There were two letters I got in May of 1964 that determined the future for me.

GREETINGS from the President!...  that was the biggie and the other one was a letter of rejection from PI for a summer job at Lakewood.

All males between 18 and 26 years old had to put in 6 years of military service in those cold war days.  I got my little notice from the Army as soon as I turned 18 but I was still in High school.  I got a deferment till graduation.

Sick of school and home I wanted to get the hell out and the Air Force was the way I wanted to do it.  The only question was whether to wait till the end of summer or go right in. PI made that decision for me.

I had applied for a summer job there (I wanted those free jumps and hoped to have gotten in 60+ more that summer) but they were full up already.  I signed up for the Air Force in May but we left the induction date empty till I knew if I got the job.  I graduated June 6th and on the morning of June 15th, SSgt Clyde W. Pierce was at my door to take me to the station.  He put me on a train for Newark, NJ and the center where I had to take my draft physical.

They gave us another physical along with Navy and Army inductees and some of the guys pulled the usual stuff of trying to kiss the doctors, fart in their faces during prostate exams etc. etc. to get out of the draft.  The usual procedure was that the second someone pulled something like that, they were passed on the spot!  When the rest saw the first guy get it, they knocked it off and took their chances with the full exam.  I have to wonder though how many of these guys were put in the service with real physical and mental problems that now cost the VA and the taxpayers money every month for disabilities.

Draft dodging had nothing to do with Viet Nam then and I had no time for these people.  Like today's butthead yuppies, they were totally selfish and just didn't want to be bothered with their responsibilities or take orders from anyone.  Like one college room mate I had in 1970 said when he did too many drugs, let his grades drop and then get a draft notice.. "I can't join the Army, I'll miss all the great frat parties!".  Anyway Viet Nam wasn't even an issue in 1964.  No one had even heard of it.  I knew about it and a good deal of it.  I had family doing non-military government work there and in Laos.

After the poking and probing and then the swearing of oaths and the like, we were given a bus ticket to Newark Airport where we sat on our butts with nothing to do till 11pm when we were finally put on board a TWA DC-8, my first flight in anything larger than a Caribou.  We made a stop in Nashville, TN and after that I shared a seat with one of the stews.  She was the love of my life for the next 6 hours and she told me an "in joke" that the stews had when serving coffee.  With the right persons they would show up with the cart and ask, "would you like some TWAMilk, TWACoffee or TWATea?". (if you don't get it ask someone over 40!)  Anyway, we walked off the plane at San Antonio, TX, into the waiting arms of a TI (drill Sgt.).  It was  5am, 85 degrees and 200% humidity!  It hit you like a blast in the face as soon as you walked off the air conditioned plane.  It was 65 and raining when we left New Jersey.

About a month into training I found myself in a car by the barracks buying a rig!  One of the NCO's was getting out of the sport and he had a new rig bought from McElfish Parachute Service in Dallas.  For $55 I got a bright red commercial jump suit, a B-4 harness and container with pads and D-rings, 2 ripcords, an A-3 pilot chute, a red sleeve, a solid yellow 28' C-8 Navy main with a Double-L modificat- ion and a 24' T-7a reserve ready to jump.  I was now fully equipped except for a helmet.  I jumped that rig for the next 11 years including in Viet Nam and finally sold it in 1975 to Ron Rhodes.  He later bought a full SIERRA rig from me (I was a Security Dealer by then) and sold the yellow canopy to another guy who sold it to the Longmont, Colorado DZ operator.  I saw it in the air as late as 1980.

I was sent to Lowry AFB in Denver, Colorado on July 19th 1964 and as soon as I got written permission to jump I contacted Lud Lincoln, the biggest name in jumping on Base.  He was a drummer in the Base Band.  The only skydiving in the Denver was at Columbine Airport which was was at the south end of Kipling Ave.  The airport and DZ are now a housing development just north of Chatfield Res..  There had been a DZ at East Colfax Airport but Columbine was it for the moment.  The airport was actually on top of a hill and both ends of the runway had a cliff at the end!  The DZ itself was about half a mile away.  It had a good pea pit but there was also a rock quarry next to it. 

It was Sept. 13th, my 13th jump and I got into the bright red jumpsuit and a Cessna 185 for the jump.  The exit (my first from anything but a Norseman) was excellent but luck was not with me. Too many 13's.

That's me above and what little you can see as the Snohomish door closes.  Notice the single little step you had to use for an exit position!

