By Jim Regan
Back in the days of "Yester Year," when the 101st Airborne Division had Paratroopers, there were folks who had the responsibility, job, assignment, to successfully conduct an "Airborne" Operation. As a young Soldier and even younger Paratrooper, I looked up to these guys who did their magic, and got us onto the Drop Zone (DZ) safe and sound.
Sometime in late 1960, I had the great opportunity to attend/ train at/ and graduate from the Jumpmaster School of the 101st Airborne Division. I had pushed, as my fellow, young Noncommissioned Officers (NCOs) had pushed, to get ALL the schooling and training that we could. Our Mentors/ Teachers/ & Trainers then were the NCOs from WWII and Korea.
I need to tell you about how I felt each time the Aircraft (A/C) engines cranked. While performing Airborne Operations (Jumping from Airplanes.) in Jump School, at Fortress Campbell, KY, the Instructors absolutely terrorized us and drove us to a point of "Quitting!" No, way! My buddies and I had made a pact that we would not QUIT! Got through Jump School, and knew that each time I set foot in a C-119, or any other type Aircraft, I'd get sick! Already knew that and would struggle through that .Always got my share of "burp bags" when I boarded the A/C. Smoking and joking did not eliminate the problem. I finally decided what caused it, I was scared!
As one of the up and coming guys in the Company, I found out that if you harassed the Operations NCO, you could get various schools. Lots of competition in the Unit, since the young guys wanted to excel, achieve rank. Months go by, I get selected to attend the 101st Airborne Jump Master Course at Fortress Campbell!! What a day for me. I am the envy of lots of my comrades. I make it thru the two week course; Night Jumps, Combat Equipment Jumps, Door Bundles etc. I proudly return to my unit, E Co. 1/501st Abn.
The week after my return I got a surprise. "Regan, you will Jumpmaster the next Operation." Four A/Cs for the Rifle Company. They were C-130 Hercules, new to the Air Force and the Paratroopers. A sweet and powerful Airplane! Wow! I'm ready! The load or "Chalk" for the A/C is my Weapons Platoon. My Platoon Sergeant, a crusty WWII and Korean War Vet, is part of my "Load!" I do all that I need to do; Pre-jump training, Parachute issue, Rigger checks, check A/C, load and get ready to jump. The Jump, from start to finish goes incredibly smooth and according to plan. My Plt. Sgt. and Section Ldr. tell me that I, "Done Good!" Amen! Who else would you need to critique you?
Unusually, the Jumpmasters at our Rifle Company were not always Officers. In fact, it seemed as if there was a great tendency to give the Jumpmaster assignments to Junior NCOs! As I grew in the Army, I saw that that was a good thing. Perpetuation, depth in a unit, train the youngsters!
As I was growing up in the Army ; NCO Academy, The Ranger School, Air Delivery School, Air Transportability School, and lots of others, I learned to do things even if I was airsick, sea sick, or just scared. It was an amazing thing to me, that during Jumpmaster School I didn't get an opportunity to get sick. After many Jumps as Jumpmaster, Safety NCO, or just a "strap hanging" jumper, I did not get sick unless it was really "rocking and rolling!" Reckon that if I had something to do to take my mind off it, I got thru fine. There were some trying times in the air. Flying for hours, in the heat of South Carolina, with the doors closed, in a C-119!!! UGH! MISERY! Total air sickness for all on the aircraft including the Crew Chief. He had a heck of a job cleaning his airplane that day after we slipped and slid out the door!
One particular "Jump" comes to mind. I was tapped to Jumpmaster for a Demonstration Jump at Yamoto DZ in early 1961. There would be nine C-119s, flying in "Vs" of three, 40 jumpers each, with two non-jumping Safety NCOs. We would jump in the morning and the afternoon. GEEZ! Two jumps in one day! They were "Hollywood" jumps, no equipment, just pistol belt with canteen & 1st Aid Pouch. Noon chow in the Assembly Area near the DZ.
