So you are a kid pretending to be skydiving, jumping from a tree, or diving into the ocean. You braced yourself. Just before you step and let yourself fall, you reflexively yell, “GERONIMO!” But why? And who is he anyway?

Geronimo: The Great Warrior

Strand Theater advertisement for the American western film Geronimo (1939). Paramount Pictures, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Before we “jump” into the beginning of the tradition, we have to know first the 1939 American Western film Geronimo: The Story of a Great Enemy. The story revolved around the army’s effort to capture the leader of a band of warriors led by the Apache chief Geronimo.

I’m not scared out of my wits when I jump!”

Now come the 1940s when some of the first paratroopers’ jumps happened, and they were still developing their training program. The parachute test platoon at Fort Benning spent the night before a drop drinking beer and watching a film at the Main Post Theatre. They watched the old west movie about chief Geronimo mentioned above. It was not certain which exactly that movie was, although it was most likely no other than “Geronimo: The Story of a Great Enemy.”

Members of the original parachute test platoon. Photo from WORLD WAR II AIRBORNE COMMAND WWIIADT

As they were walking back to their barracks, a Private Aubrey Eberhardt was being teased that he would be too scared tomorrow to remember his own name. To which he responded, “All right, dammit!” shouted Eberhard, “I tell you jokers what I’m gonna do! To prove to you that I’m not scared out of my wits when I jump, I’m gonna yell ‘Geronimo’ loud as hell when I go out that door tomorrow!” and so he did. Soon enough, other platoon members started screaming “Geronimo!” too.

Other Speculations

The book Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Richard Winters had a different explanation. Winters wrote that the tradition originated from a song titled “Geronimo” that was popular at that time and was always played on the radio that it became the troops’ favorite song.

Here is another explanation according to appel.nasa.gov, “‘Geronimo’ was shouted to time the deployment of a test parachute; in case it does not deploy, a reserve chute is pulled with the long vowel.”

And finally, an article from Native American Netroots wrote:

It was said that one day Geronimo (a medicine man, a seer, and a spiritual and intellectual leader), with the army in hot pursuit, leaped on horseback down an almost vertical cliff, a feat that the posse could not duplicate. The legend continues that in the midst of this jump to freedom, he gave out the bloodcurdling cry of “Geronimo-o-o!” Hence the practice adopted by our paratroopers.

We may never know which of these was the true origin of the tradition, but what we know is that it is now a general exclamation of bravery, fun, or plain adrenaline rush and has found its way into American culture and still exists today as a common expression when jumping into the unknown.

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