Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Excerpts from 'The Angels'

The Angels: A History of the 11th Airborne Division by E.M. Flanagan

Even though these division teams were composed of fairly high-ranking officers, nonetheless they went next to Fort Holibird for four days of orientation on the operation and maintenance of various motor vehicles. This included, preposterously, requiring the generals and colonels to drive a 6 x 6 convoy through the streets of Baltimore, Maryland. Perhaps with some misgivings, and probably glad to get rid of their high-ranking charges, the NCO ordnance examiners duly awarded the generals and colonels their operators' permits. Colonel Farrell was the only member of the Division Headquarters who opted to try to qualify on a motorcycle. Unfortunately, he skidded out of control on the track and, as a result, for many years bore ingrained on his forehead a patch of Holibird dirt. The NCO in charge of motorcycles awarded Colonel Farrell and "A" for effort and an "E" for competence; he did not award him a motorcycle operator's permit.

The word "Geronimo" is in the lexicon of every paratrooper, even to the present day. Its use by the airborne goes back to the day when the test platoon made its third jump--its first mass jump. The night before the jump, three paratroopers of the test platoon went to a movie at the Fort Benning post theater. The movie was a western in which U.S. Calvary troops chased the renowned Apache chief Geronimo and a band of his Indian braves. After the movie and on their way back to their tents near Lawson, one of the moviegoers chided Pvt. Aubrey Eberhardt about the extent of his enthusiasm and willingness to make the mass jump the next morning. Eberhardt drew himself up to his full six-foot-eigh-inch height and declared that not only was he not afraid to make a mass jump but, to prove how relaxed he was, he would yell "Geronimo" when he exited the plane.

Word spread throughout the platoon about Eberhardt's claim. The next morning, the men in Eberhardt's plane and those who had already jumped and were on the ground waited for the yell. True to his word, when it came time for Eberhardt to leap out the door, he yelled a loud "Geronimo" and followed it with an equally resonant war hoop so loud that the men on the ground could hear it. Thus, without intending to or even knowing it, Eberhardt established one of the many traditions of the U.S. paratrooper.

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