The main exhibit gallery moves the visitor
through time, starting in 1940 with the conception of the U.S.
Army Parachute Test Platoon and ending with today's airborne
and special operations units. Much has changed in the world
since the battles of World War II and the conflicts of the
Cold War era, but the courage and dedication of the American
soldier is a common bond that ties each generation together.
The excitement and uncertainty of the first U.S. soldiers
to jump is felt as the Test Platoon forges a new weapon of
war, the American paratrooper. Lieutenant Bill Ryder, leader
of the Test Platoon, on August 16th, 1940 became the first
American fighting man to stand in the door and jump. He was
followed by Private William King, the first U.S. enlisted paratrooper.
The work that followed in the next four years was amazing.
Developing full-scale airborne operations while engaged in
a world war required the passion and dedication of many great
leaders. The names are legendary; John Ward, Bud Miley, Bill
Yarborough, Red King and Bill Donovan only begin the distinguished
list. North Carolina native Major General William C. Lee
would come to be known as "the Father of the Airborne."
WORLD WAR II
World War II saw the most concentrated use of airborne operations,
with five Army divisions dedicated to using this new method
of putting men and equipment on the battlefield. The 11th,
13th, 17th, 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions spearheaded many
operations, and were joined by early special operations soldiers
from units such as the Rangers, OSS, and the 1st Special Service
Force. Conventional American airborne forces from WWII until
1948 were composed roughly of equal parts paratroopers and
glider troops. Gliders were used to bring soldiers and equipment
including jeeps, engineering and artillery pieces, to the battlefield.
Places such as Sicily, Normandy, and Corregidor became legendary
proving grounds for the paratroopers, glider troops, and special
operations soldiers, and were the building blocks of victory
in Europe and the Pacific.
On display at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum
is a replica of part of a French village from the Normandy
Invasion of June 1944. As visitors walk the streets of the
village, they are surrounded by images of war. From the bullet
holes in the stucco walls to the C-47 "Skytrain" flying
low overhead with jumper in the door, the museum transports
the visitor to war torn occupied France at the dawn of Europe's
The visitor is then transported to the Pacific-Asiatic theater
of operation, immersed in excitement and uncertainty as they
prepare for combat in the thick jungle. Video displays here
and throughout the gallery show original newsreel footage and
other scenes of American troops in action.
One of the most rare and impressive displays is that of a completely
restored WACO CG-4A glider. Gliders were used extensively in
the war, and the largest operations used them by the thousands.
The gliders were very fragile, had little peacetime use, and
have not been used by the military since 1950-51. For these reasons
there are only a handful of gliders left in the world, and few
of these have been properly restored. The museum's glider is
one of the finest examples in existence.
KOREA AND COLD WAR
In the years following WWII, the air was thick with the new,
invisible threats of the Cold War. American airborne and special
operations units were kept busy in the Korean War, with combat
jumps by the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team (ARCT) and
the use of Airborne Ranger Companies. PSYWAR Radio Broadcast
and Leaflet teams added pressure by fighting for the hearts
and minds of the combatants. United Nations partisan forces
fought deep behind enemy lines in a little remembered special
In the early 1950s the power of special and unconventional
warfare became increasingly clear. A natural progression of
the special operations units of the OSS that had proven themselves
during World War II was the establishment of the 10th Special
Forces group at Ft. Bragg in 1952, the first of the Army's
Special Forces units.
It was also during this time that the United States began
to feel internal unrest at such levels that airborne units
would be called upon to help support the civilian authorities.
A graphics panel at the museum explores the 101st and 82d Airborne
Divisions and the XVIII Airborne Corps' presence in some of
our nations hot spots from Miami to New Haven and Detroit to
In 1965, airborne and special operations troops were called
to the Dominican Republic. The 7th Special Forces Group and
the 82d Airborne Division were joined by South American countries
to set up a peacekeeping force. It was the 82d Airborne's largest
overseas deployment since WWII, and it shared the nation's
attention with another war that was raging, this one in Southeast
The Airborne & Special Operations Museum takes a close
look at the soldiers, equipment, and campaigns of the war in
Vietnam. The "Screaming Eagles" of the 101st Airborne
Division, the 3d Brigade of the 82d, and the legendary "Sky
Soldiers" of the 173d Airborne Brigade fought valiantly
in Southeast Asia, and the Special Forces proved themselves
time and again by working with the indigenous people in their
fight for freedom.
On display at the museum is a UH-1 "Huey" helicopter.
The pilot is at the controls, the door gunner is at the ready,
and two paratroopers are on the ground ready for action. Hidden
in the bush is the point man for a Long Range Reconnaissance
Patrol, silently surveying the action. Nearby is a mortar emplacement
on the perimeter of a C.I.D.G. camp. In the distance the North
Vietnamese Army is charging up the hill toward the defense.
Audio effects intensify these and many of the exhibits at the
museum, providing an enhanced sensory experience.
CONTINGENCY OPERATIONS & TRAINING
Since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, the United States
has been involved in many peacekeeping and contingency operations.
The Army has used this time to develop the mission, use, and
training of airborne and special operations soldiers. With
successful operations in places from Grenada and Panama to
the war in the Persian Gulf, U.S. airborne and special operations
soldiers have continued to spearhead the nation's fighting
The M551 Sheridan armored reconnaissance vehicle was heavy
enough to be considered a tank by many, but light enough to
be dropped into combat by parachute. Veteran of many airborne
operations, a Sheridan is on display in the museum, with a
member of "America's Guard of Honor", the 82d Airborne
Division, ready for combat along side.
Overhead is an AH-6 "Little Bird". This small but
deadly helicopter represents the use of special operations
airpower. From the early airplanes that dropped paratroopers
and towed gliders to the blistering modern gun-ships like the
AC-130H Specter, aircraft have always been an intrinsic part
of airborne and special operations.
A diorama at the museum depicts a Special Forces hide-site during
the Persian Gulf War. The front of the site is nearly invisible
against the backdrop of the desert. The rear of the site has
been cut away to show the soldiers carefully watching the movements
of an Iraqi convoy. These "silent professionals" will
then relay what they are seeing through secure radio methods,
providing a "real-time" view of enemy movement.