"THE TEST PLATOON"
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The development of principles to govern the use of American paratroops fortunately avoided too firm an attachment to dogma.  Aside from the modification of the tried and true principles of war to fit the nature and form of the new weapon, it was perhaps fortunate that there was very little actual experience upon which dogma could develop. 

However there never seemed to be any doubt amongst command circles that the paratrooper was to be a member of an elite group, a soldier exemplifying outstanding attributes in all areas. This would not always fit comfortably with the exigencies of establishing a citizen army, but whilst the theorists could and did debate their theories, there needed to be some Yankee practicality in establishing what it was that the Army must do to the citizen to make him part of a fighting elite.

The history of the 501st Parachute Battalion, later the 2nd Battalion, 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment begins with the Test Platoon, for it was the Test Platoon which became the 501st. So the 503d properly claims many of the Test Platoon as its elder brothers.

We, therefore begin our history of the 2nd Battalion 503rd Parachute Infantry with a brief history of the Test Platoon, about whom many have written already.  Although the commendation given below errors in stating that two men were killed during their training, this does not detract from the fact that these men volunteered to jump into the unknown defying death to show the way to thousands who would follow. They earned their place in the history of our Nation, an accomplishment for which our citizens should be eternally grateful. The lateness of this “COMMENDATION”, written after World War II was over, is ample evidence that their heroic achievement had paid off in our successful airborne operations during World War II. Had these men not put their lives on the line to pioneer the way there would have been no jumps in North Africa, on Sicily, in the Markham Valley, on Noemfoor Island, in Normandy, in Southern France, on Corregidor, in Holland and in Germany.  

 

 

General Order

 

War Department

No. 89

Washington 25, D.C., 19 October 1945

 

 

Section V

 

 

 

 COMMENDATION

 

Member of Test Platoon, Parachute Troops
and Air Infantry, United States Army

 

 

V. COMMENDATION.         The following named officers and enlisted men, members of the Test Platoon, Parachute Troops and Air Infantry, United States Army, are commended for service set forth in the citation below:

 

 The Test Platoon, Parachute Troops and Air Infantry, United States Army, composed of the following:

 

Private First Class Specialist 4th Class Tyerus F. Adams

Second Lieutenant James A. Bassett

Private John E. Brown

Private Leo C. Brown

Private First Class Willie F. Brown   

Private First Class Floy Burkhalter

Private First Class Specialist 6th Class Donald L. Coles*

Private Jules Corbin

Private First Class Louis D. Davis

Private Ernest L. Dilburn

Private First Class Edgar F. Dodd

Private Joseph E. Doucet

Private First Class Aubrey Eberhardt*

Private First Class Johnnie A. Ellis

Private First Class Mitchel Guibeau

Sergeant John M. Haley

Private First Class Specialist 6th Class George W. Ivy

Sergeant Benedicy F. Jacquay

Private Frank Kassell, Jr.*

Private First Class Specialist 6th Class Richard J. Kelly*

Private Sydney C. Kerksis

Private William N. King*

Private First Class Specialist 6th Class John M. Kitchens

Private First Class Edward Martin

Sergeant Loyd McCullough*

Private First Class Lester C. McLaney

Private John O. Modisett

Private First Class Tullis Nolin

Private First Class Joseph L. Peters

Sergeant Lemuel Pitts*

Private Specialist 6th Class Robert H. Poudert

Private First Class Specialist 4th Class John F. Pursley, Jr.

Private First Class Benjamin Reese

Sergeant Grady A. Roberts*

Private Specialist 6th Class Albert P. Robinson

Private First Class Specialist 6th Class Alsie L. Rutland

First Lieutenant William T. Ryder

Private Thad P. Setman

Private Robert E. Sheperd

Private First Class Louie O. Skipper

Private First Class Raymond G. Smith

Private Arthur W. Swilley

Private Hugh A. Tracy

Private Specialist 6th Class Steve Voils, Jr.*

Sergeant Hobert B. Wade

Private First Class Specialist 4th Class John A. Ward

Private First Class Thurman L. Weeks

Private First Class Specialist 6th Class Obie C. Wilson

 

is commended for meritorious conduct in the performance of hazardous service from July to September 1940. Organized under the direction of the War Department at a strength of 2 officers and 46 enlisted men from selected volunteers of the 29th Infantry Regiment, it pioneered experimentation to determine the feasibility of employing paratroopers in modern warfare. Long and laborious application to dangerous assignments was necessary to carry out the tactical experiments. Beginning with parachute jumps from low altitudes, the test went on the mass jump on 22 August and the first successful platoon jump involving a tactical problem on 29 August. Although two men lost their lives and several were injured, the steadfastness and loyalty of purpose of every rank never faltered. The intricate problems of parachute technique were solved, special parachute equipment was designed, test jump, and refined, and the organization and minor tactics of parachute infantry were established. Highly successful airborne operation in all theater of operations throughout the war attest to the achievement of the Test Platoon.”