It was the Armed Forces Celebration and the 101st Airborne Division was putting on a show for the families and friends of Ft. Campbell. Everything went well. I was warned by my Senior NCOs that I should not get caught up with the festivities and be as "hard nosed" as I usually was. I took their counsel. Did my magic as a Jumpmaster; checked, double checked the troopers. Checked the A/C. All appeared to be "good to go." We lifted off from Campbell Army Airfield and were on our way to a really great "Hollywood Jump," at Ft. Campbell. As the Jumpmaster, I did all my stuff, smoked about a hundred cigarettes. In the C-119, the Crew Chief stood behind me in the aft section, with both doors opened and secured, as I made my checks and hollered out Jump Commands. I called out the checkpoints for the DZ, stood in the door and exited the A/C. on the Green Light! After my parachute opened, I looked back, as best as I could see, it appeared that all the Jumpers had got out OK. My two Safety NCOs, who would not jump, made sure all Jumpers were clear of the A/C and pulled in the deployment bags from the chutes. What a sight! 360 Jumpers in the air!!!
Rolled up the "Stick" (herded all my guys) and made it to the assembly area. All troops accounted for, nobody bummed up, everyone is hungry! Loaded up on trucks and headed for the chow area.
At the chow area, my two "Safety NCOs" catch up with me. They pulled me aside. "Sergeant Regan, the Crew Chief 'played' with the troops as they exited the A/C!" What!!?? Seems as if the Crew Chief was pulling at the troops, grabbing their static lines and laughing and interfering with their exit from the airplane.
We chowed down, loaded back up on the "Cattle" trucks. Got to the airfield and drew our parachutes. We would be jumping from the same aircraft. Went thru all the rigger checks, checked out the aircraft. Same A/C as the A M jump. Sure enough, same Crew Chief. I told my Safety NCOs that I would be the "Last Jumper." The Crew chief was at the rear of the A/C as before. We went thru the same drill and when we reached the last check point I told the first Trooper from each "Stick" to, STAND IN THE DOOR! They were surprised since the Jump Master usually stood in the door as the first Jumper. GREEN LIGHT!! GO, GO, GO!!! GET OUT OF MY AIRCRAFT!!! I moved forward a bit and observed the Crew Chief. He kept slapping at the Troops as they exited the A/C and interfering with the flow of the Troopers out the doors. Last Troop is out and I approach the door. Looking at my two Safety NCOs, I smile, grab the Crew Chief by his harness and pull him out of the A/C with me!! It was the lousiest exit I ever made from an airplane. As I was coming down I looked around. Hundreds of camouflaged parachutes filled the sky. Awesome, inspiring, pumped up!!!. Then I caught sight of a LONELY, BRIGHT ORANGE parachute. THE CREW CHIEF!!!
Once again, the Company is assembled and loaded onto trucks. The DZ Safety Officer is running up and down the road, looking for the guys from the A/C with the "DUMMY" Crew Chief. We all laughed and had a good time over that. I got a lot of smiles from the troops that day.
While in Panama with the 508th Airborne, the Battalion established a Jumpmaster School. The Instructors used to wake me up on Saturday mornings to "check ride" NCOs in the course. I literally jumped at the chance. Panama is where I achieved my 100th Jump. Celebration!!! Nothing like flying in over the Pacific Ocean, watching the shrimp boats and hanging out the door!!
On my first tour in Vietnam, the Pathfinder Platoon Sergeant contacted me and asked if I'd get a couple of Jumpers and "Burn up" some parachutes. Because of the weather/humidity, the chutes had to be repacked or jumped more often than normal. Rounded up a couple of guys and off we go to make a "Hollywood" jump. The DZ was just outside the Green Line (Perimeter Defense for Phuoc Vinh,) and the area was secured by an Infantry Battalion. We were jumping from a Helicopter, UH-1 B/"SLICK", (Huey.) I looked and there was a 2 ½ ton truck loaded with 'chutes. We were all well qualified Jumpers and most of us were Senior or Master Parachutists. We just about Jump mastered ourselves but took turns checking out each load of jumpers (six per lift.) First load goes up and jumps. Second load etc., til most of us have jumped, rigger rolled our 'chutes, and chuted up again. I guess it was about the third or fourth jump and the Platoon Leader from the Path Finders is talking with one of the Pilots. Seems as if the Pilot wants to Jump and the Platoon Leader wants to fly! Ok, here we go. I give the Warrant Officer Pilot a "Five Minute" Jump School! Check him out and up we go. We jump and all the way down this guy is hollering, shouting, laughing and having the time of his life. Meanwhile the Platoon Leader is flying lazy circles around the DZ.
