was always the possibility in my mind that 29 September might be a good occasion for the commemoration, that being the feast day for Saint Michael, patron saint of paratroopers, but that is undoubtedly too much for our post-modern culture.  [Full disclosure: I’m not Roman Catholic, but I never want to hedge my bets.]  He is also the saint for police and sailors – fair enough – and grocers as well.  I find that apt, as the term “grocery” was a euphemism for “saloon” in the days of the Republic of Texas, and thus ties in with my experience as a Marine (and a paratrooper too), as the US Marines are the only fighting force in the world to have been established in a bar. 

My youngest son is a paratrooper, and I was delighted to pin on him a set of my wings that I earned at Fort Benning many years ago.  I was disappointed (as was he) to find that ‘gender-norming’ of the training now results in a lack of the hard edge that I experienced, and my experience certainly falls far short of that of T/Sgt Don Malarkey of the original ‘Band of Brothers’ of E Company, 506th Parachute Regiment, who we have been fortunate to meet as he still lives in a city nearby.  Yet no matter how tough the training, the fact of the matter is that a combat-ready trooper will jump from a perfectly good aircraft into the territory of the enemy, knowing that he will start the battle surrounded. 

The Airborne Day resolution contains a quick history of the American paratrooper experience, and is worth reading in its entirety, and concludes for present purposes that “the history and achievements of the members and former members of the United States airborne forces warrant special expressions of the gratitude of the people of the United States.”  It resolves that the Senate “calls on the people of the United States to observe National Airborne Day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.” 

Unless one lives near a military base that is fortunate to have such a well-honed unit, it is highly likely that a paratrooper (like Marines, there are no ‘ex’-paratroopers) will be content to know that this resolution and $4 will buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks.  But that is not the point – we appreciate the tip of the senatorial hat (while still remembering the lines of Rudyard Kipling’s Tommy), but the real words that apply come from Aristotle: “Dignity exists not in possessing honours, but in the consciousness that we deserve them.”  Say what you will about recognition, the real prize is the quiet knowledge that we have achieved and overcome.

“All the way.”

Update:  The word is out – Blackfive has a series of postings, starting with this one.  Hit the home page and read the rest.

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