 

 

 

* These men would later serve with the 503d PIR. See Note.  

 

The call for volunteers for a parachute test platoon was issued at the reveille formation of the 29th Infantry Regiment on 26 June 1940. Firstly, the men were warned of the high risk they would be taking. This risk was so high that married men would not be accepted. Undaunted, over 200 men had volunteered by 0830 hours. At officers call that morning volunteers were asked for to fill the position of platoon leader. Seventeen lieutenants volunteered. The situation was settled by accepting four men from each company, each with a written recommendation from his company commander. This provided forty eight men as compared to the usual thirty nine man rifle platoon.  The nine extra men were considered as reserves to allow for injured men. 1st Lt. William T. Ryder was selected as the platoon leader because he scored the highest score on a written test. Ryder, having studied whatever he could obtain on the German and Russian experience with the use of paratroops, had finished the two hour test in forty five minutes. 2nd Lt. James A. Basset, who had scored second to Ryder, was added as assistant platoon leader on 11 July, lest Lt. Ryder be incapacitated.

The physical training was tough from the very beginning, and has been ever since. The platoon began with a three mile run early in the morning. This soon became tiresome, so, on their own, the men increased it to a five mile run. They lived in tents on heights overlooking Lawson Field. An old, corrugated metal hangar was made available to the platoon for a classroom and parachute packing shed.

The original issue equipment was Spartan - two pairs of Army Air Corps mechanics coveralls, an A-2 (cloth) flying helmet, and special leather boots with a strap across the instep to give support to the ankles.

Sergeant Hobart B. Wade, with eleven years of service, was picked as platoon sergeant. The only experts on parachutes were in the Army Air Corps, so four of the most experienced jumpers – parachute  riggers –  were picked and sent to Fort Benning as instructors. The chief was the most experienced Warrant Officer Harry “Tug” Wilson. He was joined by Sergeant James Harris and Corporals Lawrence Ketcherside and James B. Wallace.

Landings were practiced by jumping off trucks. Discipline was rigid. The slightest infraction was punished by requiring push-ups. Even letting one’s eyes wander could result in push-ups. If the push-ups were not done in a manner suitable to the instructor, they were repeated until they were suitable.

The platoon was flown aboard three Douglas B-18A Bombers to Maguire Field which was adjacent to Camp Dix where they stayed. They were taken from Camp Dix to Hightower where two 150 feet towers were located. One of these towers was a controlled tower and the other a free fall tower. After practicing on these towers they returned to Fort Benning and continued their rigorous training. Now they had six weeks training behind them and plans were  being made for the actual jumping phase. They were in super physical condition.  Each man could now pack their own chutes.

As they came to the last week of training one test remained. The jump! In fact, the jump would be five jumps, the satisfactory completion of which would establish the paratrooper’s qualifications. There was no doubt that Lt. Ryder, as leader would jump first, but who would be the first enlisted man to jump? All wanted this honor. Sergeant Wade settled this argument by placing forty-seven numbers in his steel helmet  and having each man draw a slip. The number on the slip designated the spot the drawer jumped in.

The lucky winner had many offers to buy his position. Offers went to $50.00. At this time, privates drew $21.00 per month. Jump pay had not yet been thought of. So these were large amounts of money. Finally Private John Ward made the top offer, $10.00 above the highest offer Number One received. Number One still refused.

On the morning of 16 August 1940 the jump began. After the C-33 leveled off at 1500 feet and flew over the jump field, Lt. Ryder was in the door ready to jump. Warrant Officer Wilson knelt in the door waiting to pass the Go Point. When this was reached, he slapped Lt. Ryder on the leg and the first jump was made. Now Number One moved into position. Slap! “Go! Jump!”

