Major General William Carey Lee
The 'Father' of the US Airborne

'The 101st Airborne Division, which was activated on August 16th 1942, at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, has no history, but it has a rendez vous with destiny. Like the early American Pioneers whose invincible courage was the foundation stone of this nation, we have broken with the past and its traditions in order to establish our claim to the future.'

'Due to the nature of our armament and the tactics in which we shall perfect ourselves, we shall be called upon to carry out operations of far-reaching military importance and we shall habitually go into action when the need is immediate and extreme. Let me call your attention to the fact that our badge is the great American eagle. This is a fitting emblem for a division that will crush its enemies by falling upon them like a thunderbolt from the skies.'

The above message was written by Major General William 'Bill' Lee on the activation of the 101st Airborne Division.

Lee was born March 12th 1895 in Dunn. He studied at the Wake Forrest and North Carolina State University, where he grew out to be an excellent baseball- and football-player. In 1917 he joined the Army, serving in the 81st Infantry Division. After Germany surrendered he was billeted in Mayen, Germany. After serving 18 months in Europe he reached the rank of Captain.

Back in the U.S. he returned to the North Carolina State University and transferred to the US Army School 2 years later.

He served as a military attaché in France and Great Britain.

Amongst other camps (such as the French tank school) he was based in Camp Jackson, S.C, Camp David, Panama, Ft Meade, MD, Ft, Benning, GA.
He attended the Command and General Staff School in Ft. Leavenworth, KS and became the commander of the Provisional Parachute Group and the 502nd and 503rd Parachute Battalions at Fort Benning, before he became the commander of the 101st Airborne Division in 1942.
He took the men of the 101st Airborne Division through a rigorous training program, starting on the day they arrived in basic training. Jumpschool was as tough, and all next stages of the paratrooper training were even tougher. Field problems, Physical Training (PT), learning about navigation, orientation, the US weapons and those of the enemy… The men were drilled until they knew everything by heart.

General Bill Lee married his girlfriend Dava, they had no children.

A stroke made him step down as commanding officer of the 101st Airborne Division, just as the Division was making its final preparations for the big invasion (Normandy). Bill Lee had planned the airborne phase, together with his assistant commander, Brigadier General Don F. Pratt. He was succeeded by General Maxwell Taylor.

The men of the 101st Airborne Division were asked by General Taylor to yell 'Bill Lee' whilst jumping out of their transports into combat. (it was common practice to shout something whilst exiting the plane -Geronimo- etc). Bill Lee! A fitting tribute to the man who is considered the 'Father of the Airborne'.

How did that work during D-Day night? Well, here is what Richard Winters remembers;
'Straight ahead I can see the lights set on a jump field. Jesus Christ, there's the green light! We're down to 150 miles per hour and still eight minutes out. OK, let's go, Bill Lee, God damn- there goes my knee pack, and every bit of my equipment...'

George Koskimaki writes:
'As we stood waiting and watching over the shoulders of the others, a plane off to our right suddenly burst into flames. Just as we worried about the occupants of that plane, our green light suddenly appeared and the order came, 'Let's go!' We yelled 'Bill Lee!' almost in unison as we followed our jumpmaster out the door.'

Assistant commander of the 101st Airborne Division, Brigadier General Don F. Pratt joined the thousands of US Para- and Glidertroops and took part in the Glider landing near Hiesville. His heavily re-enforced and overloaded WACO Glider crashed into a bocage killing the Brigadier General, the first Allied General KIA during D-Day.

General Bill Lee died in 1948. The man who was the architect of the US Airborne forces, and who started way back in 1940 with an experimental test platoon of 48 paratroopers, is still a legend.

He was entitled to:
The WW1 Victory Medal
The Distinguished Service Medal
The American Defense Service Medal
The American Campaign Medal
The European, African and Middle East Ribbons
The WW2 Victory Medal

Within the 101st Airborne Division Association there is still a General William C. Lee Chapter. In order to become a member of the General William C. Lee Chapter, you are required to be a regular member of the 101st Airborne Division Association, the national headquarters.

Article: Don van den Bogert
Research: Désiree Withaar


This website is dedicated to all Allied Paratroopers of World War Two. They became a 'Band of Brothers' who enlisted for a new type of warfare. They jumped into occupied Holland on September 17th 1944 like Angels from the Sky. We will honor their heritage.