“Have we got a good deal for you,” said Staff Sgt. Pope. "Capt. Touhig needs to speak to you ASAP!" Touhig was an instructor to me, but to the Department of Military Science at NC State University he was an assistant professor of military science.
The captain explained that the department had been allocated two slots for the U.S. Army’s Airborne Department and School at Fort Benning, Ga. I had been selected for one of two school seats allocated to NC State. All that was required was to volunteer for the training. He gave me a little time to think it over ... like about 10 minutes.
Weeks later, following the end of the spring semester, I was driving to Fort Benning to report for airborne training, commonly known as jump school. As a cadet, I could not be reimbursed for travel expenses. So I paid for food, lodging and mileage expenses for the three weeks required for the chance to wear the coveted silver wings. I had never before in my life entered onto a federal installation. Fort Benning was a brand new experience.
At the 43rd Company of the 4th Student Battalion, I reported in. Following a short orientation, I signed a form releasing the government from liability should I be injured. I wasn’t a soldier in the Army yet. I didn’t inform my parents what I was doing.
The training was, for the most part, fun. In the physical prime of life, I experienced no difficulty. The beginning of the third and final week of the school was called the “jump week.” Everyone in the class was uptight, but the instructors made the atmosphere upbeat. We were ready for this. Our airplane was an old “flying boxcar.” The C-119 was a 20-year-old twin engine airplane of the type used during the Korean War. We took off and climbed to approximately 2,000 feet. Minutes later the craft approached the drop zone (DZ), but the signal to stand up for the jump was delayed. The wind speed was too high to safely parachute to the ground, so we circled the DZ while the wind abated. The plane’s 45-degree bank with turbulence gave me air sickness. I was miserable. When the signal to stand up was given, my knees buckled as the side doors opened. I was so sick all I wanted to do was ... JUMP!
In a heartbeat I exited the aircraft and the sickness was over. As the ground approached my feet, I remembered how quiet it seemed now that the airplane had returned to the airfield. I landed on the ground safely and noticed that all the nausea was gone.
I jumped four more times that week, successfully completing the five required jumps. I passed the course and earned my silver wings, but the best part was that I had flown for the first time in an airplane ... five take-offs and no landings.