A jumper

I think that every paratrooper has a story about a jump that he likes to tell about. Maybe because it was funny, or unusual, or an extremely close call. I have one that is all three with a threat of court martial to boot.

{Since this happened sixty years ago, I use the term ‘men’ without being sexist because combat trained outfits like the 82nd Airborne Division was not co-ed in those days. And the parachutes we used were almost the same as used in WWII.}

Signal Battalion, my outfit, had jumped in mass a few days before. Those of us that had to stay behind and tend to things jumped a few days later with one of infantry battalions. We were jumping out of C119s. Great planes to jump from. The door was way to the rear and below the tail. But they were also bad to ride in. They would barely clear the trees at the end of the runway and they seemed to find every air pocket. And since this was a tactical jump, we were in the air for a couple hours before the jump.

The plane I was in was almost all cherry- jumpers. These are troopers who completed jump school finished off with 3 jumps in one day, and 2 the next. These 5 jumps were all Hollywood, meaning they jumped with the minimum of equipment. And they jumped just 5 men at a pass, turned around and 5 more jumped. This jump that day was the first time they would jump with equipment and would exit one after the other as fast as they could shuffle.

Looking at the men in the stick opposite mine, I could tell who they were. They had a look of anticipation the vets didn’t. And some looked a little green in the gills from the ride. Directly across from me was a Second Lieutenant I found out later that had recently graduated from West Point and also from the last jump school. He was cracking his knuckles. I did what I usually did on long flights, closed my eyes and took a nap.

About ten minutes from the DZ, we were told that while it was calm upstairs, the wind was brisk at the ground. ‘And men,’ the Jump Master hollered, ‘ There’s a lot of planes, a lot of chutes. The sky will be damn crowded. Pay attention out there.’

Mass Jump

We had no problem clearing the plane. There’s nothing better than to count three seconds, and look up and see your chute has full blossomed. The view is great. The silence is unbelievable. However in a military jump, you don’t have much time to enjoy it. And you have to really watch out when there are so many chutes in the sky.

These chutes were designed to get you down as quick as safely possible. Maneuvering is darn near impossible. You pull with both hands on the one of the risers to get a slight sideways motion. Your biggest threat in the air on a peacetime jump was banging into another chute or worse, letting your chute go over another canopy.

If that happens, the lower chute maintains fullness because of the air pressure. The upper chute loses it’s air pressure and begins to collapse. You try to pull away and if you do land on the lower chute, you run like hell and jump off the lower chute. Once off, you shake your chute and it will generally open out again.

Almost as soon as I checked my chute I heard a lot of shouts and looked to my right where a cherry- jumper was on top of another chute. I joined the shouts for him to run off the bottom chute. He did, but as soon as he got off he pulled his reserve chute handle. He hadn’t bothered to look up and see his main chute had regained fullness. The reserve chute had no pressure to cause it to fill out and fell down limply between the man’s legs.

He looked at that useless piece of silk and fearing the worse, he uttered in a loud, calm, clear voice: ‘Set another place at your table, Sweet Jesus, cuz I’m coming home.’

I broke out laughing. So did a lot of others. The poor guy was the only one in our cluster that did not know he was going to land safely. But when I broke up, I also screwed up. Big time!

I felt the pull on my harness decreasing. Looking up I saw my chute shriveling up. Looking down, I saw I was on top of another chute. As soon as I could I ran off the other chute and shook my risers as hard as I could.

Too late! I wasn’t too far from landing when this all happened. I flew in free fall. I hit the ground hard. I mean HARD!!! I made an attempt to do the five point Parachute Landing Fall; but forget it. I did a three point landing. Feet. Ass. Back of the head. Made an attempt to get up to knock down my chute but…

Insult to injury! My chute filled out about the time I hit ground. Since there was no weight on it, and since the wind was gusting, it actually rose in the air. (This was told to me by a trooper who was on the ground nearby.) It jerked me up and managed to carry me about twenty feet before I hit the ground again, hard. And then it began to drag me across the DZ, (Drop Zone).

