William T. Ryder

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Brig. Gen. William T. Ryder
Born (1913-04-16)April 16, 1913
Died October 1, 1992(1992-10-01) (aged 79)
Pinehurst, North Carolina
Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch Emblem of the United States Department of the Army.svg United States Army
Years of service 1936–1966
Rank US-O7 insignia.svg Brigadier General
Commands held Parachute Test Platoon
542nd Parachute Infantry Regiment

Korean War
World War II

Awards Distinguished Service Medal ribbon.svg Distinguished Service Medal
Legion of Merit ribbon.svg Legion of Merit with three Oak Leaf Clusters
Bronze Star Medal ribbon.svg Bronze Star Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster
US Army Airborne master parachutist badge.gif Master Parachutist Badge

William Thomas “Bill” Ryder (April 16, 1913 – October 1, 1992) was an officer of the United States Army and the first American paratrooper during World War II. Ryder helped pioneer Army airborne training, equipment and tactics alongside men like Jim Gavin, William Yarborough, Bill Lee, Art Gorham and Bud Miley. He was an aide to General of the Army Douglas MacArthur from 1944 until 1951. In the early 1960s he was a top Army expert in guided missile systems, retiring as a brigadier general in 1966.

First American paratrooper[edit]

Ryder graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1936. Among his classmates was William P. Yarborough.

More than 200 soldiers volunteered to make up the first platoon of paratroopers. Ryder was selected through a competitive written exam that was scheduled to take two hours. He finished it in 45 minutes while still earning the top score. The second highest scorer was Lt. James A. Bassett who thus became the assistant platoon leader.[1] The platoon billeted at Lawson Army Air Field near Ft. Benning. Ryder is credited with creating "Ryder's Death Ride" a 34-foot tower from which trainees practiced jumping. After completing a rigorous conditioning and training program that Ryder had devised, on August 16, 1940, Ryder and ten members of his platoon made their first jump from a Douglas C-33. Ryder was the first man to exit the aircraft. The first enlisted man to jump was Pvt. William N. "Red" King.[2] The platoon conducted its first mass jump on August 29, 1940.[3][4][5]

In April 1943 while assigned as parachute training officer of the Airborne Command at Camp Mackall, Ryder was temporarily assigned as liaison officer to the 52nd Troop Carrier Wing at Pope Air Force Base. On July 13, 1943, Ryder jumped into Sicily with Colonel James Gavin, commander of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, as part of Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily.[6] After hostilities had ceased in Sicily, Gavin tasked Ryder with returning the personal affects of 1st Battalion commander Arthur F. Gorham to his widow. Gorham was killed during the first few days of the assault and was credited by Gavin with accomplishing all of the Regiment's objectives.[7]

He is also reported in at least one source to have jumped with the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment in North Africa as part of Operation Torch in October 1942.[8]

Upon his return from Sicily, Ryder was assigned as the regimental commander of the newly formed 542nd Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning, Georgia. Expecting to be deployed to Europe, Ryder was instead ordered in December 1943 to provide roughly 100 replacements for the Pacific theater. As was customary, Ryder escorted the men by train to the west coast. Upon his arrival at Ft. Ord he was ordered to Ft. Benning “first priority.” When he returned he received the disheartening news that he was to dispatch 1,000 of his remaining troops to serve as replacements to airborne units in England preparing for the invasion of Europe. The regiment was deactivated on March 17, 1944.[9]

War and occupation in the Pacific[edit]

Following promotion to full colonel, in mid-February 1944 Ryder was dispatched to Brisbane, Australia to advise General Douglas MacArthur on airborne operations. He remained a member of MacArthur’s staff until President Truman relieved MacArthur in 1951. During the occupation and rebuilding of Japan, Ryder was effectively the chief of staff to MG William F. Marquat.[10]

During his time in the Pacific, Ryder met his future wife, Muriel, who was serving with the Red Cross there.

In late 1950s and early 1960s, Ryder was the deputy chief of the public information division in Paris. By 1963 he was the director of special weapons in the office of the chief of research and development at the Pentagon. In this last post he was an expert in guided missile systems. The general retired from active duty in 1966 moving to Pinehurst, North Carolina with his wife Muriel.[9]


The award given to the most outstanding graduate of the Airborne course at Ft. Benning is named for the general. In 1990, General Ryder represented the Airborne to receive a proclamation by North Carolina Governor Jim Martin honoring the 50th anniversary of his first jump. In 1995, the officer’s golf course at Ft. Bragg was named for General Ryder.

In addition to Master Parachutist Badge, Ryder's decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, four Legions of Merit and two Bronze Star Medals.

General Ryder died from cancer in 1992 and was interred in Arlington National Cemetery.


  1. ^ Bassett rose to be a Colonel but was killed in the crash of an Army helicopter in November 1954.
  2. ^ Hagerman, Bart (1990). U.S.A. Airborne: 50th Anniversary, 1940–1990 (illustrated ed.). Turner Publishing Company. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-938021-90-2. Retrieved November 17, 2009. 
  3. ^ To Be a Paratrooper, by Gregory Mast, Hans Halberstadt, p. 14. Available at Google Books Search
  4. ^ Different sources list different dates for this first jump. The August 13, 1940 date was the date given by Brig Gen Ryder in his article, "The Parachute Test Platoon," published in USA Airborne, 50th Anniversary, available at Google Books Search
  5. ^ LTC John T. Ellis, Jr. in his 1946 paper, "The Army Ground Forces" lists the date as August 16th. See page 11 of the document at Dtic.mil
  6. ^ "Recollections of the 542nd Parachute Infantry Regiment," by Brig Gen William T. Ryder, published in USA Airborne: 50th Anniversary, available at Google Books Search
  7. ^ A copy of Gavin's letter to Gorham's widow is posted at Letter to Corrine Gorham
  8. ^ The general's obituary posted on the website ArlingtonCemetery.net states that he jumped in North Africa, but there is no mention of this in other sources, and the dates do not appear to verify this fact. See Arlingtoncemetery.net. The general's obituary from the Washington Post (October 20, 1992), only mentions the combat jump in Sicily.
  9. ^ a b "William T. Ryder, Army General," Washington Post, October 20, 1992.
  10. ^ "The allied occupation and Japan's economic miracle," by Bowen Causey Deesh, available at Google Books Search