Have you ever heard the old saying, “Never meet your heroes, because they’re sure to disappoint you?” Well, that was certainly true in my case. Before joining the Army, I had read everything I could get my hands on about paratroopers and the Green Berets, the Army’s Special Forces. And before there was a Special Forces — before even the OSS — there was the Airborne Test Platoon.

But first a bit of history…

Colonel Billy Mitchell was way ahead of his time in many ways, and the use of airborne troops was one of them. Shortly after World War I, Mitchell proposed the use of airborne troops and put on a demonstration at Kelly Field in San Antonio, TX. Mitchell’s demonstration involved only six soldiers parachuting from a Martin bomber and in less than three minutes, assemble their weapons, and moved on a notional objective. 

The Army brass, which has always been distrustful and unreceptive to anything new or that smells remotely of elite units, shot down Mitchell’s concept as a bunch of nothing. But other countries’ governments, who attended the demonstration, were paying attention. Both the Soviet Union and Germany saw the possibilities of utilizing airborne troops and began developing their own.