Diary tells story of famed WWII airborne commander

Diary tells story of famed WWII airborne commander

Thursday, August 4, 2022

This month marks 82 years since the Army conducted its first official parachute jump on August 16, 1940. Back in 2002, President George W. Bush commemorated that history by declaring National Airborne Day.

President Bush’s proclamation of the day started with a quick review of airborne’s beginnings:

“The history of airborne forces began after World War I, when Brigadier General William Mitchell first conceived the idea of parachuting troops into combat. Eventually, under the leadership of Major William Lee at Fort Benning, Georgia, members of the Parachute Test Platoon pioneered methods of combat jumping in 1940. In November 1942, members of the 2nd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, conducted America’s first combat jump, leaping from a C-47 aircraft behind enemy lines in North Africa. This strategy revolutionized combat and established airborne forces as a key component of our military.”

The 82nd anniversary of that first Army jump is particularly resonant given that the 82nd Airborne Division is one of the prestigious groups that comprise today’s airborne ranks, along with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), and the newly reactivated 11th Airborne Division.

Lieutenant General James Gavin commanded the “All-American” 82nd Airborne Division during World War II. Gavin kept a diary during the war years, starting in April 1943 when the unit was preparing to go to North Africa through the occupation of Berlin in the summer of 1945.

That diary was kept secret for decades, only coming to light when the general’s family discovered it among his belongings after his death. It recounts Gavin’s observations on fellow military and political leaders, army operations, and the general’s personal life.

Previously unpublished, the diary will finally see the light of day this fall as part of the AUSA Book Program. In October, AUSA publishing partner Casemate will release Gavin at War: The World War II Diary of Lieutenant General James M. Gavin, edited and annotated by Lewis Sorley.

Readers can pre-order a copy of Gavin at War now. For those looking for immediate airborne gratification, the book program has the already published Airborne Forces at War: From Parachute Test Platoon to the 21st Century. This large-format illustrated history traces airborne forces over the decades, highlighting all the key leaders and crucial battles.

Both books honor the soldiers, past and present, who have served as Airborne troopers.

To order these or any other AUSA Book Program titles, please visit www.ausa.org/books