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Εvery Parachutist is a Cultural Ambassador of Greece

The Myth of Daedalus and Icarus

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Source: https://www.pngegg.com/en/search?q=target

The main characteristic of every parachutist around the world (Picture 2) is the famous Parachutist Badge –also known as Jump Wings– that decorates his/her military uniform. The first parachutist badge was designed in 1941 by Captain William P. Yarborough –an Officer serving with the 501th Parachute Battalion– and approved the same year.[1] According to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum, the formentioned Officer wrote a memorandum of record on April 22, 1941 describing the following:

         “On March 3, 1941, I was ordered to Washington to report to the Adjutant General for temporary duty in the Office of the Chief of Infantry. My mission was the procurement of a suitable parachutist badge with would meet with the approval both of the War Department and the Commanding Officer of the 501st Parachute Battalion. Major Miley (commander of the 501st), before my departure, gave me full authority to approve any design that I considered acceptable, and to do so in his name. The same authority was delegated to me in the name of the Chief of Infantry.

            I drew the original sketch in the office of Lieutenant Colonel Beuchner, G-3; a finished copy of my original sketch was prepared in the office of the Quartermaster General. Through the help of Mr. A.E. Dubois, in the Quartermaster General’s office, 350 of the parachutists were procured from the Bailey, Banks & Biddle Company in Philadelphia and were in the hands of the Commanding Officer of the 501st Parachute Battalion by March 14, 1941. This is believed to have been an all time speed record for War Department Procurement.

         I personally took the correspondence relative to the badge’s approval from one office to another until the transaction was complete. This operation took me one entire week, eight hours a day“.[2]

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Picture 1: The original sketch of the first U.S. Army parachutist badge

Source: https://qmmuseum.lee.army.mil/research/airborne-special-operations/parachute-badge-history.html

The parachutist badge is a military badge that is awarded upon completion of the Basic Airborne Course (BAC), a military course that includes ground training and (in most cases) the conduction of five jumps executed from an aircraft. As far as the U.S. Army parachutist badge is concerned, it is an oxidized silver badge 1 13/64 inches in height and 1 1/2 inches in width, consisting of an open parachute on and over a pair of stylized wings displayed and curving inward (Picture 1),[3] while the purpose of the U.S. Army Basic Airborne Course conducted in Fort Benning is “[…] to qualify the volunteer in the use of the parachute as a means of combat deployment and to develop leadership, self-confidence, and an aggressive spirit through mental and physical conditioning“.[4]

Picture 2: Parachute Badges (Jump Wings) of several States

Source: https://www.europeanparatroopers.org/multimedia/wings-a-badges

In order for a soldier[5] to attend airborne training, he/she must meet specific mental and physical criteria, which is the main reason why “Airborne Soldiers have a long and distinguished tradition of being an elite body of fighting men and women–people who have always set the example for determination and courage“.[6] Without getting into many details, there are two techniques as far as conducting an airborne operation. The first one is by jumping out of an aircraft flying at approximately 1,000 feet above ground level using a static-line parachute and the second one by jumping form approximately 6,000 feet or above using a free-fall parachute (Picture 3). In both cases, after the canopy of the parachute deploys, the paratrooper steers it in the air as he/she descends on the ground, using toggles attached to it. That is why almost every country’s parachutist badge is comprised of a parachute and two wings (one in each side) that symbolisms the ability to move (for a limited time) in the air, almost like flying.

Picture 3: The American and Slovakian Free-Fall Parachute Badges (Jump Wings)

Source: https://www.europeanparatroopers.org/multimedia/wings-a-badges

This brings us to the purpose of this article, the connection between parachutists and the Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus. Most people think that the first human attempt to fly was made by Leonardo da Vinci around 1500 AD,[7] or the Wright Brothers around 1900 A.D.[8] Truth is, that the Greek mythology describes a case that can be identified as the first recorded human attempt to fly. According to the myth, Daedalus was a famous inventor that was expelled from Athens and had found refuge in Crete in the court of King Minos, where he had a son named Icarus.[9] At some point, King Minos decided to hold Daedalus and Icarus captive some say due to their desire to return to Athens and others because Daedalus had helped King Minos’ wife mate with a sacred bull. [10]

