William C. Lee


William C. Lee
Mg william c lee.jpg
Nickname(s)"Father of the U.S. Army Airborne"
Born(1895-03-12)March 12, 1895
Dunn, North Carolina, United States
DiedJune 25, 1948(1948-06-25) (aged 53)
Dunn, North Carolina, United States
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service1917–1944
RankUS-O8 insignia.svg Major General
UnitUSA - Army Infantry Insignia.png Infantry Branch
Commands heldAirborne Command
101st Airborne Division
Battles/warsWorld War I
World War II
AwardsArmy Distinguished Service Medal
Parachutist Badge
Army of Occupation of Germany Medal
World War I Victory Medal
World War II Victory Medal

Major General William Carey "Bill" Lee (March 12, 1895 –June 25, 1948) was a senior United States Army officer who fought in both World War I and World War II, where he commanded the 101st Airborne Division, nicknamed the "Screaming Eagles". Lee is often referred to as the "Father of the U.S. Airborne".[1]

Early life and military career

Lee was born in Dunn, North Carolina, one of the seven children of Eldridge Lee and his wife Emma. His father was a merchant.[2] Lee attended Wake Forest College and North Carolina State College. He participated in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program, graduated from NC State, being commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Infantry Branch of the United States Army in 1917, after the American entry into World War I. Lee served in World War I with the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), which was commanded by General John J. Pershing, on the Western Front. During the war he served as both a platoon and company commander in the 81st Division.[3]

Between the wars

He stayed in the army during the interwar period and, soon after the war ended, and taking an interest in armored warfare, he attended the tank warfare training schools in Fort Meade, Maryland, and at Versailles, France. In the 1930s he attended the U.S. Army Command and General Staff School and was promoted to major soon after. On a tour of Europe he first observed the revolutionary new German airborne forces which he believed the U.S. Army should adopt. He returned to the United States where he was ordered to the Office of the Chief of Infantry at Washington, D.C..

World War II

By the time the United States entered World War II, in December 1941, Lee was a proponent of airborne warfare. Lee had already observed smokejumper training methods within the past year to lay a template for training. [4]President Franklin D. Roosevelt sponsored the concept, and Lee was authorized to form the first paratroop platoon, which was commanded by William T. Ryder. This was followed by the Provisional Parachute Group, and finally the U.S. Army Airborne Command. Lee was the first commander of the U.S. Army's jump school at Fort Benning, Georgia. He received the Army Distinguished Service Medal for his early leadership in the creation of the airborne forces.

In August 1942, Lee, promoted to the two-star rank of major general, became the first Commanding General (CG) of the newly formed 101st "Screaming Eagles" Airborne Division, based at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. He told his men, "The 101st has no history, but it has a rendezvous with destiny." He trained the 101st in the United States from its creation until being sent to England in September 1943 to prepare for the Allied invasion of Normandy.

Lee helped plan the American airborne landings in Normandy and trained to jump with his men. However, he was ordered to the United States several months before the invasion, having suffered either a heart attack or a stroke. He was replaced in command of the 101st by Major General Maxwell D. Taylor, who had previously commanded the 82nd Airborne Division Artillery, who went on to command the 101st until the end of the war.


On February 5, 1944 William Lee suffered a heart attack and was retired from the U.S. Army for reasons of ill health in late 1944. He died at his home in Dunn, North Carolina in 1948.

Personal life

In June 1918, he married Dava Johnson, who travelled with him throughout his military career


The General William C. Lee Airborne Museum is located in Dunn, in his former home.[5]

On October 11, 2004 the U.S. Senate passed a bill to rename the Dunn Post Office, the "General William Carey Lee Post Office."

Lee Residence Hall, one of the largest dormitories at North Carolina State University, is named after William C. Lee.

The Gen. William C. Lee House at Dunn was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.[6]

[NOTE: The "Bill Lee Freeway" in Charlotte, North Carolina, a section of Interstate 77 is named for William States Lee III (1929–1996), president and CEO of Duke Power and no known relation to the general.]


  1. ^ Autry 1995.
  2. ^ US Census 1900, Dunn, Harnett Co., North Carolina,Supervisors District 4, enumeration district 35, sheet 6
  3. ^ Bellafaire, Judith (1998). The U.S. Army and World War II: Selected Papers from the Army's Commemorative Conferences. ISBN 9780160495892.
  4. ^ "These are the airborne firefighters that handle the most intense wildfires". 15 April 2021.
  5. ^ North Carolina Museum of History.
  6. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.


  • Autry, Jerry. Assisted by Kathryn Autry. General William C. Lee: Father of the Airborne : Just Plain Bill. San Francisco: Airborne Press, 1995. ISBN 0-934145-24-5
  • "William C. Lee House". Aviation: From Sand Dunes to Sonic Booms: A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary. National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-05-27.
  • "William C. Lee, "Father of the Airborne"" (PDF). North Carolina Museum of History, Office of Archives and History, N.C. Department of Cultural Resources. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-06-30. Retrieved 2007-05-27.

External links

  • "General William C. Lee, "Father of the Airborne"". 101ST Airborne Division. Archived from the original on 2008-06-12. Retrieved 2007-05-27.
  • General William C. Lee Airborne Museum Website
  • William C. Lee at Find a Grave Website
  • Generals of World War II
Military offices
Preceded by
Newly activated organization
Commanding General Airborne Command
March–August 1942
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Newly activated organization
Commanding General 101st Airborne Division
Succeeded by