Thursday, June 7, 2018

That brings back memories.


I actually forgot that June 6th was D-day.  I hardly ever watch TV anymore, or I would have caught it because a lot of the stations show "The Longest Day " every year.  I didn't really think about it until I read Dr. Jim's blog, and he was telling how a C-47 that was in the D-Day drop is being restored.  That reminded me.

Every since I saw "Band of Brothers" years ago,  on the anniversary of D Day I always think of the scene from the movie where they are jumping over Normandy .  It takes a lot of courage to just jump out of an aircraft. To do it under those circumstances, I think only peer pressure could motivate people. They were made of better tempered metal than I am.






As I've mentioned in other posts, I went through the Army's jump school at Benning in 1973. Strangely, for an aviator,  I had (and still have) a deathly fear of heights. I didn't want to go. They were "permissive" orders, which meant that you spent a month at Benning, rather than at home taking it easy, before you went on your summer active duty training for a couple of months.


There were two kinds of  Marine/Navy reservists going to the University of New Mexico on the Navy's dime.  Most of us were right out of High School, with no prior service. The others were Viet Nam veterans, enlisted men who were getting degrees and commissions.  We looked up to them, for obvious reasons.

I told my roommate, who was all Gung Ho for jump school, that I wasn't going to volunteer. Shortly thereafter, the First Sgt. of our unit called me into his office. His name was First Sgt. Herringer.  He was a grunt, with "good" medals (not the fire watch ribbon, or stuff some buddy wrote him up for on the staff. His were the real thing.)  He talked to me and explained that it was good for the unit to have everybody who could get permissive orders to go, and it was a wasted opportunity if we didn't fill our quota. He also explained to me that it might make the others less than enthusiastic about my membership in the unit if I gave the impression I lacked "moral fiber."  I don't think they use that term anymore, but in those days it meant you didn't have any guts.

He wasn't intimidating or threatening, he just wanted me to understand that I had been selected to go, and if I didn't volunteer there would be ramifications.  On the day everybody who was on the list fell out for formation, I still figured I wouldn't go, because I was afraid I might choke and not jump. I didn't realize at the time that if you choked in the door, the jump master would save you from disgrace by putting a boot in your back and pushing you out.  But when the Staff Sgt. holding the formation called for anybody on the Benning List who did not want to go to step one pace forward, nobody moved, including me. That's how I know what peer pressure will do. Especially to Southerners, who have a reputation to uphold.

So I went, and it wasn't so bad. When we jumped,  as I got close to the door I just closed my eyes. You went out like machine gun cartridges going into a chamber, so one second you were in, and the next you were out the door. I only opened my eyes when it got quiet and I stopped just spinning through the air.  Both my brothers went through Benning from their reserve unit at Oregon State, so all three of us qualified. I never jumped out of an airplane again though. So I'm not sure the Marine Corps got their money's worth out of my training, but that's how it goes.

I still have my certificate of qualification framed on my "I love me" wall.  I have the picture they took in the last week, in a fake doorway of an aircraft, which you could buy prints of when you finished. I also have my Jump School book, which is kind of like a high school yearbook, but a lot thinner. It had the pictures of everybody who completed the course in that cycle, and some stock pictures of activities throughout the course.  I don't really remember a whole lot about it, except that I was in really good shape, but it was still physically demanding because of the heat and humidity. Afterwards, I was glad I went because I was "Jo Toe" with my friends instead of the goat, and because I could wear the jump wings. Of course, just getting through Benning did not make me a paratrooper, in any way, shape or form, but it was something we were all proud of.








24 comments:

  1. Like you I am a licensed pilot but I don't like heights at all. In the plane it don't bother me. Perhaps it is the false sense of security of that thin layer of aluminum between me and the precipice. But get me on a fixed building three stories up and and I get get heeby-jeebies looking down. A couple years ago I went for a ride in one of those powered parachutes. A two seat job with wheels. As long as we were at tree top level and I had a sense of motion I was good. But the pilot took us up to about 1500 feet over a lake and at that altitude there is no sense of motion at all when cruising speed is only about 36 mpg and I felt like I was just sitting in a lawn chair with my feet dangling over the edge up there an I did not care for it one bit. Had to grit my way through that one. Jumping out of a plane, I seriously doubt I will ever do that unless a wing falls off and I actually have a parachute.

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    1. I always felt secure in an aircraft, or if I didn't on occasion, it wasn't because of the height. I just felt comfortable flying. But climbing up a ladder is purgatory for me . Working on the roof, I just have to do it because it has to be done. I flew in a hot air balloon once, as a passenger, and I hated it. I only did it because my brother had gone to some trouble and expense to set it up. I never would have gotten into the contraption you did.😲

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  2. Great writing today! It made me smile when you talked about how the services arrange for volunteers. Stu told me the story about how, when he was in Vietnam in 1970, his unit knew something was about to happen, and got called into a group, lined up, and told that volunteers were needed to fly into Cambodia. And that anyone who didn’t want to volunteer should step forward. Same outcome, everyone went...devious bastards aren’t they:)

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    1. Nobodyody wants to let down their friends. I imagine without that need to hold up your end and not "flake" on your buddies, soldiers would be a lot less formidable than they are.

