ROCKWALL, TX (Nov. 1, 2022) All Soldiers volunteering for paratrooper operations must go first to a three-week school where they learn how to jump out of an airplane. The instruction includes five actual jumps from airplanes.
The first real jump after the school with an Airborne unit is one that all jumpers remember!
How could I ever forget my “first” real jump.
It’s the early spring of 1960 in West Germany. Having reported to my unit as a brand-new 2nd Lieutenant in the 8th Infantry Division, I was told that my platoon of 35 men would be supporting one of the two Airborne Battle Groups in the Division. And to make it more interesting, an exercise was in the process of being planned where 3,000 Soldiers of the Battle Group would be airlifted from Germany to a location in France and them flown back to conduct paratrooper operations in a simulated battle area in Germany.
Movement from home base to Wiesbaden airfield and then the airlift to France were both relatively uneventful. However, once we landed in France, things got interesting as we all were placed behind barbed wire “to prevent intelligence about our intended operations leaking out.”
That was OK…but then it started to rain!
Since this was an airborne operation, the only shelter available was either a poncho or a “pup tent” (a two-man tent where you carry one half on your back). You marry up with another Soldier, and if the two of you can get the tent up before the rain starts, you can remain relatively dry and warm. Unfortunately, we didn’t… so you can imagine how we looked and felt the next morning.
The second thing that went wrong was the weather. The winds were too high to conduct paratrooper operations. Stuck in the two-man tents for at least another day eating good old C-Rations!!
The next day it looked good for jumping. Go to the runway, put on your “chute”, store your rifle in its weapon case, strap it to your body, have an equipment check, get on the airplane, and its time for my 35 men and me to go jump!
Since I am brand new, an experienced Sergeant will be the Jump Master (the person who controls the jumping from the plane).
We are jumping out of one of the older C-119 airplanes. It is a two-engine plane with twin booms that has a door in the rear on both sides for the jumpers. Paratroopers sit on both sides of the plane and at the appropriate time, we all go through a sequence of jump commands that take us to the door and then out into the wild blue yonder.
The troubles start about 20 minutes from the “drop zone” (where we are to jump). Out of nowhere, one of my Sergeants stands up and says he is quitting the airborne and will not jump. (Now in an Airborne unit, this is the worse sin one can do, especially when you are in the plane getting ready to jump)!
The Jumpmaster gets to the Soldier as we get nearer the drop zone and tells the trooper to get ready because he is going to jump! Again, he refuses, and I am thinking to myself, “I wonder if all jumps in a real unit are like this!”
Finally, the Jumpmaster accepts the Sergeants refusal and tells him to get up and go to the cockpit out of the way of the other jumpers.
On mass jumps like this, it is common to have “door bundles” which are pushed out before the jumpers leave the plane. These bundles contain supplies that the Soldiers will then pick up upon their landing. The bundles have their own parachute and are pushed out of the plane by a Soldier.
We are rapidly coming up to the jump point. The paratrooper in the door is trying to get the bundle correctly placed in the door. Its time to push the bundle out: he does, and his front reserve parachute handle gets accidently caught in the door bundle and out goes the bundle AND the Soldier. WoW, this gets more exciting by the minute! I don’t know if all jumps are like this, but for sure I will always remember this one!
All ends well; no one is hurt, we find the door bundle (and the Soldier that unexpectedly went out the plane with the bundle), the Sergeant who quits is reassigned; and I am a much wiser 2nd, Lieutenant. I now know two things that are really important: listen and watch the old timers who know what they are doing…and don’t get in the way of door bundles!!
Submitted Letter to the Editor/Guest Column contributed by Jerry Hogan, a former Rockwall County Judge. He can be reached at email@example.com or 214-394-4033.