Lee, William Carey, born on 12-03-1895 in the Dunn to hardware merchant Eldrege Lee and his wife, Emma. Bill, as he was known, excelled in both football and baseball in high school and college. He had two sisters and four brothers. Eugene T. Lee 1884–1931, Marion Allen Lee, 886–1931, Robert Edward Lee, 1889–1936, Henry Carlyle Lee, 1892–1950, Emma Jane Lee Jackson, 1897–1971 and James Edward Lee, 1900–1974.
He attended Wake Forest College , then transferred to North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in 1915 to enter the Reserve Officer Training Corps program. Lee received a reserve commission as a second lieutenant. He was sent to the battlefields of France in June 1918 shortly after marrying his high school sweetheart, Dava Johnson. There he served as a combat officer until the signing of the armistice on 11-11-1918. He was then stationed in Germany as part of the occupation forces until his return to the United States in the early 1920s. From 1922 until 1926, Bill Lee was an ROTC, Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, instructor at North Carolina State, Lee held a deep love for the school and returned in the 1930s to complete his degree in education. Following this assignment, he embarked on tours of duty in Panama, the United States and Europe. While he was in Europe, Lee noticed that paratrooper and glider units were forming in the German military. The first operational military parachute jump from 1600 feet was logged in the night of August 8/9 1918 by Italian assault troops. Arditi Lieutenant Alessandro Tandura jumped from a Savoia-Pomilio SP.4 aircraft of the Gruppo speciale Aviazione I piloted by Canadian Major William George Barker and British Captain William Wedgwood Benn (both Royal Air Force pilots ), when Tandura dropped behind Austro-Hungarian lines near Vittorio Veneto on a reconnaissance and sabotage mission, followed on later nights by the Lieutenants. Ferruccio Nicoloso and Pier Arrigo Barnaba.
Lee immediately grasped the strategic importance of air-dropping troops behind enemy lines and the vital role it could play in battlefield victory. For the remainder of his military career, he advocated and then oversaw the development of the United States Army’s airborne forces . In June 1940 Lee was assigned to organize a platoon of paratroopers to explore the feasibility of an airborne force. Following the success of that platoon, he was charged with commanding the Provisional Parachute Group at Fort Benning, Georgia. With its four two-hundred-foot-high jump towers and other training aids, the base became the army’s training site for a six-week paratrooper jump school. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 07-12-1941, Lee lobbied for a larger command to train airborne forces. Consequently, a new unit, the United States Airborne Command , was established at Fort Bragg with newly promoted Brigadier General William Carey Lee as its commander. In the summer of 1942, Lee traveled to England to meet with General Dwight Eisenhower
and other American and Allied officers to plan the airborne’s role in the coming invasion of Europe. As adviser, he suggested that America’s airborne forces be organized into larger self-contained divisions. On 15-12-1942, the army activated its first two airborne divisions, the 82nd and 101st, for service in Europe.
82 All Airborne. 101 Screaming Eagles.
The 101st Airborne Division had the next losses during their campaign in Europe: In Normandy, MIA 665, WIA 2.303 and killed 868. In Holland, MIA 398, WIA 2.151 and killed 752. In Bastogne, MIA 527, WIA 2.449 and killed 482. Total MIA 1.590, WIA 2.782 and killed in action 2.043.
The 82nd Airborne Division during their European campaign had 1.619 killed in action, 6.560 wounded in action and 332 died of wounds.
Lee was promoted to Major General and placed in command of the 101st Airborne Division
Louis Merlano Harry Kinnard Maxwell Taylor Robert Sink Richard” Dick” Winters . Following its organization, Lee went back to England to await the division’s arrival in January 1943. There, both Lee and the division planned and trained for their roles in the upcoming invasion of Normandy. On 05-02-1944, four months before that invasion, Major General William Carey Lee suffered a heart attack that ended his military career. But on the night of June 5 and the early morning of June 6, 1944, the paratroopers of the 101st honored their former commander by shouting “Bill Lee!” as they exited their planes over Normandy.
Death and burial ground of Lee, William Carey “Bill”.
Lee retired from military service in December 1944 after suffering a second heart attack. He returned with his wife to their Dunn home, where he became active in civic affairs. William Carey “Bill” Lee died on 25-06-1948, age 53, of heart problems and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Dunn, North Carolina.