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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Memory Slides

This is Steven Petrick posting.

I have spoken on several occasions about my experiences jumping out of perfectly good aircraft back in the Summer of 1978. I thought I would take a little time to use some of that to show how memory is not perfect.

Something of interest happened in each of my five jumps, as I have noted. Most of these were things of enough note that they are pretty much set in my mind down to their requisite sequence of events.

But there were other things that "happened" that I could not ascribe to any of the jumps. They are simply part and parcel of the whole experience.

In one of my jumps, certainly not the first one, and certainly not the last, but one of the three in between, I exited the aircraft, and as required was in a "tight body position", head down and looking over the toes of my boots. We were jumping near noon, so the sun was very high in the sky. In this particular jump, I watched over the toes of my boots as the ground went zipping by. I then saw the horizon line go past the toes of my boots, and started to see the sun. I was, near as I could make out, about to do a complete flip.

My thought process had just reached the point of thinking that this would result in "reversed risers" (something that was covered in the training, although WHY I thought this was going to result in reversed risers at that point I could not tell you) when the main deployed.

Again I note I have no sure memory of which of the three middle jumps this happened in. But unlike the other four, I "felt" this deployment as far more of an opening shock than I had felt previously. As in the sudden brake to my movement supplied by the parachute "cracked the whip", with me being tail end of the whip being cracked.

The shock was great enough that my arms were not able to maintain their position on the reserve, but themselves were shot down the length of my torso. The parachute then settled down, me actually "hanging in the harness" as if I were unconscious. I do not know how long I hung there, completely limp, before training asserted itself and I feebly reached up to grasp my risers and check the main and carried on from there.

Like I say, I do not remember which drop it was, but I remember that particular opening shock very well.

The other thing that happened that I cannot recall what drop it happened on (save again that it was not the first or the last) was the sight of red smoke on the drop zone, and a med-evac helicopter (a UH-1) coming in to make a pickup while a stick of paratroops was still coming down. A very clear indication of a serious injury on the drop zone. I never ever asked any questions about it, but if it was not life threatening I have no doubt that the casualty would have simply been taken off the drop zone in a stretcher rather than being picked up right under other descending paratrooper trainees. It might have simply been a trainee who really, really, messed up his landing badly. It might have been something worse. At the time, I did not want to know, and put it out of my mind to do the rest of my jumps, whether there were three more to do, or just one more.

I can remember a lot of things through my life. Some in excruciating detail, some that were just something that happened. But really, only salient points are of immediate recall. A few moments on a playground here, a few moments in a class room there. Day-to-day events mostly slip by. It is not even possible to say whether or not really crucial (at the time) things remain easy to access, or have simply faded over time.