I was hurting and messed up royal. I was on my back with the right riser across my face and pulling me over my left shoulder along with my left riser. Luckily, it was across my face. Had it been lower it might have chocked me before I could grab it with both hands to pull it away from my windpipe. Or snapped my neck.

Several months before, 82nd Signal Battalion went to Fort Campbell, KY, where the 101st Airborne was going to hold a large war game, Operation Eagle Wing. My battalion was there to run communications for the umpires. The Operation was to begin with an afternoon jump by the entire 101st Division. Stands were set up for the visiting brass, politicians, and the press.

We were going to jump early in the morning and then set up our equipment; but our Battalion Commander called off our jump because of the strong winds. We all thought the Division jump would also be called off, but we did the setting up anyway. We would no more get a radio tower up than the wind would blow it over.

As the planes were close to the DZ we knew we would see the red smoke released to call the jump off. Then the green smoke went off and the chutes filled the air. I guess they didn’t want the guests sitting in the stands to be disappointed.

We and the ones that landed safely began to knock down chutes that were dragging men across the DZ. Even the Division Commander, General William Westmoreland, who would be the top honcho in Viet Nam in later years, knocked down chutes. Afterwards it was found out he had a hairline fracture in his leg.

There were six killed, death by chocking or by necks snapped,, and several hundred hospitalized.

And don’t you think I was thinking of day when I was fighting to keep the riser away from my neck.

Fort Bragg has many very large Dzs, and this was one of them. A lot of ground to drag me over. I saw several men running at an angle to catch up to my chute. And the closest man was coming in a straight line at me. I realized the dehorn wasn’t even trying to go for my chute.. He was going to jump on me!

No way would that help collapse my chute. His added weight would only make the drag harder for the chute and I would caught in a taffy pull. I knew I would never be able to keep the riser from my neck if he landed on me.

Adrenalin pumping overtime, I managed to raise my leg as he dove. He caught the bottom of my boot right in his face and he never landed on me. In spite of the blood spurting out of his nose I recognized him. He was the Second Louie that was sitting across from me in the plane.

I was dragged a ways yet before the other men managed to jump on my chute. I was surprised to find I didn’t have any broken bones. I was pretty shaky in the legs though. A jeep with an MP sergeant on DZ duty pulled up and asked if I was okay. I told him I was. Then he pulled out a pen and notebook and asked for my name, rank, and outfit.

‘That shave- tail Lieutenant that just got in the Medic wagon ordered me to get it,’ he explained. ‘Somehow I don’t think he wanted it so he could send you a Christmas Card.’

I just got inside my barracks when I was ordered to report to the Old Man, the Battalion Commander.

‘What happened out there, Don?, he asked me. I was his clerk and he always call me, Don. ‘There a young Lieutenant, Callason, in the infantry outfit, that says you kicked him in the face. Sounds like he wants your stripes and to give you stockade time. But I couldn’t really understand what he was saying. He was having his nose worked on.’

I gave the Old Man a Cliff’s Note version of what happened after I landed. I emphasized there was several witnesses to support me.

He smiled and dialed the number Callason had left him. I could only hear the Old Man’s side of the phone conversation.

‘So, Lieutenant, you say if I demote my clerk to Private…Yes, my Battalion clerk. you might not bring him up on formal charges for assaulting an officer…

‘Well, Lieutenant, a little advice. I felt the same way about the importance of rank when I graduated West Point; but I learned in the real Army it doesn’t always work that way, especially in the Airborne. When you stand up, hookup, getting ready to jump, you inspect the back- harness of the man on the stick in front of you, and the man behind you does the same thing for you. He cracks you on the ass to let you know you are good-to-go. Makes no different what his rank is, General or Private. You put your trust in him. Don’t get a reputation of being a jerk that pulls rank on Enlisted Men. In the Airborne we are all Brothers.

‘Now, as far as Corporal Ostertag breaking your nose, your stupidity could have broken his neck. You deserved to be kicked. Personally I’d like to kick you in the ass. Maybe I should have Don press charges against you.’

