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In the 82nd they teach you how to walk off of a parachute and live. During one of our Combat Jumps, which is code for “jumping out at around 800 feet”; there are usually several hundred jumpers and a string of aircraft in the air all at one time. Jumping always reminded me of floating jellyfish in the air. On one particular day I came out of the aircraft and all of a sudden I was right on top of another parachute and my own parachute was robbed of air and it collapsed. What I did next was exactly as I was trained to do. I fell flat on the top of the “chute” and scooted and slid down off of one side and grabbed the risers (the strings that attach the parachute to the jumper’s harness. I slid down until I got face to face with my newfound friend who was going to take me safely down to earth; and it was coming fast! The “landing” was the next part that the two of us had to get right and I made sure he remembered as I did that when we hit the ground that we both “tuck and roll to the right!” That kept us from crashing together and possibly breaking both legs, or who knows what else when we hit the ground. We landed safely albeit that he was not happy with me for “hitching” a ride to earth with him. I reminded him that it was he that “stole” the air from my parachute.
During my tour with the 82nd Airborne I had a very close call one particular day in 1973 while testing the new “steerable parachute”. It was customary during this time to level off around 3000 feet to make a “chopper blast”. Jumping out of a helicopter was much more fun and a lot easier than walking out of a jet. I was sitting cross-legged on the floor with the doors removed on both sides of the helicopter in groups of 4 men on each side. I remember one particular day when I slowly uncrossed my legs to hang them off the side of the chopper to prepare for jumping. I got a tap on my shoulder from the Jump Master and without hesitation I pushed off with both hands to begin my decent. The prop wash from the rotors always helped you get a “running” start (so to speak) toward the drop zone. As soon as I was “out the door” I could tell that something was wrong. Three thousand feet ended up being my friend because I used up almost every foot of it before the ground and I met. We’re taught in jump school; called common sense; that when your main shoot doesn’t open to open your reserve parachute. That one day was fraught with problems because my reserve parachute also failed to work. The reserve chute has a smaller chute that pulls the reserve parachute out of its bag. Mine, however, fell out and down around my legs. As I untangled the lines from my around my legs I looked down and saw an ambulance driving toward me to meet me when I hit. I managed to untangle my mess and throw the smaller chute out enough to catch the wind and, so I am told, my reserve parachute opened at about the height of a telephone pole.