Text of speech given by Brigadier General
Terry Juskowiak |
memorializing CWO John Ward
16 August 1999
Mrs. Nancy Ransom and her husband Ed, the Honorable Edwin Deaver, the honorable Marvin Lucas, Mrs. William T. Ryder , CW4 (RET) and Mrs Loyd McCullough, COL John Scroggins, COL William C. David, COL Gary R. Steimer, CSM (RET) Louis Brown, other distinguished guests, friends and families of Mr. Ward, TEXCOM and the Airborne Community.
As Has Been Just Noticed, today is National Airborne Day, proclaimed in Congress, and separately authorized by many state and local governments. On this day we are gathered to memorialize the Headquarters building of the TEXCOM Airborne and Special Operations Test Directorate as the John A. Ward Airborne and Special Operations Test Center.
Fifty-nine years ago today on the 16th of August 1940 American paratroopers took to the skies for the first time. They were members of the Parachute Test Platoon, and just like paratroopers now, they were all volunteers. Unlike today's paratroopers, however, they were pioneers, venturing into an area which was entirely new, different, and potentially very dangerous. All of us who have come after them, (and who proudly wear the wings that had not yet been designed when the Test Platoon jumped), are but following the example they established.
It is APPROPRIATE that we have gathered on this day to honor a member of the ORIGINAL Test Platoon. When the plane lifted from Lawson Field, at Fort Benning, GA, with the men who were to become the first ten US Army paratroopers, John ASHLEY Ward was aboard. And, he was the seventh of them to jump. He didn't want to be seventh, he wanted to be the first. When the 47 enlisted members of the platoon drew lots for jump position, John Ward drew number eight. Many of the men immediately attempted to buy the position of the man who had drawn the number one slot. The bidding reached fifty dollars, and John Ward made a standing offer of ten dollars more than the highest bid.
In an age when a private soldier made 21 dollars a month, $50.00 was an exorbitant sum! But, the first man would not sell his position. As matters transpired, It is unfortunate that he didn't. On the first pass over Lawson Field, LT Ryder, the platoon leader, and LT Basset, his assistant jumped so that they could observe the remaining jumpers. On the next pass the first stick of five men prepared to jump, but when the first man stood in the door, he could not bring himself to jump. After two passes he was unhooked, and the next man, Red King, went on to become the first enlisted paratrooper. John Ward moved up a notch, to number seven.
John Ward is representative of an entire generation of Americans, a generation we are now coming to fully appreciate. He is one who came of age during the Great Depression, and was later called upon to help save the world from tyranny. He was born and grew up in rural Georgia. IN 1932, At THE age 22, he joined the Army. After serving in China, he was assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia. While he was serving there, the European nations became involved in World War II.
In May 1940, the Germans used paratroopers in the invasion of Holland and Belgium. Our leaders foresaw that we may eventually enter the war, and it was determined that the United States Army should experiment with the Airborne concept. The request went out for volunteers to form a parachute test platoon. ON JULY 1ST, 1940, 3 MONTH SHY OF HIS 30TH BIRTHDAY (AND THE AGE CUT OFF FOR VOLUNTEERS), MR. WARD VOLUNTEERED FOR THE PARACHUTE TEST PLATOON. He later said, "I gave it about three minutes of thought. I had seen enough of walking in the infantry, and dragging that machine gun around my neck."
The truth is that the selection process for the American paratrooper began with the Test Platoon. The selection was made - not so much by the Army - as by the intrepid adventurous soldier who stepped forward and volunteered to venture into the unknown. As one early paratrooper wrote, following his first jump in 1942, "After it was all over, you realized what a wonderful thrill parachuting is. I wouldn't get out of this outfit for all the tea in China. There's nothing like the thrill you get floating around up there. Our company had a clear slate as nobody refused, but there were nine in the other companies. Seventeen refused last week, but most of the screwballs and guys who joined for the extra $50 a month are already washed out."
When the Test Platoon completed its training, half of the members stayed at Fort Benning to act as cadre for the future airborne force. This force would eventually total five divisions, and nine independent battalions and regiments. Other members of the platoon were sent to receive additional training, and become the Army's experts on parachutes. Mr. Ward was in THIS group. He returned to Fort Benning in November 1940, and became part of the cadre of the 501st Parachute Battalion. He helped form the 502nd and 504th Parachute Battalions - which later expanded into regiments.
HE ASSISTED FUTURE 82ND AIRBORNE DIVISION COMMANDER, THEN CPT JAMES GAVIN, PREPARE FOR HIS FIRST PARACHUTE JUMP.
AND HE WAS PRESENT THE NIGHT AUBREY EBERHARDT CAME UP WITH THE IDEA OF SHOUTING "GERONIMO" WHEN HE EXITED THE JUMP AIRCRAFT, GIVING BIRTH TO A WORLD WAR II PARACHUTING TRADITION.
During World War II Mr. Ward served in the European Theater with the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He was instrumental in developing new airdrop equipment and techniques which helped the American paratrooper in combat. He did his job so well that ON FEBRUARY 4TH, 1943 was SELECTED as the Army's first Parachute Rigger Warrant Officer. He served with the 82nd Airborne Division in Sicily Italy, at Nijmegen, the Netherlands and on occupation duty in Berlin. DURING THIS TIME HE DEVELOPED THE A7 AND A7A AERIAL DELIVERY SYSTEMS, CRITICAL TO RESUPPLYING THE ALLIED FORCES DURING THE SICILY AND NORMANDY INVASIONS.
When Army Ground Forces Board Number 1 was formed at Fort Bragg in 1945, Mr. Ward was selected as the first Chief of the Airborne Service Test Section.After eight years testing parachutes and air delivery systems, he went on to organize the first Airborne Field Maintenance Facility. During this time he also developed the idea for the canopy release assembly which is now used on all personnel parachutes. HE ALSO DEVELOPED THE A22 AERIAL DELIVERY SYSTEM.
In 1960 CHIEF WARD retired from the military, and became a Civil Service Engineer Technician at Natick Research, Development, and Engineering Center. In the twelve years he was in the civil service, he was instrumental in the redesign of the T-10 parachute harness, the development of the anti-inversion net, the STABO extraction system, and the development of early steerable parachutes. He also continued to make parachute jumps, many of them with experimental or unproven equipment. He made more than 300 jumps while in civil service. When he finally retired in 1972, he had a total of 858 military parachute jumps.
Mr. Ward's contributions to the airborne community over a forty-year period were invaluable. He was there at The very beginning, and he went on to develop many of the tools which are still used by paratroopers today. In honor of his accomplishments, he was inducted into the Quartermaster Hall of Fame in 1994. But perhaps he and his wife Mary Alice's greatest contribution was they gave us their daughter Nancy. To her, he is dad. To all of us, John Ward is, and will always be, "Mr. Airborne".
His accomplishments have made him a giant figure in this nation's airborne history. His name lends credence to TEXCOM'S motto: "We Test for the Best...Our Soldiers." His deeds personify the rigger's motto: "I will be sure...always."And his memory will remain with us as long as proud soldiers wear the silver wings of a paratrooper.
AIRBORNE! . ALL THE WAY!