There was a long silence on the Old Man’s part. ‘Well, Lieutenant, I don’t think you have to make an apology to Don. I think he will be satisfied with you just forgetting your damn juvenile vindictiveness, and I promise you he will not bring you up on charges.’ He slammed down the phone.

‘I think that that young man learned a good lesson. If not, he better request transfer out of the Airborne’, the Old Man said, as he winked at me and told me go clean up and go to the mess hall and get something to eat before coming back to work.

I trust that that ‘young man’ learned a good lesson. I know I did. I learned when the Jump Master warns you to pay attention out there, listen to him.

And I also learned never to laugh at someone’s prayer. You might have to use it yourself some day.

And that’s a wrap



20 thoughts on “A JUMP STORY

      • You know how much I LOVED my recent tandem skydive. When my husband and I first met I was signed up to learn how to do the real thing – starting with many hours of groundwork such as being in harness on a rig and learning to land safely etc – but hubbie thought I was nuts to even think of it and I allowed myself to be persuaded to cancel the course. Of course, it would have been no comparison to your experience of the round domed canopy and so many in the air at once.
        Do you ever miss it?

      • I agree with with dropping the solo jump training. I really have to hand it to you though for doing the tandem. It is beautiful up there isn’t it. The sad part of military jumping is we ever have any time to enjoy it. We jumped between between 1300 and 1800 feet.
        Do I ever miss it? Maybe years ago. Now when I think about it, I am glad I did it but I don’t miss it.

      • I sooo loved the experience, and the view from the escarpment to the beach to the ocean – it is just amazing. We jumped from 14,000 feet with the first sixty seconds a free-fall through rain-laden clouds. I note the company is also teaching solo jumping – with only nine hours ground training before the first jump. I’m sure my (abandoned) course was much longer than that, but you are right, sometimes discretion is the better part of valour. None of it is comparable to a military jump of course. Not even with modern equipment. No one was trying to shoot at us for starters . . .

      • Lady, you are the coolest. I love the way you live life to the fullest! I am glad that you got to jump through a cloud. It was always a treat for me when it happened.

  1. I felt like I was reading one of my father’s tales, Don! The “old man” sticking up for you and all! I know Smitty mentioned the constant funerals they went to during developing the glider and jumping in training. The jump I think he hated most is when they finally made it to Japan and an officer wanted to impress a USO singer, so the 187th did a jump.

  2. Did you ever jump just for fun back in your civilian life Don or had you had enough of dare devilling?

    It’s hard to believe men had to do these dangerous missions and not just once but over and over, I was reading GP’s blog the other day, I had no idea of multiple men jumping out one after the other for hours on end to take a strip of land. This is a truly awesome but scary account of what it was like. So brave, I’d hate to think my brothers would have to do anything like this.

    Best wishes

  3. I prefer your sentimental stories more Don. ;-P Hahahahaha! No seriously was really exciting to hear your stories about being Airborne. The 82nd of course very famous. Must have been interesting to be a clerk and a paratrooper. In an operational scenario I’m guessing the idea was you would be part of HQ? Jumping into enemy territory but sticking with the brass as they tried to plan strategy? You story is impressive for a number of reasons. Not least being a timely reminder of how dangerous and costly peacetime military service can be. I’m glad you didn’t break your neck on that day.

  4. I think I’ve been keeping up with your posts, and if I’ve missed one, it’s my loss. This was a great one – puts us there in the skies and pondering what it’s like to be free falling and on guard – not only for our country but also for those falling at the same time. i’ve had this on the screen and am just now finding internet – which is very slow tonight – to send my thumbs up.

    Great story!

  5. Great story. I remember Don telling about going to SC with the C-119’s and you doing the things you did! He was very envious of you and said if he had to do it, there would be scratches on the plane going down……………

  6. Great Story Don, I know to be a paratrooper that’s a tough business, landing on enemy territory, but got no idea how dangerous it’s the actual jump to be such a risk for a paratrooper, even in training, I am glad you did alright.

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