A Hero to Remember

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The latest in my series of “A Hero to Remember” is that of William T. Ryder, the Army’s first paratrooper.

Brigadier General William Thomas Ryder

Ryder helped pioneer Army airborne training, equipment and tactics. He was an aide to General of the Army Douglas MacArthur from 1944 until 1951. In the early 1960s he was a top Army expert in guided missile systems retiring as a brigadier general in 1966.
Ryder graduated from West Point in 1936. More than 200 soldiers volunteered to make up the first platoon of paratroopers. Ryder was selected through a competitive written exam that was scheduled to take two hours. He finished it in 45 minutes while still earning the top score. Ryder is credited with creating “Ryder’s Death Ride” a 34-foot tower from which trainees practiced jumping.
The first US Airborne Unit was a test platoon formed from part of the 29th Infantry Regiment, in July 1940. The platoon leader was Ryder who made the first paratroop jump for the US Military on August 13, 1940 at Lawson Field, Fort Benning, Georgia from a B-18 Bomber.
On July 13, 1943, Ryder jumped into Sicily with Colonel Jim Gavin, commander of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, as part of Operation Husky. He is also reported in at least one source to have jumped with the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment in North Africa as part of Operation Torch in October 1942.
Following promotion to full colonel, in mid-February 1944 Ryder was dispatched to Bribane, Australia to advise General Douglas MacArthur on airborne operations. He remained a member of MacArthur’s staff until President Truman relieved MacArthur in 1951.
The award given to the most outstanding graduate of the Airborne course at Ft. Benning is named for the general. In 1990, General Ryder represented the Airborne to receive a proclamation by North Carolina Governor Jim Martin honoring the 50th anniversary of his first jump. In 1995, the officer’s golf course at Ft. Bragg was named for General Ryder.
In addition to master parachutist badge, the general’s decorations included the Distinguished Service Medal, four awards of the Legion of Merit and two Bronze Stars.  General Ryder died from cancer in 1992 and was interred in Arlington National Cemetery.

Exhibit on display of Ryder with paratroopers.

If you ever get to Fayetteville, North Carolina, be sure to stop by the Airborne & Special Operations Museum.  They have an extensive display of the history of the airborne and special ops units and an exhibit dedicated to Ryder.  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.
A great man who helped advance our troops’ capabilities in the battlefield.

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0 responses to “A Hero to Remember

  1. Some of this I knew…some I didn’t. My brother who passed in 2008 was a member of the 101st Airborne, Screaming Eagles and in during the Nam era in 1963. Good article. Thank you!

  2. Hooah! (It’s an Army thing… )

  3. Outstanding William T Ryder! I salute you 🙂 Great article DCG!


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