Pathfinders were airborne soldiers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions that landed before the main invasion in order to mark drop zones for the main body of paratroopers.

Eighteen pathfinder teams were assembled and tasked with marking six drop zones and one glider landing zone. Three teams were assigned to each drop zone. Twenty C-47s (nine from the 82nd, eleven from the 101st), were used to transport the pathfinders.

The pathfinder teams consisted of 9–14 men to setup and operate equipment, and a 5-man team to secure the drop zone perimeter.

The drop zones were marked with a "T" composed of Holophane or Krypton lights, one of which was set to flash the DZ's designation in Morse code. Each team carried two "Eureka" beacons which worked with "Rebecca" transmitters carried aboard the leading C-47 transports carrying the bulk of the airborne invasion force.

The pathfinders set out from North Witham and dropped into France at about 12:15 a.m. on June 6, 1944, about an hour before the arrival of the main force. The pathfinders were unable to mark all of the drop zones due to some of the teams being dropped in the wrong location.

Drop Zone Unit Location
A 502 PIR / 101st St. Germain de Varreville
C 506 PIR / 101st St. Marie du Mont
D 501 PIR / 101st St. Come du Mont
O 505 PIR / 82nd St. Mere Eglise
T 507 PIR? / 82nd Merderet River
N 508 PIR? / 82nd Merderet River

Captain Frank Lillyman, a pathfinder with the 101st Airborne Division, is believed to be the first American soldier to land in France.

Pathfinders have continued to serve in a variety of conflicts, including Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf War, and most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq.


Captain Fred Hamill identifies himself as a pathfinder.