Saturday, January 6, 2024

From a letter written about the Ft. Benning jump school experience, spring, 1960


From a letter written to my then fiancé, now wife, in the spring of 1960:

This new place isn’t too red hot but it’s a lot better than the other BOQ. Here I have a private two-room apartment, share a bath with one other person, and the first thing I did was unload every single item out of that car. I have no idea what I’ll be doing for the next one-and-a-half months, but should find out Monday. The jumps were fine, not what I’d call real fun, but enjoyable. I guess there’s a natural or subconscious fear that keeps them from being fun, but it’s such a fascinating feeling, like being on dope maybe. You probably don’t want to hear all of the details, but since I’m vain enough to think someone might ask, you’re going to get them anyway! It’s really strange how the guys change personalities in the waiting room, everyone doing something different to keep from being scared. Number 45 sang and hummed constantly, and 47 and I laughed and kept telling each other what was going to happen if he came out too close behind me, etc., how I was going to grab his chute and collapse it, and how he was going to run my static line thru the harness so I’d get dragged behind the plane and all, real funny stuff like that. After about five inspections you get up and walk out on the runway (it’s sheer misery to walk in a parachute, they crush you from every angle). About this time I was just a little dazed but not scared, and your heart just starts beating faster and faster and faster. They sit you down in the plane and count you off and you fasten your safety belt and the plane takes off (about this time I started getting a little scared and tight). You go thru the jump commands and look up and the plane is roaring so loud you can’t think and the doors are off and the wind is blowing thru the whole plane like a tornado. Finally the first guy “stands in the door” and when they start to go is when the whole thing hits you like a ton of lead. When they start, the cable from your static line is on just starts jerking, and you think it’s going to jerk the plane apart, and you can see your buddies up there and then they’re gone. The second when that cable starts jerking is the most exciting because it just jerks you out of a daze and into a mechanical awareness; As soon as I got close to the door all the fear and excitement left and I just turned into a shuffling machine and did every movement by reflex action. I don’t remember standing in the door, or how my door position was on any of the jumps except the last one. On the first jump I was the last man out of the plane, had a good exit (my exits are pretty good!) and snapped right out. It’s pretty funny, you have to fight your way to the door because of the wind, and when you jump the prop blast (you’re traveling 130 mph) hits you and you’re gone. It’s sort of like dropping a. ping-pong ball in front of a fan, there’s no falling sensation whatsoever but only a feeling of being swept away. When you first go out it turns you sideways and then sweeps your feet out, so that you’re traveling feet first and facing upwards; as soon as your chute pulls out the prop blast blows it over your head and jerks you over so you’re traveling head first facing down; about then it opens and you feel a sort of tug at the shoulders and you’re airborne! The first jump I landed in a ditch in the mud. The wind was pretty strong, but they jumped us anyway. I hit on the side of the ditch, I was “holding a slip” (steering into the wind to decrease impact velocity) and came straight down on my feet and took all the shock on my left foot, but I did have them together, and so what would have been a broken leg was only a sprained foot; still I landed pretty hard, in the mud, tried to get right up, made it about half way m and got jerked right back down again a couple of times and finally made it up and ran around the chute and collapsed it. The second jump I started getting scared when I got close to the ground and tightened up a little, again hit like a rock, and didn’t enjoy it a bit. The third jump I was scared stiff before even boarding the plane because I knew something was going to happen, and it almost did. As soon as my chute opened I was almost on top of another guy (your chute will collapse if it gets over another) and my lines were twisted so badly I couldn’t get my head back or steer—I just kept drifting in until my feet were hitting the edge of his canopy, and I kept yelling at him to “slip away” but he didn’t hear, and I kept thinking “I’m glad we’re high enough so that if mine collapses it will fill back up again before I hit the ground!” But finally my twists came out and I was able to steer away; I did a perfect (for a change) landing and got dragged about 200 feet before I was able to get up. The fourth jump was perfect, good landing and all. The fifth one we did with about 100 lbs. of equipment, rifle, pack, and all that stuff, and we had a graduation ceremony right there on the drop zone. All in all it was a great experience.




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