"Hey Jim. I enjoyed visiting the Georgetown Times/South Strand News office."
'I did too. It was fun watching how our conversations become part of a newspaper."
"I hope they liked the cookies. Max the baker is one of my favorite humans. But tell me what were you reading all last week? Every time I turned around there you were with that big book."
"Rox, I was rereading "D Day, June 6, 1944," by Stephen Ambrose. You know we just had the 75th Anniversary of the Normandy invasion."
"Yea, I watched some TV specials about the anniversary. It is amazing there are veterans of the historic event still alive to tell their stories. Which stories are you drawn to?"
"I'm particularly drawn to the stories of the airborne soldiers. At jump school at Ft. Benning, I met a jumpmaster (the one who makes sure you leave the plane one way or another) who jumped into Normandy. He shared with me wisdom that is true of life as well as jumping. After my first jump I asked him, do you ever get over the fear of leaving the door of the airplane? 'No' he said. 'And if you do, don't jump.'
"That is wise. if you are getting ready to do something that is difficult, maybe even dangerous, take it seriously. What was jump school like?”
"Jump school is three weeks. During those weeks you practice leaving the door of the plane and landing on the ground (with lots of physical exercise mixed in). Trainees begin jumping off a 3-foot platform. The heights increase and soon you are jumping from 34-foot towers. The top of the tower is a mock plane. You go out the door and ride cables to the ground. To this day if someone were to come up behind me and yell, 'Hit It,' I would assume the position for leaving the plane. Also, if I happen to fall, I still do a PLF (parachute landing fall). The jumper rolls so as not to land straight up and get hurt. During training, dummy chutes are worn to make it realistic. A reserve chute is on your chest and the main chute is on your back. Instead of parachutes, the covers are filled with pillows. Lest someone make a terrible mistake, the main chute on your back has a big yellow 'NO JUMP' stenciled on it."
"Did you get along with the other trainees?"
"I did. They were from all over. There was one young man from the Bronx, New York. He was always behind me in the "stick" (a line of jumpers who eventually would go out the door for real together). He and I would joke with one another, particularly about our accents.”
"What was that first jump like?"
"We went to the airfield; put our real chutes on and waddled out to the plane. The plane had two benches, one on each side. Two cables ran down either side of the ceiling of the plane. Those were the cables we would hook our rip cords up to. A big light was in the ceiling, halfway between the two doors out of which the two lines of jumpers would depart the plane. The light was red. When it turned green, out you go.
"There we were, two sticks of jumpers sitting on the benches looking at each other. As the first person in my stick, I sat next to the door. My Bronx buddy was next to me. In the center of the plane was the jump master, he would give the commands. As we approached the drop zone, the commands began. Stand up, hook up, stand by for equipment check, equipment check (since each jumper couldn't see the main chute on his back, the jumper behind him would check it out to make sure everything looked OK). Equipment check. One okay, Two okay. ... Each examining jumper would sound off. The doors of the plane slid back. Stand in the door. I shuffled forward, put my lead foot over the edge of he door frame, my hands on each side of the door. The light turned green. GO! I leapt into space. The last thing I heard was a Bronx voice yelling, 'Lt. Watkins, why is NO JUMP stamped on your chute?'"
"Wow. Now I know why that first jump was so scary! At happy hour let’s toast your safe landing and toast all the airborne soldiers who jumped into Normandy."
"I'll drink to that Roxie."
The Rev. Dr. Jim Watkins and Roxie live in Pawleys Island.