The Decision that may have Saved My Life that I’ll Never Forget
When I was in the military eons ago I ended up going into the paratroopers. I originally signed up to go to Germany.
The only reason I enlisted in the Army instead of the Air Force, which I really wanted, was the shorter three year enlistment.
Jumping from a Plane was Second Nature to Me
As a paratrooper, jumping out of a plane became second nature to me. I enjoyed it and wanted as many jumps as I could get. But one jump sticks in my mind as one I hoped never to experience again.
It was a mass jump where many planes full of paratroopers jumped almost simultaneously. This was the usual thing as it was rarely a single plane. As usual, I was not afraid of anything. Unlike some others, I eagerly awaited the signal to jump. We jumped out the side door of the big military plane, usually a C-130.Sometimes we jumped from the rear of the plane. Several movies show paratroopers or Navy Seals jumping out the rear of C-130’s.
In fact, last night I saw a movie I never got around to seeing “Act of Valor”, and at the beginning it shows the Navy Seals jumping out the rear of the plane.
Time to Jump
Today was another jump and I was ready and anxious. I had my camera around my neck because I sometimes took pictures while falling. But there wasn’t much time between jumping from the plane until we hit the ground. I’m not sure of the distance, but it is pretty low. Maybe a couple of thousand feet from the ground at most, I would guess.
I took a big leap and jumped out the open door at the signal. We jumped out of the big C-130 over the drop zone somewhere in Kentucky or Tennessee.
After I jumped and my chute opened (it opens automatically), I noticed was falling rather fast. My parachute had fully opened only to have a large hole near the top of the chute.
It looked like the hole was about 3 feet in diameter, but that was just a guess.
I’d seen other Paratroopers have Parachute Problems in the Air
I vividly remembered several times seeing jumpers having problems with their chute opening. They had to pull the rip cord on their reserve parachute which we all carried. But the problem was many times the jumper got tangled up in the reserve parachute lines and lost control entirely.
I Picked the Decision to “Do Nothing”
I quickly weighed my options. There were only two options and just a second or two at the most to make a decision. One way would be to open my reserve parachute and hope I could do everything right and that it would open properly and slow down my decent so I could make a proper landing.
This was no easy feat. If one panicked, which was often the case in such an emergency situation, the odds of a safe landing were almost nil. The other decision would have me do nothing and hope I wasn’t falling too fast to survive a hard hit when I landed.
This was a risky option too, for if I hit the ground too hard, well that could be the end of Charles. My life could be snuffed out in a split second.
I quickly scanned around me and noticed that although I was falling faster than the others in the air around me, that I wasn’t streaming past them like I had seen others in trouble with malfunctioning parachutes do.
I decided it would be too risky to open my reserve chute but I knew I might hit the ground pretty hard. That might be better than getting tangled up in the parachute cords like I had seen so many guys do. Even if I hit the ground rather hard, but landed on my side the way we were taught, I still might survive if I were lucky.
The decision I made was to take no action. To Do Nothing was my best chance of survival in my situation. I crossed my fingers and said a quick prayer while my decent scared the living daylights out of me thinking of the consequences if I hit the ground too hard.
A Hard Landing was OK but knew I had Survived Intact
I hit the ground hard, but actually not as hard as I had experienced on my second jump. That was about two years before and I had well over two dozen jumps since then. I immediately got up and ran around the back of the parachute to collapse it lest the wind started to drag me over the rocky field.It was my lucky day. I had a malfunctioning parachute, was falling fast and didn’t panic and get in serious trouble like so many I had seen before. In fact, I had no trouble and landed safely. It could have been much, much worse. Someone up there was definitely looking out for me!
A few months before, I had seen a soldier jump and get tangled up in his reserve parachute. It caused the main parachute to go from a partially open state to a full streamer and zoom straight down.
All the while the jumper was all tangled up in the reserve chutes lines. Unfortunately he hit the ground in the wrong position on his back and broke almost all the bones in his body. He lived, however, but was in very serious shape. He stayed in the hospital over a year recuperating. That ended his career and ruined his life in many ways.
I lived to tell about my jump so I consider myself very lucky. Now some 50+ years later I was thinking about that lucky jump. Watching a hang glider high overhead ride the heat currents maybe a couple of blocks over my head reminded me of my parachuting days.
I had wanted to hang glide some years ago, but deemed it too risky for an old man like me. But it still brings back memories when I used to see lots of sky divers jumping near me from the hills above Lake Elsinore. Now they jump in Perris, California some 25 minutes away.
Not opening my reserve parachute was a great decision and probably the best decision I ever made. I had seen so many others open their reserve parachutes and suffer bad consequences in one way or another when things didn’t go right with either parachute once they did. That’s their main parachute or the small reserve parachute we have fastened to our chest.
Oh such memories. I wonder if there are any old folks out there that ever jumped with me at Ft. Campbell Kentucky with the 101st Airborne in the early 1960s? I was in Headquarters company, AG (Assault Gun) platoon and later in the Signal platoon. But I’ve long since forgotten which battalion I was in. See next sentence.
Feb 1, 2021
A couple of weeks ago I got an email from someone. It turned out he was in the same Battalion, the 501st Infantry at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. It was amazing to correspond with someone I knew way back then.
Charles Harmon is a senior citizen living in California. He has had a most unusual life some of which is written about on this personal blog. Moving from Chicago to Los Angeles, to Hongkong (meeting Filipinos and eventually marrying one) for a month, then back to Pasadena California. Never satisfied with the status quo, he went from an assembler to a computer operator, to an electronic technician, to computer programmer/analyst with real estate investments on the side.
Copyright © 2008 – 2021 Charles Harmon