Churchill Visits Fort Jackson, S.C.
Todd M Mayer
While stationed at Fort Bragg, elements of the 503rd made several exhibition jumps for notable dignitaries. The jumps were designed to impress and demonstrate the abilities of the newly created airborne parachute units. One such jump occurred on June 24, 1942 in front of a high ranking audience that included Sir Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Sir Winston Churchill was in the U.S. for conferences with President Roosevelt, various diplomats and U.S. Generals. The conferences were held to plan a strategy on how best to defeat the enemies facing the western allies. Churchill arrive at FDR’s Hyde Park Home on June 19 for preliminary talks through June 20th, before heading to Washington DC for the start of the conferences on June 21st, where they ended on June 25th.
On June 24th, Churchill slipped away to Fort Jackson aboard a train in secrecy for a tour and to witness a simulated battle at the world’s largest infantry post. Thousands of soldiers, including hundreds of tanks and artillery with live rounds and paratroopers of the 503rd put on a spectacular show of force for the spectators.
The parachute leaps, Churchill said, were ‘quite the most remarkable I ever seen.’ A high wind, upon which those staging the battle had not counted, made them hazardous in the extreme. Chutists were tossed about like leaved in a gale.
Equipped with a ‘walkie-talkie’ - a small portable radio - Churchill heard the fierce battle cry, ‘Geronimo’ given by each paratrooper as he jumped at low altitude.
Sometimes the chute opened dangerously near the ground and the trooper landed with a thump. Once Churchill exclaimed with concern when a parachutist landed in front of the reviewing stand and lay stunned for a moment. He nodded approvingly as the soldier shook his head, scrambled to his feet and ran to join his combat unit.1
1"Salt Lake Tribune Newspaper Archives, Jun 28, 1942, P. 3," NewspaperArchive.com, June 28, 1942, 3, https://newspaperarchive.com/salt-lake-tribune-jun-28-1942-p-3/.
Guthrie, Bennett M. Three Winds of Death: The Saga of the 503d Parachute Regimental Combat Team in the South Pacific.Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press, 2000.
"June 19th, 1942." FDR: Day by Day. Accessed February 24, 2018. http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/daybyday/daylog/june-19th-1942/.
"Salt Lake Tribune Newspaper Archives, Jun 28, 1942, P. 3." NewspaperArchive.com. June 28, 1942. Accessed February 24, 2018. https://newspaperarchive.com/salt-lake-tribune-jun-28-1942-p-3/.