To this day I cannot remember why or how I got involved in skydiving. I only remember that it happened right after jump school at Fort Benning, Georgia. As a young single Second Lieutenant, I had some time on my hands during the Infantry Basic Course, so skydiving was one of the ways I filled up my Saturdays and Sundays. Since I had just completed jump school, my instructor did not take a lot of time teaching me the finer points of the sport. He briefly explained how to get out on the step of the small plane and then push off and form a spread-eagle position while I waited for the static line to open the parachute. I’m pretty sure I completed my static line jumps and my first five free falls in one weekend … and once I did, I was hooked.
I say he did not take a lot of time to teach me the finer points of sports jumping, but to be fair, I’m not sure that’s totally accurate. I only know that on my third free fall jump I ended up on my back as I was falling to earth, and no amount of kicking and jerking of my arms and legs was any help in getting my body to roll over into the proper face-down position. So, sensing that time was ticking away, I pulled my ripcord and soon enough I was jerked into the appropriate feet-to-earth orientation. I then looked up and discovered that my parachute was simply one big jumbled-up mess otherwise known as a malfunction. And that is when I discovered that the routine boring repetitious training that we had at jump school actually worked. I reached down and put my left hand over my reserve parachute and pulled the cord. I then took the spare chute in my hand fluffed it out until the wind caught it and it billowed up and it was time to start preparing to land. Upon landing my instructor explained that the way to right oneself was to simply arch your back and form a spread-eagle position again … and with that he sent me right back up for my final two free fall jumps.
From there I bought my own sports parachute gear and for the next four years I brought my gear with me wherever I went hoping to find a jump club where I could systematically start filling up my log book with a record of all my various and sundry jumps. While stationed with the Berlin Brigade in Berlin, Germany, I had occasion to jump in a number of different venues. Jumping in West Berlin was never going to happen for obvious reasons, but I did find a German jump club in Braunschweig, West Germany, which was about a two and a half hour drive away. It meant that I had drive through East Germany to get there, and I had to apply for a weekend pass whenever I wanted to go, but as long as I was judicious in how often I asked, my battalion commander was willing to accommodate my new-found passion.
The other person I had to be careful with was my wife, Avril, of course. Looking back on it now, I realize that she was a lot more accommodating of my jumping habits than I realized at the time. Not only did she let me go away on those occasional weekends to Braunschweig, but she also allowed me to crisscross Europe on our vacations looking for jump opportunities. The result was that by the time my Berlin tour was over, I had logged-in jumps not only in Germany, but also in Spa, Belgium, and at a jump club near Salisbury, England, and even at an obscure drop-zone somewhere in Northern France. We had been to England for a couple of weeks, and as we were driving back to Berlin across France we passed by an open field that had a sign that read “Baptime de l’Aire”. Even though I had taken French at West Point I did not immediately recognize the phrase as relating to skydiving; but it did not take me too long to imagine that it might.
So, with Avril’s permission I turned the car around and went back to check it out, and sure enough it was a jump club. The French jumpers were more than happy to let me make a couple of jumps with them that day before we continued on our way.
All of the above explains how I ended up with my jump gear in Vietnam. When it was my turn to go to Vietnam in the Fall of 1971, I was due to fly out of McChord Air Force Base in Washington State. As it turned out, my roommate from our Firstie year was in medical school in Seattle. Also, there was at the time a huge skydiving center in nearby Snohomish, Washington, so I took all my jump gear with me. I stayed with John a few days and did some jumping and Space Needle sightseeing, and then headed off to Vietnam with my jump gear in tow.
I was in Vietnam towards the end of American involvement there, so I ended up with several different assignments. I started out with the 101st Airborne Division up in Phu Bai, and from there I went to Long Binh before finally ending up in Cam Rahn Bay. Wherever I went I had my jump gear in tow, with the one exception being when I was at Firebase Jack – for obvious reasons. I never intended nor expected to get the opportunity to jump, of course, but having brought my gear with me to jump near Seattle, I had to take it with me the rest of the way. Oh, I just remembered, I did not take it with me on R&R in Hawaii, either. I’m pretty sure that was one occasion when Avril would not have been so understanding; and to be honest I really didn’t have jumping on my mind then, in any case.
Fast forward to my last week in Vietnam. I was sitting at a table in the Cam Rahn Bay Officer’s Club with several other guys drinking whatever; and somehow the subject turned to skydiving. As it happened, a number of the other guys either had been or still were skydivers. I’m pretty sure I’m the one who then confessed to the absurdity of the fact that I happened to have my jump gear with me in Vietnam. Imagine the shock when two other guys at the table confessed that they too had their jump gear with them! And as if that wasn’t shock enough, two of the remaining guys were Huey pilots and as a matter-of-fact asked the three of us if we would like to make a jump! What? How could that be possible? They simply said that if we wanting to make a jump, we should meet them at 0700 the next morning at a designated hanger, and they would take us up.
We didn’t need to be told twice. At 0700, there we were right where they told us to be, dressed in our jump gear with our chutes on our back, ready to board their chopper. They told us that they would take us out into the boonies and up to about 12,000 feet and let us jump. They also told us that since there was no telling who or what might be out there we should immediately prepare to be picked up once we landed. The other two jumpers were more experienced than me, so they told me to jump first and then they would follow and hook up with me. It all went like clockwork. When the pilots gave us the go signal, I jumped out and did the best spread-eagle position I knew how; and the other two guys came and hooked up with me. We probably held the three-pointed star for about 20-30 seconds and then pulled our ripcords and landed and scooped up our chutes and waited for the chopper. The pilots came down and whisked us away back to the Cam Rahn airfield thus ending my one and only “combat” parachute jump … far and away the most memorable one in my log book!