“I Had To Prove That I Was Better”: Night Jumper Bravo, The Only Black Pathfinder In The 4th Infantry Division

Willie King


Willie King grew up in Columbus, Georgia, with his parents, his older brother, and his sister. His father worked in construction, and his mother was a domestic cook whose specialty was a lemon cake. He attended a segregated high school. In 1968 he enlisted, and volunteered for Airborne and Pathfinder Schools. He recalls that Advanced Infantry Training at Ft. McClellan, Alabama, “was hell.” He deployed to Vietnam in March 1969, and arrived at Cam Ranh Bay during a mortar attack. Initially, he was assigned as a Pathfinder in the 4th Infantry Division after a previous Pathfinder, Parrish, had been “shot up.” He found himself working for a Lieutenant who displayed a Rebel flag in his quarters, and he noted that he was the only minority Pathfinder in the 4th Infantry Division. He earned a Bronze Star for his actions recovering a helicopter that had been shot down along the Cambodian border, it was a “suicide mission.” In May 1970, he supported the Cambodian incursion, and was assigned to the 3rd Battalion of the 506th Infantry in the 101st Airborne Division. During that mission, he was in control of a “hot LZ” (Landing Zone), coordinating all incoming and outgoing aircraft. At one point, he was left on the LZ and had to E&E (escape and evade) to get back to friendly units. Later he served with the 173rd Airborne Brigade at LZ Eagle. He returned to the States in October 1970, and escorted the body of a friend home. At the end of his interview, reflecting on what his service means to him, he notes his intense pride, adding that “it means the world to me” because he has “paid his dues.”


name Willie King
service Infantry
unit 173rd Airborne Brigade; 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division; 4th Infantry Division
specialty Pathfinder
service dates 1968 1971