 Still no movement.

 It was too late now to jump on this pass. Mr. Wilson motioned Number One to go back to his seat. As the plane circled Mr. Wilson talked to Number One. Number One wanted another chance. Okay, this time we’ll do it. Back into the jumping position and once again, slap!

 Sadly, no movement. Number One returned to his seat.

 Private William N. “Red” King moved into the jumping position in the door. Slap! Out into American military immortality leaped Red King… the first enlisted man of the test platoon to jump out of an airplane. Number One was transferred to another post and anonymity.  Now there were forty-seven. Was Number One a coward? I don’t think many experienced jumpers would say so. There are things some men cannot do at a given time. Possibly another time would have been fine. He wanted to. He intended to. He just could not… at least that morning.

The next jump was also individual exits. The jumpmaster would stand up five men and jump each one by slapping him on the leg. Then the plane would make another pass and the next five would be jumped.

The third jump was a mass jump, the entire plane load. The stick stood up and hooked up. The first man jumped on the slap of the jump master. The entire stick followed without stopping.

The fifth, and final (qualifying), jump was a mass jump of the entire platoon from three planes flying in column formation. Secretary of War, Mr. Henry L. Simpson, and the Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, led a group of VIP’s who gathered at Lawson Field to witness this historic occasion. The event went off well, with one exception. Private Leo Brown was the last man to jump. He landed on the roof of the parachute hangar and had to be rescued by using a ladder.

Now the trail had been blazed. The 501st Parachute battalion was formed soon after. The Paratrooper was now an integral part of the Army.  So the Test Platoon was the parent of the 501st Parachute Battalion. The formation of the 501st Parachute Battalion was approved the following month, September 1940.

 

-o-

 

THE TEST PLATOON - INDIVIDUALS RECALL....

* There were at least five test platoon men in the 501st and that went from Panama to Gordonvale. As one page is missing on my 501st shipping list with 60 men from Headquarters Company 501 Parachute Battalion there might be others. The five are [1]Richard J. Kelly [2] MSG Grady A. Roberts, no company shown [3] T5 Frank Kassel Jr. HQ Co [4] CPL Donald L. Coles B Co [5] PFC Steve Voils  B Co.  All company designations are 501 - John Lindgren p
 

*William King,  Lloyd McCullough and Lem Pitts were three of the test platoon with us - "Sleepy" Linton. p

 

*I recall I conversed with one of the old troopers from the 503d at Larsen's Awards' dinner. He said he was from the test platoon and had served with service company.  His name is Lloyd McCullough.  When we attended the 50th airborne muster in Washington D.C., I happened to be with a bunch of troopers chatting with General Ryder, who had been the officer with the test platoon and he embraced McCullough with great affection as only two close war comrades do. I think McCullough is still living, I hope so. - Tony Sierra p

 

*Tony Sierra is absolutely correct. Lloyd McCullough was a member of the original test platoon and served in the 503d. Almost his entire career was under a canopy. It was my privilege to award him a DMOR - a Distinguished Member of the Regiment during my presidential term. McCullough had joined the U.S. Army in 1933 at the age of 20 and served in the 29th Infantry. He volunteered for Airborne training and was a member of the original Test Platoon in 1940. After attending Parachute Maintenance School at Chanute Field, Illinois he returned to Ft. Benning and was made First Sergeant of "B" Company in the 501st Parachute Battalion. He helped form the 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment, and made  combat jumps at Nadzab, Noemfoor and Corregidor and the beach landing on the island of Mindoro. Post-war, he was assigned to the Airborne School at Ft. Benning as a W.O.JG and over next seven years advanced to W.O.4 as he served as parachute Maintenance Officer. He helped set up a Parachute Maintenance Department in Ft. Bragg in 1953 and was transferred to Athens, Greece in 1955 where he was involved in setting up a Parachute Maintenance Depot for Greek paratroopers. By 1959, he was back to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base testing 'chutes and heavy drop equipment. He was injured in a water jump testing special rigged parachutes for pilots flying over water, and required several surgical operations. He  retired as a CWO-4 in 1963. I last heard from him in 1998. Keep waltzing -  John Reynolds p

 

 I have met, or known of, a number of the test platoon men along the line| and have a difficult time remembering when and where.  I believe Aubrey Eberhard and William (Red) King were in the 503rd at one time or the other - Don Abbott p
 

