The Top 20 Army Airborne Soldiers of All Time

What comes to your mind when you think about a person who is willing to jump from a plane a mile or more in the air?

Some of you may be saying no way, while others are wondering when they can do it, and then we have those of you who have experienced that exhilarating rush of plummeting to the Earth and suddenly being jerked up as your parachute opens and takes you to the ground.

It is all good when you are experiencing the thrill of parachuting in a civilian jump school, but what about those who chose to do this in combat situations?

I have heard many opinions about the airborne soldier but overall, I believe the majority of people have great respect for someone who is willing to jump in the midst of battle.

Some people say that it is crazy because they are floating targets.

There are some rules regarding parachutists in the Geneva Convention.

Attacking people parachuting from an aircraft in distress is a war crime under Protocol I in addition to the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

But it is acceptable to open fire on airborne troops coming from a plane that is in good operating order.

So, with new parachute designs, airborne soldier do have more ability to guide their descent in a method to escape enemy fire.

I believe that we need to give a huge thanks to any soldiers willing to undertake the responsibility of Army Airborne.

Today, I am going to provide you with the top 20 Army Airborne soldiers of all time

This is not an easy task as there are, and have been many great Army Airborne soldiers, but we are going to list 20 great airborne soldiers starting with #20.

#20 – David Petraeus

He graduated from West Point in 1974 and immediately attended Ranger School. His first assignment was in Italy with the 509th Airborne Battalion Combat Team.

Through the 1980’s, Petraeus worked more with mechanized units but never forgot his airborne status and would regularly jump to keep his skills sharp.

In the 1990’s, he worked in sync with both the 101st Airborne and commanded the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne.

In 2000, he went on to serve as Chief of Staff of XVIII Airborne Corps. He commanded the 101st in the Iraq War.

He held many positions of responsibility and retired from the Army in 2011 to then become Director of the CIA.

#19 – Melvin Biddle

A recipient of the Medal of Honor, Melvin served as a corporal with the 1st Battalion, 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment during World War II.

During the Battle of the Bulge, Melvin attacked German emplacements alone and killed 3 snipers and stopped 4 machine guns.

President Harry Truman gave Melvin the highest award.

#18 – Joshua Wheeler

This was one great soldier who was the first to die because of ISIS.

Joshua was a Master Sergeant with United States Army Special Forces – Delta Force.

As such, he was a Senior Parachutist and also had the Freefall Jumpmaster Badge.

R.I.P. to this great soldier and may ISIS be defeated soundly in Joshua’s honor.

#17 – William Ryder

He is recognized as being the 1st American paratrooper.

William was an early pioneer of Airborne forces and he made several combat jumps in his time of service.

William rose to the level of Brigadier general in the U.S. Army.

#16 – John Martin

John was an NCO with Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, in the 101st Airborne Division.

John jumped in Operation Overlord during the Normandy Invasion.

He was portrayed in the television series Band of Brothers.

#15 – Richard Winters

Richard is greatly remembered in the same television series I mentioned in #16.

He was the commander of Easy Company and they parachuted into Normandy on D-Day.

A great man and a great leader, Richard deserved this place on this list.

#14 – Robert Strayer

Robert was commander of Easy Company before Richard Winters.

He also was a great leader during all of World War II in the European Theater.

If you see Band of Brothers, Robert is portrayed in the series.

#13 – Harrison Summers

Another member of the 1st Battalion, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, Harrison is well remembered when his unit came upon some buildings.

He ordered his men to follow him, but only 2 did.

Harrison killed over 30 German soldiers in the building that held around 100 Germans.

He was amazing!

#12 – Joseph Beyrle

Also a member of the 101st Airborne during the invasion of Normandy, the plane Joseph was in was under fire and he had to jump from a very low 120 meters.

Joseph lost contact with his unit but he blew up a power station and sabotaged other German military items before he was captured.

