The "Father of the Airborne"

History of the Quilt


Project Description

Evaluations of Accomplishments

Future Plans for the Project

Proposal Letter

Request to Commissioners

Biographies by Homemakers Clubs

Biographies by Friends of the Library


“Father of the Airborne" Major General William Carey Lee

March 12, 1895 -June 25, 1949

Living near the Fort Bragg Army Post has not only provided job opportunities and cultural advantages for members of the Anderson Creek Extension Homemakers Club, it has brought about a sense of appreciation, an understanding, and knowledge of the numerous divisions at the base.

When the club was selecting or choosing historical subject matters, such as places, ideas and people, for their three quilt squares: Tr. Paul Soublet, a retired paratrooper, suggested one square be a tribute to the Father of the Airborne, General William (. Carey Lee, and to a-I.! paratroopers, as Anderson Creek's first ) selection. Mr. Soublet, also an artist, had been appointed by the Friends of Harnett County Library to draw, refine, and paint all club selections of the designs for the quilt squares.

The club accepted his idea. The painted square showed airplanes dropping paratroopers with their strapped equipment, a landing field, insignia of the Airborne, and a statement at lower edge of the square honoring General Lee.

Betty Miller, President of the club, transferred the design to the cloth square, and had started applique and embroidery when she became ill. She requested that the quilt coordinator find anyone in the Extension Membership to complete the square. Vernie Womack, member of the Summerville Club, accepted the responsibility.

Information on General Lee for this write-up was provided by the General Lee Museum in Dunn, North Carolina.

A Harnett County native, General Lee was born William Carey Lee in Dunn on March 12, 1895. He was the son of a hardware store operator, a typical hometown boy interested in athletics, baseball in high school, and varsity sports at Wake Forest College where he attended from 1913 -1915 and was president of his class in his sophomore year before transferring to North Carolina State College to enroll in R.O.T.C.

Military Career

"In the spring of 1917, Bill Lee left No C. State and joined the U. So Army as a second lieutenant. He married the former Dava Johnson of Dunn on June 5, 1918. He soon left to serve 18 months in Europe as an infantry platoon commander and company commander and to earn the rank of captain. He graduated from N. C. State in 1920 and from the U. S. Army's officer school at Ft. Benning in 1922.

Following World War I, Bill Lee had various assignments. He taught military science at N. C. State, served in Panama, and was an observer of military forces in Germany. He returned from Germany fully informed on, and keenly enthusiastic about Hitler's parachute and glider troops. Major Lee brought his enthusiasm to a subsequent assignment on the Chief of Infantry's staff in Washington, D.C. There he soon became well and widely known as the U. S. Army's foremost and staunchest advocate for formation of American airborne forces.

A. C. McAuliffe, General, U. S. Army, Retired:

General Lee has been truly called the "Father of the Airborne." At an age considered too advanced for parachute jumping he organized" and commanded the parachute school and trained our first parachutists. He jumped frequently himself, and by his great character and superior military knowledge set an example for airborne troopers which was reflected in their brilliant combat record during World War II.

William T. Ryder, Brigadier General, U. S. Army, Retired:

In early 1940, when President Roosevelt personally directed the priority development of airborne forces, then Major Lee was assigned to organize the project.

In July 1940, under Major Lee's guidance, a Parachute Test Platoon commanded by then Lieutenant Ryder was formed at Ft. Benning, Georgia to test equipment, training methods and tactics developed for parachute troops by the Army Infantry Board. Three months later the Army activated its first parachute battalion, the 501st, commanded by then Major Bud Miley.

In March 1941, now Lieutenant Colonel Lee was assigned to form and command a Provisional Parachute Group at Ft. Benning. Here under Lee's dynamic leadership and direction, three additional parachute battalions were activated and in place by October of that same year.

In March 1942, the Provisional Parachute Group was reconstituted as the Airborne Command under now Lieutenant Colonel Lee. Within the year, three parachute regiments were added to the Army's airborne forces and the Airborne Command headquarters relocated to Camp MacKall, North Carolina, with now Brigadier General Lee in command.

August 1942 saw activation of the Army's first airborne divisions; viz, the 82d and the 101st. The recently promoted Major General Lee was put in command of the new 101st Airborne Division.

Major General Lee took his division to Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, for training. It was there during an inspiring address to his paratroops that General Lee coined the phrase that was to become the epitome of the airborne spirit, "This division has no history, but it has a rendezvous with destiny." After a year of training, General Lee and his paratroopers departed for England where they would keep their "rendezvous with destiny."

Airborne's advancement from battalions to divisions and Lee's ) advancement from major general in a brief two year span attest to General Lee's successful and vital role in airborne development and truly earned him the sobriquet "Father of the Airborne."

Last Days

General Lee was denied the chance to lead his men into battle when he suffered a heart attack on February 5, 1944. On October 2nd of the same year, he medically retired from the Army. During his retirement he served as the first airborne advisor to the United Nations. On June 25, 1948, General Lee died at the age of 53 after continued heart problems. Among the numerous dignitaries and scores of general officers who attended his funeral were General Anthony C. McAuliffe who commanded the 101st Airborne Division during the Battle of the Bulge, Lieutenant General James M. Gavin who commanded the 82d Airborne Division during much of the European Campaign, and General Maxwell D. Taylor who commanded the 101st Airborne Division during the Normandy Invasion.

He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, a mile west of his home.

General Lee was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in 1944.

Other Honors

In addition to the museum in Dunn, a few blocks from the museum an 8 foot tall marble statue of General Lee stands in front of the city hall. Also, a street in Dunn is named in his honor. Lee Village at Ft. Campbell bears his name as does the field house at Ft. Bragg. In Tokyo the 11th Airborne Army named a street "General Lee Avenue". The General's alma mater, North Carolina State University, honors him with Lee Dormitory and by presenting the General Lee Military Scholarship to the outstanding ROTC cadet each year.

The General William C. Lee Commission was established to present the accomplishments and perpetuate the memory of Major General William C. Lee, a native of Dunn, North Carolina, and foremost contributor to the development of U. S. Army Airborne concepts and organization. Primary functions of the commission are the creation and maintenance of a commemorative museum and the presentation of ongoing ceremonial observances and festivals.

The General William C. Lee Airborne Museum is housed in General and Mrs. Lee's former home in Dunn at 209 West Divine Street. The beautiful three story brownstone house was built in 1903 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The building was restored at a cost of over $500,000 by the commission and through continuing contributions from local, state and national groups and individuals. The museum was dedicated on June 6, 1986, with an address by Secretary of the Army, John O. Marsh. "

Information Source: Folder from the General William C. Lee Museum, Dunn, North Carolina

Written by: Evelyn Byrd, Quilt Coordinator

For: Anderson Creek Extension Homemakers Club

Quilt Square: Row 6 Number 2.

Embroidery and applique: Vernie Lett Womack, member

Summerville Extension Homemakers Club