58 years ago, 24 September 1962, I was a Private E-2, going through the Basic Airborne Course, aka paratrooper jump school, assigned to 43rd Company, 4th Student Battalion, The Student Brigade, in Class #9. The school was run by the 4th Airborne Training Battalion (Airborne), The Student Brigade, U.S. Army Infantry School.
CHECK STATIC LINES!
SOUND OFF FOR EQUIPMENT CHECK!
STAND IN THE DOOR!
The fourth and final week was (hallelujah!) “Jump Week.” It began for me on Monday, 24 September. Preferring death, to any further training, we were ready to put all our training into the real thing, a parachute jump. We were transported to the airfield on buses.
During jump week, each recruit made 5 parachute jumps onto Fryar Drop Zone (DZ), in nearby Alabama, using static-line-deployed T-10 parachutes (35-foot circular, non-steerable, canopy), from a U.S. Air Force C-119, flying 1,250 feet above the ground. We were also equipped with 24-foot circular non-steerable reserve parachutes for backup.
Upon arriving at the airfield, and unloading, we were guided to a large building, in which there were rows of wooden benches. That building was known as the “Sweat Shed.” The name was appropriate. There we sweated from the heat and humidity, and sat, “sweating” our first jump. The jumpmaster briefed us on the details of the upcoming jump. That was done before each jump we made at Fort Benning.
We donned our gear, which included our main parachute rigging and reserve parachute. The main parachute was carried on our backs, the reserve parachute over our stomach region, pull handle (for opening the parachute) located on the right side of the reserve parachute pack.
A yellow “static line” crisscrossed the back of the main parachute container. One end of the line was attached to the top of the parachute, the other attached to a metal clip that we would attach (“hook up”) to the metal cable running down the length of the aircraft.
The C-119 was known as a “Flying Boxcar” because that is what it looked like. Paratroopers also called it the “Flying Coffin.” It was a twin-engine propeller driven cargo aircraft. It also had twin booms leading to two tails, and certainly didn’t look like it could ever get into the air, much less stay there, and fly. Those aircraft certainly were not very aerodynamic, sounded like a bucket of bolts being shook as it “flew,” and were pre-Korean War relics.
We joked that we were better off than the Air Force crew flying them. We were at least able to jump out of them while they were in the air. The Air Force crew had to remain on that pile of junk until it landed back on terra firma.
Jumpers jumped out the doors near the rear of the aircraft. The drop zone (jumper landing area) was a VERY large dirt field (Fryar Field Drop Zone). At the end of each jump each individual recruit was again critiqued by the Drill Sergeant. Sub-perfect performances were of course rewarded with (yep, it hasn’t ended yet) “DROP, GIVE ME TWENTY” push-ups. The first parachute jumps were always “Hollywood” jumps, meaning the jumpers were jumping with only the parachute gear (main and reserve parachutes).
The C-119 seated 42 paratroopers, 21 on each side. As in most Air Force cargo aircraft, the seating was against the outside of the interior, facing inward, with the back against the aircraft skin. The seating in almost all military transport aircraft consisted of nylon cargo netting stretched between pipes, forming an uncomfortable bench.
Before starting the engines, the pilot gave us a safety briefing. It didn’t calm our fears about the aircraft at all. In part, he stated that, “If we have an emergency at a safe altitude, I will turn on the green light and ring the bell continuously. That is your signal to hook up and exit the aircraft as fast as possible.” He then started the engines, which sounded like they were in bad need of maintenance. We taxied to the end of the runway, and rolled onto the runway, facing into the wind.
When we were cleared for takeoff, the pilot pushed the throttles in for full power. Ever so slowly, the aircraft picked up speed, rattling, shaking, and creaking down the runway. Like me, I’m sure everybody wondered if it would get off the ground. I guess you could compare it to riding a scary carnival ride, wondering if it was going to fall apart before it got to the drop zone.
Wonder of wonders, we got off the ground, near the end of the runway, and our pilot proceeded to s-l-o-w-l-y climb to his designated altitude and place our aircraft in formation with the other 119’s, as tail-end Charlie. Tail-end Charlie was the least preferred position for passengers onboard the aircraft, especially in that rickety thing.
Because the pilot was trying to maintain position in relation to the other aircraft, there was usually much more jockeying for position in the tail-end aircraft. We had to fly in this formation for quite a while, waiting for the winds to die down on the drop zone (DZ).
There was a maximum safe wind on the ground for safe parachuting, and it was above that limit. Riding in a C-119 in windy conditions was bad enough but being tail-end Charlie made it worse. We were bouncing all over the place, and the pilot was constantly trying to maintain position in the formation, making for a bouncy roller coaster ride of great proportions.
Most of the jumpers in our aircraft were spilling their guts on the floorboards of the aircraft. That plane STUNK on the inside. By the time the winds were down to acceptable speed, all we wanted to do was get the hell out of that airplane.
The Air Force Loadmaster finally opened the jump door. We knew then, that the time was near. The jumpmaster rose, hooked his static line to the cable, walked to the open door, and looked out the door, studying the terrain below. When he felt the time was right, he turned to face us, stomped his left foot onto the floor, forcefully pushed his hands and arms a little forward and up into the air, palms facing the jumpers, and shouted above the roar of the noisy C-119 twin engines, “GET READY!” At this command, we knew that the time to jump was getting close. The butterflies in the stomach increased a little bit. We unbuckled our seatbelts and prepared our bodies for the next command.
Shortly afterward the jumpmaster shouted, “STAND UP,” lifting both his arms and hands in the universal signal to stand. All of us stood up, facing the steel cable to which the static line hook would be attached. The next command was “HOOK UP,” as he raised his right hand in the air, forming a hook with his index finger and pretending to hook his finger to a cable.
