Geronimo is a US Army airborne exclamation occasionally used by jumping skydivers or, more generally, anyone about to jump from a great height, or as a general exclamation of exhilaration. The cry originated in the United States.
According to paratrooper Gerard Devlin, this exclamation dates from August 1940 and is attributed to Private Aubrey Eberhardt, member of parachute test platoon at Fort Benning. The parachute had only recently been adopted for troop drops, and this platoon was the first to test it. On the eve of their first jump, the platoon decided to calm their nerves by spending the day before taking in a film at the Main Post Theatre and a night at the local beer garden. The film they saw was a Western featuring the Native American chief Geronimo. Its title is uncertain, but it was probably the 1939 film Geronimo with Andy Devine and Lone Ranger star Chief Thundercloud in the title role.
On the way back to barracks, Eberhardt's comrades taunted him saying that he would be too scared to remember his name. Eberhardt retorted, "All right, dammit! 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!" Eberhardt kept his promise, and the cry was gradually adopted by the other members of his platoon.
In his book Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Richard Winters, Winters offers a different explanation: The 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning was due to go on the first jump. At the time there was a popular song called "Geronimo" on the radio, which quickly became a favorite amongst the troops. The cry became known to the commanding officer who insisted they would instead jump out and cry "Currahee", the name of a mountain at Camp Toccoa, their first training camp. The paratroopers had run up and down the mountain frequently during training, the run known to the troops as "3 miles up, 3 miles down".
There is also a third explanation. Medicine Bluffs on Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where Geronimo was jailed as prisoner of war and his grave is located, are steep cliffs and have come to be known as Geronimo's Bluff. Tall tales were told about Geronimo while at Fort Sill. It was said that one day Geronimo, with the army in hot pursuit, made a leap 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!”
Initially, the top brass were wary of the cry, claiming that it constituted a lack of discipline. Others said that it showed bravery and should be encouraged. Eventually the latter view won out, and when the Army's parachute infantry grew, the cry grew with it. In 1941, the Army's first parachute regiment, the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR; now called the 501st Infantry Regiment) incorporated the name "Geronimo" into its insignia, with the permission of the real Geronimo's family. The cry was also incorporated into the song Down From Heaven by Lieutenant Colonel Byron Paige.
By then, the coverage of the paratroopers' exploits during the war had made the cry "Geronimo" known to the wider public, and its use spread outside the military and U.S. Army.
- Devlin, Gerard M (1979). Paratrooper!. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 70.
- "Medicine Bluffs - Geronimo! in Fort Sill, OK (Google Maps)". 12 December 2006.
- "Oklahoma State Senate - Senate Artwork". www.oksenate.gov.
- "Attempted Encroachment on the Medicine Bluffs - Native American Netroots". nativeamericannetroots.net.
- "Fort Sill History - Geronimo". sill-www.army.mil.
- Geronimo at B-Westerns, retrieved 4 June 2007.
- The Straight Dope Why do parachutists yell "Geronimo!" when jumping from an airplane?", retrieved 4 June 2007.
- The Straight Dope: Why do parachutists yell "Geronimo!" when jumping from an airplane?
- Ed Howard: Paramount's 1939 western GERONIMO ... a forgotten movie with a giant legacy
- Chuck Anderson (September 2004). "Geronimo yell of World War II paratroopers". B-Westerns.com. Retrieved 2007-10-15.