Don, I don't think Red King joined the 503rd because the replacements who joined us after Nadzab still spoke of him being at the school - Jack Herzig p
 

-o-

 

  

 

 

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The orders for the creation of the Test Platoon

 

Headquarters Twenty Ninth Infantry (Rifle)
Office of the Regimental Commander

 

     

Special Orders

  Fort Benning, Georgia

No. 127

 

July 1, 1940

 

1. First Lieutenant John Sammons Bell, 29th Infantry Reserve, having been ordered to active duty for a period of fourteen (14) days, effective June 30 1940, and having joined that date, the verbal orders of June 30, 1940 attaching him to Company A 29th Infantry are hereby confirmed and made of record. Unless sooner relieved by proper authority Lieutenant Bell will stand relieved from this attachment July 13, 1940.

2. Pursuant to authority granted by General Orders No.101 Hqs, Fort Benning Georgia, 1922, and under the provisions of Section VIII, Amy Regulations 615-360, April 4, 1935, a Board of Officers is appointed to meet at this station at the call of the senior member thereof for the purpose of investigating, making report, and recommendations as to whether or not such persons as may be properly brought before it should be discharged prior to the expiration of their term of enlistment.

Detail for the Board
- Captain Frank G. Davis, 29th Infantry
- First Lieutenant Philip S. Gage Jr, 29th Infantry
- Second Lieutenant Carl A. Buechner, Jr 29th Infantry.

3. Pursuant to authority granted by General Orders No.101, Hqs, Fort Benning, Georgia, 1922, and under the provisions of Section VIII Army Regulations 615-360, April 4, 1935, a Board of Officers is appointed to meet at this station at the call of the senior member thereof for the purpose of investigating, making report, and recommendations as whether or not such persons as may be properly brought before it should be discharged prior to the expiration of their term of enlistment.

Detail for the Board

- Captain Richard Chase, 29th Infantry
- First Lieutenant Francis T. Pachler, 29th Infantry
- First Lieutenant Willis R. Crawford, 29th Infantry

4. Private John J. Sullivan, 7087204, having enlisted at this station for this regiment, is assigned to Company F, 29th Infantry, and will report to the company commander thereof for duty.

 

 

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5. Pursuant to authority granted by letter Headquarters The Infantry School, file No.580, subject : Test Platoon for duty with Infantry Board, dated July 1, 1940, the following named officer end enlisted men of the 29th Infantry are detailed on special duty with the Infantry Board, Fort Benning, Georgia, and will report to the president thereof for duty :