He was always trying to escape and finally did meeting up with a Soviet unit, he fought along side them.

Beyrle is the only American known to also fight with the Russian Army.

#11 – Robert Cole

Cole was a soldier who was with the 3rd Battalion, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment during the Normandy invasion.

Cole had to lead his men down a dangerous causeway called Purple Heart lane.

For everything Robert did during this, he was recommended for the Medal of Honor but before he could receive it, he was killed by a sniper during Operation Market Garden.

Other posts you may enjoy:

  1. The 82nd Airborne: 22 Cool Facts
  2. The 173rd Airborne Brigade: 25 Cool Facts
  3. My Experience at Army Airborne School

#10 – Eugene Jackson

Jackson was another member of Easy Company that parachuted into Normandy during D-Day.

He was wounded badly by a mortar; he wanted to return, but the medical staff wouldn’t let him.

He returned to easy Company for Operation Market Garden.

Eugene was also portrayed in Band of Brothers.

#9 – Julian Ewell

During the D-Day invasion, Julian commanded the 3rd Battalion 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st Airborne Division.

He successfully led the men even though many were no accounted for immediately due to bad drops.

He also parachuted in during Operation Market Garden, and he also commanded the 501st in the defense of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.

#8 – Leonard Funk Jr.

Leonard was a member of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division.

He parachuted in during both the D-Day invasion of Normandy and Operation Market Garden.

In January of 1945, he was a member of a unit stationed in Belgium and came across approximately 80 Germans who were prisoners but overwhelmed their guards.

Leonard opened fire and freed the American guards and either killed or recaptured the German prisoners.

He was awarded the Medal of Honor for this bravery.

#7 – Edward Heffron

Edward was also a member of Easy Company and was portrayed in the series Band of Brothers.

Edward also wrote the book Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends: Two WWII Paratroopers from the Original Band of Brothers Tell Their Story.

Edward watched one of his best friends die in Europe and this is shown in the movie.

#6 – Matthew Ridgway

I had to put this great Army General on this list.

Matthew commanded the 82nd Airborne Division during a large part of World War II until he took over command of XVIII Airborne Corps in 1944.

I consider Matthew Ridgway one of the best Army leaders of all time.

#5 – Burton Christenson

Another strong member of Easy Company during World War II, the series Band of Brothers left a lot of the parts about Burton out of the film.

But he played an important role during the various battles, so I decided to give him this #5 position.

#4 – Paul Rogers

Paul was another member of Easy Company who parachuted into Normandy.

Paul was one who kept other soldiers spirits high.

He would write poems and songs about the various soldiers and situations they faced during World War II.

Paul lived to the ripe old age of 96.

#3 – Robert Wynn

This was a soldier of soldiers.

He was also a member of Easy Company and parachuted into Normandy.

During an assault, Wynn was shot in the ass but instead of whining about the bullet in his butt, he apologized to Winters thinking he had screwed it up for the rest.

Wynn was nicknamed Popeye.

#2 – James Gavin

He was the 3rd Commanding General of the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II.

James gets this #2 position because he WAS a commander who lead from the front; or should I say from the sky?

Known as the Jumping General, James was the only American general officer to make 4 combat jumps during World War II.

#1 – Drew Dennis Dix

I just had to put this Vietnam veteran and special forces soldier at the top of this list.

When I was a young man, I had the opportunity to meet Drew and listen to the stories of some of his experiences.

He had enlisted hoping to go special forces but was first denied.

He was attached to the 82nd Airborne Division and served in Operation Power Pack in the Dominican Republic.

And, he was then able to go special forces and sent to Vietnam.

During the TET offensive, Drew led local fighters to save many civilians and he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Thank you for your service Drew Dennis Dix!

Final Thoughts

There you have my list of the top 20 Army airborne soldiers of all time.  What are your thoughts?  Do you agree?

Are there any others you would add?  You can leave all comments or questions below.  Thank you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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