"How does one organize and train a Regiment that lands deep
in enemy territory, disorganized and in a state of apparent
- James M. Gavin
On July 6, 1942, the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment was
activated at Fort Benning, Georgia. Unlike the other
parachute infantry regiments formed first as
a platoon, becoming a company and then a battalion, the 505
was assigned a regimental mission from day one.
Executing that regimental mission was Lieutenant Colonel
James Maurice Gavin. Intelligent, athletic, charismatic,
handsome and tall (he was later given the nickname of "Slim
Jim" by one of his staff officers), it would be his
leadership that would define the regiment and his example
that set its high standards.
Jim Gavin joined the Regular Army in 1924 at the age of
seventeen. Just a little over a year later, the young
enlisted man was accepted into the United States Military
Academy at West Point, graduating and becoming an officer in
1929. He later wrote of the Academy's inspiration:
I went forth to seek the challenge, to ‘move toward the
sound of the
guns’, to go where danger was greatest, for there is where
would be resolved and decisions made.
Eventually, the young officer would take note that where
danger was greatest, where issues would be resolved and
decisions made would be with the parachute troops—the new
military concept of "vertical envelopment.” Gavin completed
his airborne training in late August of 1941 and was given
command of a parachute company. Shortly thereafter, he was
promoted to the rank of major and assigned to the top
parachute headquarters in the Army, the Provisional
Parachute Group (later Airborne Command) under William C.
Lee, who a few years later observed:
[Gavin] impressed his associates with his quiet dignified
his appearance of lean physical toughness, and his keen and
penetrating mind. His work as a battalion officer marked him
for greater responsibilities and promotion to major, and
to lieutenant colonel.
Gavin knew what his regiment could and should be because as
the head of the Group’s Plans and Training Section, he had
written many of the basic training doctrines as well as the
first textbooks on airborne training. He personally selected
the 505’s cadre. Fourteen of the original officers were
graduates of West Point and most of the senior
non-commissioned officers came from the Regular Army,
experienced in training and motivating soldiers.
As a commander, Gavin firmly believed that what a soldier
needed and expected was exemplary leadership. The regimental
officers were instructed by Gavin to follow his personal
leadership axiom of:
LAST IN THE CHOW LINE AND FIRST OUT THE DOOR
The ranks of the regiment were filled with graduates from
the Parachute School, and to their commander “…they were a
venturesome, uninhibited lot.” In training, “they were
not sure exactly what was expected of them…but it was
obvious that they were very enthusiastic and willing to try
In January of 1943, Colonel Gavin (promoted in September)
received orders to move his regiment of fully-trained
paratroopers from Benning to Camp Mackall, North Carolina.
Its stay at Mackall was very short as just days after
arriving, the 505 received orders to move to nearby Fort
Bragg and join the 82nd Airborne Division, commanded by
Major General Matthew B. Ridgway. The 505 officially became
one of the division’s three infantry regiments on February
12, 1943. (The other two were the 504th Parachute Infantry
and the 325th Glider Infantry.)
During its months of arduous training at Benning, the 505
had learned to maneuver and fight as a smooth-running
regimental team; at Bragg, the regiment learned to be a team
member within a division. The division staff was impressed,
as one officer noted:
They were awesome. Every man a clone of the CO, Gavin.
Tough? God they were tough! Not just in the field, but
twenty-four hours a day.
Retaining regimental esprit de corps, the 505ers were still
proud to sew the famous All-American shoulder patch (now
with Airborne tab) on uniforms and in so doing, assured
their place in history since the 82nd Airborne Division
would set a record in World War II unmatched by any other.
It was also at Bragg that the infantry regiment was
reinforced by the addition of the 456th Parachute Field
Artillery Battalion, Company B of the 307th Airborne
Engineer Battalion, and elements of the 80th Airborne AA
Battalion and 307th Airborne Medical Company. These units
(most remaining with the 505 throughout the war) formed the
regiment into a combat team (505 RCT).
On March 30, the 505 made U. S. Army history by being the
first parachute infantry regiment to jump en masse.
During a division training demonstration of an airfield
seizure, the 505 jumped from C-47s onto three separate drop
zones at Fort Jackson near Camden, South Carolina, in front
of an audience of dignitaries including British Prime
Minister, Sir Winston Churchill and Chief of Staff of the
Army, General George C. Marshall.
The event, considered a success and a notable training
achievement, was however marred by tragedy when one of the
transports in the formation suddenly lost power. The
stricken C-47 managed to land safely, but on its way down it
sliced through a stick of paratroopers who had just jumped
from another plane, killing three. Private Kelly Byars, a
medic with Headquarters Company of the 1st Battalion, had
the risers of his chute cut off about 18” above his hands by
the plane’s propellers. Relying on his training, Private
Byars deployed his reserve and landed safely. Though shaken
and visibly upset by his close call, Byars, showing the
mettle of a paratrooper and following the example of his
commander in wanting to go “where danger was greatest”,
did not request a transfer out of the airborne.
While the paratroopers had been training at Bragg, other
American military forces had joined with the British in the
fight against the Germans and Italians in North Africa. Once
victory in North Africa was achieved, Allied planners
intended to invade the island of Sicily—OPERATION HUSKY. It
was hoped that in taking Sicily, the Allies could force
Italy to capitulate and remove itself from the war. If not,
taking the island would still provide needed airfields and
staging areas for a possible future invasion of the Italian
When the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions were activated,
the intent was to use them in an airborne operation as part
of the cross-Channel invasion into occupied France, or in
follow-up operations. With that plan now postponed by the
Sicily operation, it was decided that one of the airborne
divisions would be used for HUSKY—the 82nd was chosen.
Gavin diary entries:
About two weeks ago, we were alerted for overseas
…the regiment is in good fettle and mentally it is ready.
people will fight. There have never been soldiers like them.
Parachuting is a good test of a man’s courage for combat.
A man who will jump regularly with equipment will do most
If they fight as well in Africa as they fight in
have nothing to worry about.
On April 20, the division moved by train from Fort Bragg to
Camp Edwards, Massachusetts, to prepare for embarkation.
Nine days later the division, spread among three transport
ships in a well-protected convoy, sailed from New York
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