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  3. Harry, in 1962, at 17, my father enlisted in the Army, over my grandmother's signature. He was the oldest of six kids, his parents had divorced, & it was up to him to keep the rest up. He looked at the situation, looked around at '62 East Texas, and quit school and raised his hand. He once told me he had wanted to be a lawyer; the kids needed to be provided for then, not later, so he joined. Once in, he volunteered for jump school, and afterward served in the 101st Airborne.
    Dad was terrified of heights, but it paid, then, $50 extra a month, IIRC. He said that, oddly, he wasn't scared when he jumped (after the first time) until he got close to the ground. When he got down to 100 feet or so he got scared again, but was too busy trying to land successfully to be really afraid.
    --Tennessee Budd

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    1. People used to join for a lot of reasons and frequently they were practical. I served with a good many Marines who were given the choice of joining up or going to jail. Most of them did fine and a good many were career men. Some joined for adventure, or to get away from home, or like your dad, because it was the best opportunity they had at the time. I think everyone had something about jumping that was the "worst part." For me, it was absolutely the wait in the aircraft. After we hooked up, it was all muscle reflex. I always felt ok after the parachute opened , all the engine racket was gone and it was so quiet. Your father was right though, more people got hurt hitting the ground than any other way.

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  4. Excuse the plaudit, but what a great post. I can picture the jump scene... speaking of which, my eldest boy's fixing to enlist this summer and go Airborne, hopefully. I tell him -- make it a matter of stubborn pride that you DO NOT give up.

    He'll discover that, soon enough.

    Cheers.

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    1. Tell your boy to really work hard on getting into shape. More people in my cycle dropped out from failure to make the runs and the physical training than anything to do with jumping. Southern Georgia feels like the breath of hell with the heat and humidity. If he goes down there from basic, he won't have people he already knows to boost and motivate him, so he will have to stay motivated on his own til he makes some friends. It's worth the effort. If he can successfully complete the airborne course, he can go on to be a real deal paratrooper. The days of the big drops are over, but they are elite troops.

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  5. Peer pressure, the reason the military is full of young guys. A 40 year old would already have a pretty good idea of their "moral fiber" one way or the other.

    Still, gotta give you credit. I imagine I'd only jump out of a plane if the wing was on fire.

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    1. I expect you would do it if people you valued wanted you to, given what I know of you from your adventures past, you seem pretty stolid and "get it done."

      I do think that military novices are far more likely to get into"situations" than the old salts are. That's why operational units with veterans in their ranks fair better than those largely comprised of "boots." There is no substitute for experience.

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  6. Hey Harry,

    (captaincrunch)

    I would have jumped out of an aircraft if the Navy would have paid for it.
    I like the adrenaline rush and adventure. I have always kinda pushed the limits in the things I do because it is fun. My last big 'fun' was 'bugging in' for Hurricane Harvey. I went outside in the 96 MPH winds. Held on to the side of my house and marveled at the power of nature that we don't normally experience.
    I know I take a lot of risks but I have to experience stuff first hand instead of watching tv and reading books on the experience. I can now say I lived through lots of experiences and I have lived a much fuller life.

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    1. I can understand that. I envy you, as I've largely lost any real desire for adventures these days. I honestly think that at this stage of my life adventure really translates into things that have to be dealt with, rather than something I relish. But I do know guys my age who still enjoy pushing the envelope. I often consider that by the time I was thirty I'd already done more, seen more, and been more places than most people do in a lifetime, so I guess for me it all evens out.

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    2. you used up your adventure quotient younger than most.

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    3. Yes, and I had a lot less to take into consideration back then. I could pretty much put everything I owned into a car, and I had no wife or kids or pets. Not to mention being in better shape.

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  7. Before the first jump I definitely didn’t want to go. I think not wanting to jump out of a perfectly good airplane is normal. Of course I did it. Then I repeated it 4 more times to get the merit badge.

    I actually liked the falling part. Pretty cool to see everything. The landing part sucked.

    I’m glad that I did it. Also have no desire to do it again. I’ve heard civilian chutes are a lot better about that but I don’t really need another expensive hobby.

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    1. I'm glad I went now, but I think a lot of times, when I'm thinking about things that happened forty years ago, I might not remember the unpleasant parts.😕

      No, I think we both already have enough going on without sky diving..

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    1. Thanks Randy. Ever so often, something like Dr. Jim mentioning the C 47 restoration brings back memories from a long time ago.

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  9. ah, ft. benning. did basic and infantry ait there in 1981, then wound up there again 20 years to the day to get specific training for bosnia. it hadn't changed one iota, not one. memories....

