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




th (1)    The second time I flew in an airplane, I jumped out. There were quite a few other flights after that, before I actually stayed in the plane until it had landed. Believe me, sometimes landings cause more butterflies in my stomach than I ever had jumping out of a plane.


The Old Hand:

Army Glasses

The story on the news about a smartphone dropping 13000 feet and still working, reminds me of a similar thing that happened to me in paratrooper jump school. After three weeks of hell, we had to jump at l800 feet, three times one day, two times the next day to qualify for our wings. When we hit the ground, we had to bundle up our chutes and run to the closest deuce and a half truck for the ride back.

I had civilian glasses but the Army issued me a pair of bare-boned glasses which I had to wear in jump school. In jumping with glasses in those days, you tied a piece of cord to the bows, just long enough to fit around the back of your head and secured the ties with tape. On one of the jumps, the wind ripped off my glasses as soon as I exited the plane. Other than losing my glasses, the jump went well.

I climbed in the back of the truck and as we drove away, a trooper-to-be, with a distinct hillbilly accent, loudly proclaimed that it was really his lucky day. He had found a pair of glasses on the drop zone. Never had a pair before and now he had one. I hated to bust his bubble but I suggested he put them on and see if he see anything with them. Naturally he couldn’t.  I told him that they were probably mine, the ones that flew off my face when I left the plane. I asked to try them on and see if I could see anything. I could. There was no question they were mine. And they were in perfect condition. The fall hadn’t hurt them at all. He allowed me to keep them seeing as how ‘they don’t work’ when he wears them.

There was about three hundred of us on that jump. There was probably a dozen trucks to pick us up. And I just happened to climb in a truck with the guy who thought he was so lucky because he found a pair of glasses. I always wore my civilian glasses for everything except when I jumped. I used those army issued glasses. They weren’t much to look at but they survived a fall of 1800 feet without breaking the lenses or the frame. They were as tough as Army steak.

Published  07/27/2011,SPPP, Bulletin Board


The Old Hand:

Up in the air, up in the air. 

Quite a few of us in the 82nd Signal Battalion and our equipment were being transported across the mountains from Fort Bragg, NC to Fort Campbell KY to set up communications for the umpires in a war exercise, Operation Eagle Wing.

While we were still on the ground, one of the men, Sgt. Ford, blew up his air mattress. And while the rest of us sat on hard benches, Ford laid on his air mattress and kept crowing how comfortable it felt. We were happy when he shut his mouth and dozed off.

Suddenly there was an explosion and we saw Ford flying to the ceiling of the plane. Bam! He hit the roof. Bam! He fell down and hit the floor. A lot of us, including the pilot, ran to him. Outside of several bruises and a great deal embarrassment he was okay.

When the pilot found out about the air mattress and how Ford blew it up on the ground, he further embarrassed Ford by explaining how air pressure changes the higher up you fly. The air Ford blew into the mattress on the ground had greater pressure than that in the plane once a certain altitude was reached, causing the mattress to explode.

It was a hands-on lesson in physics that none of us ever forgot, especially Ford.

PS: Ford also got written up and the Old Man saw to it that Ford got a little extra duty once we got back to Bragg.

Published SPPP Bulletin Board  7/22/ 13


The Old Hand:



Cute story about the little guy declaring ‘that was awesome’ on the plane’s bumpy landing reminded me of a plane ride I took with a coworker.

It was his very first plane ride. To say it was a white-knuckle flight for the guy would be an understatement. I’ve seen less fear in paratroopers making their first jump. I tried to talk to him about how to go about the work that he was going to have to do in the next few days, but the blank stare in his eyes proved to me he really wasn’t listening. He didn’t have a rosary, but I realized he was using his fingers in lieu of beads.

About twenty minutes from landing, the plane hit an air pocket and quickly fell a little. He turned to me and between gasps, managed to ask if what happened was normal. I told him no. Then he began to cry, big tears, loud sobs. And I began to laugh – very loud. Between the two of us, we had the attention of the rest of the passengers and flight attendants. When one attendant came to ask if anything was wrong, between his crying and my laughing, neither of us could answer.

Afterwards I felt bad about laughing at him. I tried to apologize, but he wouldn’t accept it. We were never close friends; but after that incident, we aren’t even distant friends. That happened over thirty years ago and I don’t think he has ever forgotten or forgiven. I realize I never should have laughed at his fear; but darn it, I just couldn’t help myself.

Published 7/15/13, SPPP, Bulletin Board