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Picture 4: Daedalus forming the wings of Icarus out of wax, Franz Xaver Wagenschön,              18th century, Met Museum, New York

Source: https://www.thecollector.com/daedalus-and-icarus/

Daedalus and Icarus tried to escape from the prison that King Minos had put them, using a structure made from wax and feathers, simulating wings (Picture 4). Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sea because the moisture would weigh down his wings, nor fly too close to the sun because they would get scorched. In either case, if Icarus didn’t follow his father’s instructions he would end up dead. While approaching the island of Samos, Icarus ignored his father’s warnings and flew close to the sun. As a result, he fell from the sky (Picture 5) and drowned, giving his name to the island of Icaria where he was buried, and the surrounding Icarian Sea.

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Picture 5: The Lament for Icarus, by H. J. Draper

Source: https://greekreporter.com/2022/09/08/story-daedalus-icarus-fall/

Jump Wings can therefore be considered as a reminder of the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, stressing the need to follow instructions in order to stay safe and the value of moderation, expressed in Daedalus’ warning to his son not to fly too high nor too low. As Michalis Michael stresses, “Ancient Greeks believed that you should live your life choosing the mean and avoid the extremes on either side, as much as possible“.[11] Knowing all these and since mythology is a important part of the Greek culture, every parachutist around the world should share the myth of Icarus with his fellow soldiers or family members, and be proud for being not only an elite soldier, but also a cultural ambassador of Greece!

Lieutenant Colonel (INF) Georgios KOUKAKIS

Hellenic Military Academy Graduate (2002)

Hellenic Army Basic Airborne Course Graduate (2003)

U.S. Army Basic Officers Leaders Infantry Course Graduate (2007)

U.S. Army Basic Airborne Course Graduate (2007)

U.S. Army Pathfinder Course Graduate (2007)

U.S. Army Jumpmaster Course Graduate (2007)

Hellenic Army Basic Military Free-Fall Course (2010)

Hellenic Airborne School Instructor (2009-2011)

MA in «Governance, Development and Security in the Mediterranean», University of the Aegean (2020)

Senior Researcher of the Center for International Strategic Analyses (KEDISA)

Member of the Hellenic Institute of Strategic Studies (HEL.I.S.S.)

Research Associate of “HERMES” Institute of International Affairs, Security & Geoeconomy (I.I.A.S.GE.)

Member of the International Greek Solidarity Network (ALLILONnet)


[1] U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum. “Parachute Badge History”. https://qmmuseum.lee.army.mil/research/airborne-special-operations/parachute-badge-history.html (10/06/2023).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Fort Benning. ” Basic Airborne Course (BAC)”. https://www.benning.army.mil/Infantry/ARTB/1-507th/Airborne/ASI.html (28/01/2023).

[5] The term is used to describe all military personnel, such as enlisted personnel, commissioned and non-commissioned officers.

[6] Fort Benning. ” Basic Airborne Course (BAC)”. https://www.benning.army.mil/Infantry/ARTB/1-507th/Airborne/ASI.html (28/01/2023).

[7] Heydenreich, Ludwig Heinrich. “Leonardo da Vinci”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 28 April 2023, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Leonardo-da-Vinci (10/06/2023).

[8] Crouch, Tom D.. “Wright brothers”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 1 June 2023, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Wright-brothers (10/06/2023).

[9] Ancarola Gabi. “The Tragic Story of the Fall of Icarus”. Greek Reporter. 8 September 2022. https://greekreporter.com/2022/09/08/story-daedalus-icarus-fall  (10/06/2023).

[10] Chaliakopoulos Antonis. “The Myth of Daedalus and Icarus: Fly Between the Extremes”. The Collector. 6 September 2021. https://www.thecollector.com/daedalus-and-icarus/ (10/06/2023).

[11] Micahel Michalis. “Everything in Moderation… Even Moderation”. DMR. 7 May 2019. https://www.digital-mr.com/blog/view/everything-moderation-even-moderation (10/06/2023).

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