Why Do We Scream "Geronimo" When Jumping From Things?


© Bettmann/CORBIS

??In the early 1940s, the United States Army was testing the idea of parachuting from planes as a way of deploying troops. The first group to really experiment with it and begin developing paratrooper techniques was a unit of 50 men known the Parachute Test Platoon.

These guys were based out of Fort Benning, Georgia, and spent most of their summer working through grueling training sessions in the afternoon heat, wearing parachutes on their backs along with the rest of their standard gear. When training was done for the day, the troops liked to loosen up and cool down a little. Usually, most of the guys went to the air-conditioned Main Post Theatre in the evenings to see whatever movie was playing.

One night in August 1940, that movie happened to be the Paramount western, Geronimo, about the Apache chief.

After the movie, there was beer. After beer, there was, as there often is, a boast. On their way back to their bunks after the film, the group got to talking about the jump they were doing the next day, their first as a group. The paratroopers only had a few solo jumps under their belts, and many of them were admittedly nervous. One of the guys, Private Aubrey Eberhardt, a brawny, six-foot-three native son of Georgia, claimed that he wasn’t worried. The mass jump would be nothing!

The other soldiers gave him a hard time. They were all scared. Of course he was scared, too. He should just admit it.

"All right, dammit!” Eberhardt finally shouted. “I’ll 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!"

The next day, he made good on his promise. Out the plane he went and everyone heard “Geronimooooooo!” The rest of the platoon wasn’t about to let Eberhardt show them up, so on subsequent jumps the rest of the soldiers took up his battle cry and a tradition was born. The next year, the Army’s first official parachute unit, the 501st Parachute Infantry Battalion, made “Geronimo” the motto on their unit insignia after their commander tracked down descendants of the real Geronimo to ask for their permission to use his name.

After World War II, the army brass put an end to the mid-air yelling, worried that a screaming paratrooper would inevitably give away some unlucky unit’s position during operations. The heavy media coverage of the novel paratroopers during the war put the “Geronimo” cry in the public’s imagination, though, and Aubrey Eberhardt’s boozy brag lives on among civilians.