Up till then I had been jumping LoPo canopies at sea level on a drop zone where you sank 4 inches into the sand with each foot step.  Here it was a surplus C-9 HiPo at 5800 feet above sea level and that damned quarry.  Guess what Thom was blown into very hard?   One broken leg and ankle!  (What the hell, I saved my money and paid the then princely sum of $25 for a custom made BELL X-500 helmet for when I got back into the air and I still use the helmet today!)

I ended up going thru tech school in a full leg cast and sticks.  The para-gear went east to New Jersey (Helmet and jumpsuit, they had me jumping DZ rigs in Colorado) as did my 2 hunting rifles (so much for bagging an Elk that year).  I was 1st in my class till the cast came off and I dropped to third (too much party for Thom).

I got out of the cast and cleared for jumping again by January 1965 when I was transferred to Altus AFB, Oklahoma.  I got back to New Jersey and Lakewood and got in what jumps I could in the winter weather.  I got in 5 jumps in 2 weekends, the first 4 on my own rig for the first time and the 5th jump on a LoPo again. (Below left) Bad weather was moving in fast and I didn't have time to repack and rented a main.  Boy did I feel the landing difference with that Gary Gore LoPo!  It was also damned cold that January and February and the temp at even low altitude was well below zero F.  I wore long john underwear and a heavy flight jacket over the jump suits.

Above:  Grunting while tightening the gear down and after the last jump in New Jersey before going to Oklahoma.  Notice how deep you sank in the sand walking.

On my 16th jump on FEB. 6th I had my first malfunction.  My B-4 container was not extended for sport use and hard pulls were common then with this arrangement.  I got out for a short delay and did my "cross pull" but it wouldn't pull.  I went in with both hands and got it but I was head down and slightly right low when it opened. (Note: hard pulls were so common then that two hand pulls were part of the training)  That right shoulder down was enough to make the canopy open on one side first and it inverted!  I had seen inverted canopies before and since but that was my only one.  I landed safely but what a pain!  Your sleeve and pilot chute are hanging down from the apex inside the canopy!  But the real fun is the fact that the modification is in the front of the canopy!  If you pull the right toggle you make a left turn and vice versa!!  Then there was the landing problem.  Do you make a down wind/up wind landing or an up wind/down wind landing???  In other words do you take a slower horizontal landing speed and get a face full of sand if you don't do a perfect forward PLF or choose a feet, ass and head landing at the wind speed plus your canopies forward speed.  The winds were about the same speed as the forward speed of the canopy so I landed facing down wind, the canopy up wind but I was coming straight down.  One soft landing in that sand and all was right.  I had to disconnect the canopy from the harness to straighten it out for the next jump.

I got it sorted out OK and made another jump with a nice 50' accuracy.  Not bad for a slow Double-L canopy in 8-10mph winds.  I had enough tickets left for another jump and I was leaving for Oklahoma the next day and wanted to use them.  There was one load left before they called it a weather day and I had to rent gear or not make the load.

As a fun note, if you wanted to rat fink someone, you got to their rig and reversed their risers which made it look like an inversion except the pilot chute is outside the canopy in the normal way.  Another one I saw and used for years till squares came in was to fill you mates rig with newspapers or confetti!  This one set of brothers at Lakewood were like the odd couple.  One was "Jack the Lad" and the other very serious.  The serious one bought a new rig first and it was a Pioneer sport rig with either a C-9 candy stripe or he actually had a LoPo made to those colors (what a waste!).  Anyway his brother went out and found bags or white and orange confetti.  Those in on the joke had him paged to the office just as he was about to pull the sleeve down on the canopy (on the packing table).  As soon as he was out of sight, 3 blokes descended on the canopy with the bags of confetti, filled the canopy and stood back while the brother finished packing.  Half the DZ was out in the sand circle to watch the jump and when he opened this huge cloud of orange and white fluff blossomed! It was easily twice the size of the canopy and also buried the hanging jumper!  Then suddenly out of the cloud a 24' reserve opened up!  The poor guy thought he had blown the canopy up with all the orange and white flying around him!  Usually when you did this type of things you filled a persons container with newspaper!  We last did it to Bill Meine in 1976.  He put the entire Sunday Denver Post all over Douglas County! This added an entirely new dimension to the sport.  Not only could he shoot accuracy but he could do the cross words at the same time!! More on Bill later.


 This page last updated on 09 January 2000