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.