We all detached our static line clips from the top of our reserve parachutes and attached them to the steel cable that ran the length of the aircraft. At “CHECK STATIC LINES,” he pumped his right hand (with the hooked finger) up and down, simulating pulling on the connection. Each of us then pulled on our static lines, making sure they were firmly and safely attached and locked to the cable, and visually checked our line and that of the jumper in front of us.
The jumpmaster then shouted to “CHECK EQUIPMENT,” as he patted his chest exaggeratedly with both hands, simulating checking equipment. We proceeded to double check our equipment, making sure everything was attached correctly, and there were no loose cords anywhere, the man behind each of us checking our parachute set-up on our back.
“SOUND OFF FOR EQUIPMENT CHECK,” with the jumpmaster cupping both hands behind his ears (as if trying to hear better), resulted in each man, from last to first, sounding off their stick number, followed by the word “OKAY” (i.e., NUMBER TEN OKAY . . . NUMBER NINE OKAY, etc.). I was number six, so when my turn came, I yelled out “NUMBER SIX OKAY.”
Satisfied that his stick (group of jumpers) was ready, the jumpmaster returned to the aircraft exit, scanning the terrain. Being number six in the stick, I could see out the door, and see the ground passing by, underneath us. At a designated point over the ground, he pointed to the open doorway and yelled “STAND IN THE DOOR.”
Following that command, the number one man (head of the stick) stood in the exit door, knees slightly bent, body erect, and both hands on the outside of the door, ready to propel himself out of the door upon the command. I would be the sixth to exit the aircraft. In front of me, next to the door, was a red light.
A short time later the red light went off, and the green light lit. The jumpmaster slapped the ass of the number one man, yelling “GO!” The number one man immediately exited the aircraft. Jumping the C-119 consisted of shuffling rearward in the aircraft, to the open door on the side, near the rear of the aircraft. There was no fear in our minds, just a burning desire to get out that door, where there was fresh air and no smell of vomit.
We jumped one at a time, taking just enough time at the door (one second according to training rules) to assume a slightly bent knees attitude, with one foot forward on the edge of the doorway and both hands on the outside edge of the aircraft, to help push each of us out, as we leaped through the door, into space.
When it was my turn, I took position in the door momentarily, jumped up and out the door upon feeling the slap on my ass and the jumpmaster shouting “GO,” assumed a tight body position, with my feet and knees together and locked, my hands on the ends of the reserve chute, head down with chin tucked into my chest, and began counting, “One thousand! Two thousand!” The first feeling was that of the blast of the propeller, pummeling me backwards, making it hard to concentrating on counting. That was known to jumpers as the “prop blast.”
As I fell, I saw the tail of the aircraft getting further away. I was in a momentary freefall. Very shortly thereafter, at about “two or three thousand,” I felt a slight tug when the static line reached its full extension, pulling the cover free from the pilot (drogue) chute, which in turn pulled the main chute out of its bag. The still deflated main chute streamed behind, and above, me, filling with air (hopefully), deploying and giving me an opening jolt, like being pulled upward, just before “four thousand.”
I looked up into the canopy, to ensure the parachute had deployed correctly, and there were no twists, tangles, or tears, followed by checking around to make sure there was no imminent danger of colliding with other jumpers.
Had I not been able to look up, due to the static line being wrapped around my neck (it happened sometimes), I would have had to check my rate of descent by comparing my rate of descent with that of the other jumpers. If I was dropping significantly faster than the other jumpers, I would have deployed my reserve parachute, as instructed during our training.
As soon as I had confirmed my parachute was satisfactory, I scanned the air around me again, as well as below, to confirm I wasn’t in any danger of colliding with any other jumpers or coming down on somebody else’s parachute. Silence prevailed. The only sounds were that of the aircraft flying into the distance and the instructors on the ground barking instructions, through megaphones, to jumpers in the air.
The quiet serenity surrounding me was awesome. I was in another world. And the view from up there was awesome. I could see for miles. I had finally made my first parachute jump, and it was a magnificent feeling and a major adrenaline rush.
I could see the smoke from the smoke grenade on the ground, indicating the direction, and strength, of the wind on the ground. I knew I had to land in the opposite direction the smoke was blowing, to land into the wind.
As I approached the ground, I went over my landing in my mind. Legs slightly bent, feet and knees together, elbows in front of the face, hands even with the top of my helmet, holding the chute risers, and relaxed. We all hit at a speed of about twenty-two feet per second, a hard jolt. Then . . . the landing on the balls of the feet, bending the body slightly into the desired landing direction, to hit the calf, side of the thigh, ass, and back of the shoulder in a semi-rolling action. If you could get up, and walk away from a parachute landing, IT WAS A GOOD ONE.
Once on the ground, we had to rise quickly, and run around the parachute after landing, to collapse it. The wind was trying to drag the chute and us along the ground, so speed was essential. After collapsing the parachute, we gathered it in our arms in an S-roll, and returned to the parachute turn-in area, at a double-time.
The elation on our faces was obvious. That first jump was the easiest of all jumps I made. That was because I was reacting exactly as I had been trained, like a robot. After that jump, I thought more about what I was doing, interjecting a bit of fear into my mind.
From my Book #1, of my four-book set of SLURP SENDS! Book #1 (“SLURP SENDS! On Becoming a Green Beret Book 1”), #2 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of an A-Team Green Beret Book 2”), #3 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of a Green Beret In Vietnam Book 3”) and #4 (“SLURP SENDS! A Green Beret’s Experiences In Vietnam Book 4”) are all available on Amazon or from me.
PHOTO: C-119 “Flying Boxcar (Photo from Internet)