Pilot decides he'll put in for Jump School, Platoon Leader says he's going to Branch transfer to Aviation. Everyone jumped at least five times that day and used all the chutes. Got back to the Company area and could hardly walk. End of a wonderful day full of parachuting and camaraderie!!
While serving with the Ranger Company of the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam, there were times when we had to Insert or Extract Teams using Rappelling ropes/ McGuire Rigs. We would "Rig" the Slicks with tie-down straps, running the straps thru four of the floor rings. Attach our Rappelling Ropes or the McGuire Rigs with snap links. For a McGuire extraction, a sandbag was tied to the 15' loop of a cargo strap (Figure eighted, with a snaplink thru the knot in the middle of the loop.) The Ranger on the ground would step into the loop, snap in with his own snaplink which attached to the 12' Survival rope tied around his chest. The Bird would then lift him straight up,… most times, and exit the area til it was safe to touch down and recover the Rangers to the bird.
On one such extraction, there was a five man Team from the other Platoon who had made contact but could not get to a Pick up Zone (PZ). We normally lifted no more than three Rangers per bird/Huey using the McGuire Rigs. Me and the other Plt. Sgt, another seasoned Veteran of the 101st, rigged our birds and he went in to get the first two Rangers. The Team Leader (TL) Radio Telephone Operator (RTO) and one other Ranger remained and waited for me to drop my ropes. The Pilot hovered over the very small open spot in the canopy and we dropped the ropes. The RTO relayed the progress of the Team as far as getting into their rigs and getting secured on the ropes. The Pilot got really goosey and started to move off, straight ahead. I slapped him on the helmet and told him to take the Bird UP! Two of the three Rangers hung on for dear life as they were dragged thru the tree branches. The third Ranger was torn loose from his securing snaplink, lost most of his gear, and ended up dangling upside down hanging on with his legs. As I watched in horror, the Pilot thought it would be a good time to gain some more altitude, WRONG!!!. I slapped him again and told him to slow down as the Rangers began to oscillate under the bird. I prayed, cussed, and fussed. I convinced the Pilot to slow down and we spotted an open area. The two upright Rangers were not able to grab or help the precariously hanging Ranger. The Pilot hovered the bird and slowly descended. He did well on this part and the Ranger bumped his head and came bounding up to his feet. We set the other Rangers down, I dragged ropes into the bird with the help of the Crew Chief. Door Gunner was on alert as were the Gunships escorting us. The Rangers sprang aboard and we took off like the proverbial Big Bird. Scared, relieved, happy, mad, joking, scratched up, beat up, tearful, all at the same time! McGuire extractions could be hairy! Even when all the folks are briefed, trained in the method (actually practicing at our airfield,) there is still lots of room for MISTER MURPHY!!!
Another memorable Jumpmaster experience was a night rappel for a Team of Rangers, led by the Company Commander, on a downed and burning UH-1C helicopter gunship. Once again, on full auto mode, doing those things that we rehearsed in quieter times. Rigged the Bird, checked the Rangers for their equipment, final coordination off we go. Over the site, Rappelers/Rangers on the skids, "ON RAPPEL!" Thru the canopy they go. One on the ground, two on the ground, and three on the ground. Fourth guy is "hung up" and can't get loose from his rope! Pilot gets goosey, starts to lift bird! Tension on the rope is tremendous! The RTO on the ground tells me the Ranger is hung up/entangled, near the ground! I slap the pilot, "HOLD ON!!!" I grab my "K" Bar, (great utility knife,) and slash the remaining rope. The Bird literally shoots upward. All Rangers on the ground safely and most of the Scary Nite is ended for me. I always wondered about the amount of faith the Jumpers and the Rangers had in me. Perhaps they did as I did; relied on all their training, counted on their buddies, and even prayed once in a while! It still amazes me how many emotions a person can experience in just a few short minutes!