- 001 – First Lieutenant William T. Ryder, 29th Infantry
- 002 – Sergeant John M. Haley, 6375843, A Co
- 003 – Sergeant Benedict F. Jacquay, 6657783, C Co
- 004 – Sergeant Grady A. Roberts, 6382894, D Co
- 005 – Sergeant Robert B. Wade, 6372146, F Co
- 006 – Sergeant Norman J. McCullough, 6379058, M Co
- 007 – Sergeant Lemuel T. Pitts, 6395609, B Co
- 008 – Private Farrish F. Cornelius, 6399726, Hqs Co
- 009 – Private 1cl Specl 6th Cl, Obie C. Wilson, 6966171, Hqs Co
- 010 – Private 1cl Specl 6th Cl, Donald L. Colee, 6393903, S Co
- 011 – Private William N. King, 6391164, Hqs & Hqs Det, 1st Bn,
- 012 – Private 1cl Addison L. Houston, 6384962, A Co
- 013 – Private 1cl Mitchel Guilbeau, 6399296, A Co
- 014 – Private 1cl Joseph L. Peters, 6399384, A Co
- 015 – Private Thad P. Selman, 6971792, B Co
- 016 – Private Hugh A. Tracy, 7003685, B Co
- 017 – Private Jules Corbin, 6386052, A Co
- 018 – Private Joseph P. Doucet, 6387916, C Co
- 019 – Private 1cl Louie E. Davis, 6966798, C Co
- 020 – Private 1cl Johnnie A. Ellis, 6967763, C Co
- 021 – Private Specl 6th Cl, Robert H. Poudert, 6972398, D Co
- 022 – Private Sydney C. Kerksis, 6388134, D Co
- 023 – Private 1cl 4th Cl Tyerus F. Adams, xxxxxxx, D Co
- 024 – Private 1cl Tullis Nolin, 6927494, Hqs&Hqs Det, 2nd Bn
- 025 – Private 1cl Benjamin C. Reese, 6969901, E Co
- 026 – Private 1cl Raymond G. Smith, 6387925, E Co
- 027 – Private 1cl Willie F. Brown, 6398865, E Co
- 028 – Private 1cl Thurman L. Weaks, 6966916, F Co
- 029 – Private 1cl Specl 6th Cl, John M. Kitchens, 6394975, F Co
- 030 – Private 1cl Louie O. Skipper, 6963804, F Co
- 031 – Private 1cl Specl 6th Cl Alsie L. Rutland, 6963778, G Co
- 032 – Private Frank Kasell Jr, 6971611, G Co
- 033 – Private Robert E. Shepherd, 6970055, G Co
- 034 – Private 1cl Specl 4th Cl, John F. Pursley Jr, 6396514, H Co
- 035 – Private 1cl Lest C. McLaney, 6966537, H Co
- 036 – Private Specl 6th Cl, Aubrey Eberhardt, 6920642, H Co
- 037 – Private Ernest L. Dilburn, 6392470, Hqs&Hqs Det, 3rd Bn,
- 038 – Private Leo C. Brown, 6384060, I Co
- 039 – Private Specl 6th Cl, Albert P. Robinson, 6972295, I Co
- 040 – Private 1cl Floy Brukhalter, 6966963, I Co
- 041 – Private 1cl Edward Martin, 6963787, K Co
- 042 – Private John O. Modiset, 6395976, K Co
- 043 – Private Code E. Barnett Jr, 6928902, K Co
- 044 – Private John E. Borom, 6393663, L Co
- 045 – Private 1cl Specl 6th Cl George W. Ivy, 6399227, L Co
- 046 – Private 1cl Specl 4th Cl John A. Ward, 6379123, L Co
- 047 – Private Specl 6th Cl Steve Voils Jr, 6967738, M Co
- 048 – Private Specl 6th Cl Richard J. Kelly, 6928566, L Co
- 049 – Private Bura M. Tisdale, 6394981, M Co

 

added manually-  Private Charles M. Wilson (?) (050 ?)

 

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6. The following named enlisted men of the 29th Infantry, from companies as indicated opposite their names, are relieved from special duty with Recruit School, 29th Infantry, and will report to their respective company commanders for duty :

Sergeant Clarence J. Mathes, 6346954, C Co,
Sergeant Benedict F. Jacquay, 6657783, C Co,
Sergeant Max R. Grigg, 6385278, E Co,
Sergeant Reddie Smith, 6386301, F Co,
Sergeant Julian F. Dey, R-2131654, L Co,
Corporal James H. Davis, 6921421, C Co,
Corporal Richard M. Veale, 6308768, D Co,
Corporal Harold L. Pilcher, 6363024, E Co,
Corporal Woodrow W. Simms, 6927511, E Co,
Corporal Andy J. Brown, 6373211, E Co,
Corporal Elmo Edwards, 6373692, F Co,
Corporal Adam P. LeCompte, 6396044, F Co,
Corporal Elmer E. Cox, 6361753, F Co,
Corporal Paul H. Lee, 6382812, G Co,
Corporal Jay H. Mann Jr, 6397181, G Co,
Corporal Robert H. Sutton, 6386503, H Co,
Corporal Bennie F. Bowdoin, 6927648, I Co,
Private 1cl Specl 6th Cl Madison I. Wallace, 6372531, G Co,
Private 1cl Horace W. Gladney, 6967893, I Co,
Corporal Clyde W. Pierce, 6922484, G Co,

7. At their own request, and with the approval of their respective organization commanders, the following named enlisted men of the 29th Infantry are reduced to the grade of Private, without prejudice

- Corporal Farrish F. Cornelius, 6399726, KQ Co,
- Corporal William N. King, 6391164 Hq & Hq Det, 1st Bn,
- Corporal Joseph E. Doucet, 6387916, C Co,
- Corporal Ernest L. Dilburn, 6392470, Hqs&Hqs Det, 3rd Bn
- Corporal Leo C. Brown, 6384060, I Co,
- Corporal John E. Borom, 6393663, L Co,

 

By order of Colonel Griswold
William H. Craig
1st Lt 29th Infantry
Acting Adjudant