William C. Lee

Last updated
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
AllegianceFlag of the United States (1912-1959).svg United States
Service/branch Seal of the United States Department of War.png United States Army
Years of service1917–1944
Rank US-O8 insignia.svg Major general
Unit USA - Army Infantry Insignia.png Infantry Branch
Commands held 101st Airborne Division
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Distinguished Service Medal
Parachutist Badge
Army of Occupation of Germany Medal
World War I Victory Medal
World War II Victory Medal

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]

United States Army Land warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Army (USA) is the land warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and is designated as the Army of the United States in the United States Constitution. As the oldest and most senior branch of the U.S. military in order of precedence, the modern U.S. Army has its roots in the Continental Army, which was formed to fight the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)—before the United States of America was established as a country. After the Revolutionary War, the Congress of the Confederation created the United States Army on 3 June 1784 to replace the disbanded Continental Army. The United States Army considers itself descended from the Continental Army, and dates its institutional inception from the origin of that armed force in 1775.

Officer (armed forces) member of an armed force or uniformed service who holds a position of authority

An officer is a member of an armed forces or uniformed service who holds a position of authority.

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.



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.

Dunn, North Carolina City in North Carolina, United States

Dunn is a city in Harnett County, North Carolina, United States. The population was 9,263 at the 2010 census, and an estimated 9,873 in 2016. It is the anchor city of the Dunn Micropolitan Area, population 114,678, which is a part of the greater Raleigh–Durham–Cary Combined Statistical Area (CSA) as defined by the United States Census Bureau.

Wake Forest University Private research university in Winston-Salem, NC, US

Wake Forest University is a private research university in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Founded in 1834, the university received its name from its original location in Wake Forest, north of Raleigh, North Carolina. The Reynolda Campus, the university's main campus, has been located north of downtown Winston-Salem since the university moved there in 1956. The Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center campus has two locations, the older one located near the Ardmore neighborhood in central Winston-Salem, and the newer campus at Wake Forest Innovation Quarter downtown. The university also occupies lab space at Biotech Plaza at Innovation Quarter, and at the Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials. The university's Graduate School of Management maintains a presence on the main campus in Winston-Salem and in Charlotte, North Carolina.

North Carolina State University public research university in Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

North Carolina State University is a public research university in Raleigh, North Carolina. It is part of the University of North Carolina system and is a land-, sea-, and space-grant institution. The university forms one of the corners of the Research Triangle together with Duke University in Durham and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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..

Interwar period Period between the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II

In the context of the history of the 20th century, the interwar period was the period between the end of the First World War in November 1918 and the beginning of the Second World War in September 1939.

Armoured warfare Military use of armored fighting vehicles

Armoured warfare, mechanised warfare or tank warfare is the use of armoured fighting vehicles in modern warfare. It is a major component of modern methods of war.

Fort George G. Meade United States Army installation

Fort George G. Meade is a United States Army installation located in Maryland, that includes the Defense Information School, the Defense Media Activity, the United States Army Field Band, and the headquarters of United States Cyber Command, the National Security Agency, the Defense Courier Service, Defense Information Systems Agency headquarters and the U.S. Navy's Cryptologic Warfare Group Six. It is named for George G. Meade, a general from the U.S. Civil War, who served as commander of the Army of the Potomac. The fort's smaller census-designated place includes support facilities such as schools, housing, and the offices of the Military Intelligence Civilian Excepted Career Program (MICECP).

World War II

By the time the United States entered World War II, in December 1941, Lee was a proponent of airborne warfare. 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.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

President of the United States Head of state and of government of the United States

The President of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of government of the United States of America. The president directs the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces.