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    1. When I went through it looked pretty much like it did in WW2, or so I was told. I wonder if they are still using the same towers and such. Those big high ones they lifted you up on and then dropped you, somebody told me they were originally used in a world's fair in the thirties as a ride. Don't know if that was true but it sounded true. I sometimes think I would like to go back to New River Air Station and Camp Lejeune, just to see what they look like now. When I was in, I used to see old tubby guys with Marine Corps ball caps on base, wandering around, and I wondered why they came back. I can understand it now.

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  10. You are an amazing guy, Harry.

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    1. It's amazing I'm still around, considering some of the things I got myself into. Just lucky, I guess!

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  11. Peer pressure is also how I ended up there. I was at Armor Officer Basic in January of 86. I had given a guy a ride to class that day. He asked me to drive him to a meeting about airborne school after classes were over. He asked me if I wanted to go in and listen to what they had to say. We had been in the army about two weeks at that point. They passed around a sign in sheet, which I signed because I figured someone would want to know where I was and that would show I was "somewhere". It turned out that it was not a "sign in" sheet but a "sign up" sheet. The captain in charge said, " congratulations for volunteering, we will see you every morning at 4:30 for extra pt training." This did not suit me at all, but I was not going to stand up in front of everyone else and ask to be taken off the list. I figured I would get out of it later on. About two weeks later, another list was passed around at pt. I signed it, cause you know, it would prove I was there (you think I would have learned my lesson the first time). The captain took the list and said, "congratulations, you are now locked in to go to airborne school. We have put extra time and money into training you and you have to go now." I never figured out what the extra money was they spend on us. We ran all over Fort Knox and did a lot of push ups, pull ups and sit ups, but I don't remember them spending any money on us. Again, I was not really happy, but I still figured I would get out of it. I didn't get out, but the knucklehead I gave a ride to the meeting got out. I showed up at Benning on June 10th. It was hot, muggy and hot. I figured I would keep a low profile and stay out of the Black Hats gunsights. They had the 2nd LT's count off by fours the first day. "Congratulations, every one who has the number four is now a stick leader." Yep, I was a stick leader. I went to the gig pit every single day for some infraction, usually made up, by the instructors. I will never forget having sawdust EVERYWHERE, all day, for two solid weeks. I was in great shape though.

    Anyway, I survived. I was also terrified of heights, but they trained you so well that it was just a natural reaction to jump out of the plane. My only jump that scared me was when I was the first one out of the plane and part of the drop zone was not clear. We circled around for twenty minutes or so waiting for the word to go. The plane kept circling and I was kind of leaning out the door. I could hear the engines and feel the wind. But once the instructor yelled go, I just went. And like you said, after the trauma of the first four or five seconds, the chute opened and it became peaceful and quiet. At least until the instructors on the ground came into range with their bull horns. Good times!

    One last thing that stuck with me. We were getting ready to do our first jump. We were sitting in an auditorium and everyone was nervous. The guy in charge of the airborne school was a Lieutenant Colonel named Leonard Scott. He wrote a couple of books about the Vietnam war that were popular in the late 80's and early 90's. Real tough southern guy, called the place, "his airborne school." The cadre asked if anyone did not want to jump. I am sure nobody wanted to jump but they were more scared to admit that than to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. I know I sat on my hand to keep it from popping up. Anyway, one seventeen year old kid out of the 400 or so who had made it that far, raised his hand. What impressed me was that the cadre did not chastise him. In fact, it was the opposite. That bad ass Leonard Scott went over to talk to him and he said, "hey, you and I, we are going to jump together." And they did. That was a great leadership lesson that always stuck with me. You don't always have to be a hard ass.

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    1. Strange, how many people wind up going through Fort Benning at the Airborne school, who are less than enthusiastic about it, and just kind of wind up there. Yet it turns out to be a positive experience, overall. In point of fact, for people like you and me, if anybody had wanted to parachute us into an area they could have just stuck a parachute on us and done it, with no training. I read "Street Without Joy" and "Hell in a Very Small Place" by Bernard Fall, and it was pretty common practice for the French to just drop "legs" into LZ's in Vietnam with no training, if they needed to. According to Fall, those guys suffered no more jump injuries than the trained guys.

      Still, maybe the military just wanted a trained pool of people with different military occupational specialties, and I guess they would have had a hard time filling the different classes with people who were really going to be paratroops.

      We went through morning PT sessions in my reserve unit year round, but they were very tough on people going to OCS in their third year summer. So I had been prepped for that before going to Benning. The trouble was, Albuquerque, where I was going to school, was much cooler and dryer than Georgia. Southern Georgia in summer kicked my derriere, prepared or not!

      I'm glad they didn't kick that guy out of the course, and that Lt.Colonel Scott helped him get through.If the soldier had dropped out, he'd have had to deal with that the rest of his life. Everybody has enough baggage without something like that on his conscience.

      I enjoyed your comment. I always like to share common experiences with other vets. I was in from 1971 through 1986, so we overlapped there just for a little time.

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