Franklin D. Roosevelt 32nd president of the United States

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, often referred to by his initials FDR, was an American statesman and political leader who served as the 32nd president of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945. A member of the Democratic party, he won a record four presidential elections and became a central figure in world events during the first half of the 20th century. Roosevelt directed the federal government during most of the Great Depression, implementing his New Deal domestic agenda in response to the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. As a dominant leader of his party, he built the New Deal Coalition, which realigned American politics into the Fifth Party System and defined American liberalism throughout the middle third of the 20th century. His third and fourth terms were dominated by World War II. Roosevelt is widely considered to be one of the most important figures in American history, as well as among the most influential figures of the 20th century. Though he has been subject to substantial criticism, he is generally rated by scholars as one of the three greatest U.S. presidents, along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

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.

Two-star rank military rank

An officer of two-star rank is a senior commander in many of the armed services holding a rank described by the NATO code of OF-7. The term is also used by some armed forces which are not NATO members. Typically, two-star officers hold the rank of rear admiral, counter admiral, major general, or in the case of those air forces with a separate rank structure, air vice-marshal.

In the United States Army, United States Marine Corps, and United States Air Force, major general is a two-star general-officer rank, with the pay grade of O-8. Major general ranks above brigadier general and below lieutenant general. A major general typically commands division-sized units of 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers. Major general is equivalent to the two-star rank of rear admiral in the United States Navy and United States Coast Guard, and is the highest-permanent rank during peacetime in the uniformed-services. Higher ranks are technically-temporary ranks linked to specific positions, although virtually all officers promoted to those ranks are approved to retire at their highest earned rank.

Commanding officer officer in command of a military unit

The commanding officer (CO) or sometimes, if the incumbent is a general officer, commanding general (CG), is the officer in command of a military unit. The commanding officer has ultimate authority over the unit, and is usually given wide latitude to run the unit as they see fit, within the bounds of military law. In this respect, commanding officers have significant responsibilities, duties, and powers.

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.

American airborne landings in Normandy United States combat operations during Operation Overlord

The American airborne landings in Normandy were the first American combat operations during Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy by the Western Allies on June 6, 1944, during World War II. Around 13,100 American paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions made night parachute drops early on D-Day, June 6, followed by 3,937 glider troops flown in by day. As the opening maneuver of Operation Neptune the two American airborne divisions were delivered to the continent in two parachute and six glider missions.

Myocardial infarction Interruption of blood supply to a part of the heart

Myocardial infarction (MI), commonly known as a heart attack, occurs when blood flow decreases or stops to a part of the heart, causing damage to the heart muscle. The most common symptom is chest pain or discomfort which may travel into the shoulder, arm, back, neck, or jaw. Often it occurs in the center or left side of the chest and lasts for more than a few minutes. The discomfort may occasionally feel like heartburn. Other symptoms may include shortness of breath, nausea, feeling faint, a cold sweat, or feeling tired. About 30% of people have atypical symptoms. Women more often present without chest pain and instead have neck pain, arm pain, or feel tired. Among those over 75 years old, about 5% have had an MI with little or no history of symptoms. An MI may cause heart failure, an irregular heartbeat, cardiogenic shock, or cardiac arrest.

Stroke Medical condition where poor blood flow to the brain causes cell death

A stroke is a medical condition in which poor blood flow to the brain results in cell death. There are two main types of stroke: ischemic, due to lack of blood flow, and hemorrhagic, due to bleeding. Both result in parts of the brain not functioning properly. Signs and symptoms of a stroke may include an inability to move or feel on one side of the body, problems understanding or speaking, dizziness, or loss of vision to one side. Signs and symptoms often appear soon after the stroke has occurred. If symptoms last less than one or two hours it is known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or mini-stroke. A hemorrhagic stroke may also be associated with a severe headache. The symptoms of a stroke can be permanent. Long-term complications may include pneumonia or loss of bladder control.


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. [3]

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. [4]

[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. North Carolina Museum of History.
  4. National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places . National Park Service.

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Military offices
Preceded by
Newly activated post
Commanding General 101st Airborne Division
Succeeded by
Maxwell D. Taylor