Sport Parachuting “Formed” in the 24th
By John Dunn, SGT, “A” Company, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 24th
Division, 9150 Hwy. 51, Westover, AL 35147-9527, Ph:205-678-6165
By John Dunn, SGT, “A” Company, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 24th Division, 9150 Hwy. 51, Westover, AL 35147-9527, Ph:205-678-6165
Gablingen Kaserne, Augsburg, Germany, June 1958: In January 1959, I arrived with 2nd Infantry at Gablingen Kaserne, to become a part of the 24th Infantry “Victory” Division.
Prior to that, the 11th Airborne Division that had been stationed in southern Germany was deactivated and re-designated as the 24th Infantry Division. Its 187th Parachute Regiment stationed at Gablingen Kaserne was deployed to Lebanon (see later article). And other parachute regiments were returned to the states and assimilated into existing airborne divisions.
Nevertheless, a number of support units with a significant number of airborne troops attached were made a part of the 24th Division. Because of this large contingent and the need to keep them on jump status (probably as a result of the officers that wanted to continue to collect jump pay) the 11th Parachute Maintenance Company maintained their facilities on Gablingen Kaserne.
Then early in 1959, Gen. Walker, Division Commander, authorized a 24th Division Sport Parachute Club.
Sport Parachuting or Sky Diving was still in its infancy. The initial club membership was made up of the Division’s airborne qualified troops. The 11th Parachute Maintenance Company packing shed was used as the club meeting and training facility while the adjoining Drop Zone at Gablingen Kaserne was the jump site.
A late summer edition of the division newspaper, “The Taro Leaf” featured an article on the club's activities and stated that membership was open to all Division personnel. I attended the next meeting and started the training routine yet that night.
We learned how to pack parachutes, make parachute landing falls and hold a stable free fall body position. Within three weeks I made my first parachute jump.
By the end of the year there were more non-airborne troops in the club than military-qualified jumpers. “A” Company had more than ten members in the club.
Three airborne NCOs, Bobby Ledbetter, Coy McDonald and Phillip Vander Weg, who started their sky diving careers with the club, later became members of the Army’s “Golden Knights.” They won international championships and set world records. But, sadly, Ledbetter and Vander Weg were both lost in Vietnam.
In the spring of 1960, as the Division was conducting helicopter training, club members were tasked to act as pathfinder teams. These teams were equipped with standard military T-10 parachutes and related equipment.
The static line jumps were made from 1,000 feet and were overseen by a qualified airborne jumpmaster. The lowest altitude any of us had jumped from previously was 2,500 feet, our eyes were quite large as we left the plane at that low altitude.
On landing we set out the panels to direct the helicopters to the correct landing site. In essence we were making tactical airborne training jumps without the benefit of jump pay or airborne wings – but it sure was fun and exciting!
During the first part of 1960, many of the club members qualified for the Expert Infantryman Badge. Apparently Gen. Walker liked this combination of skilled infantry troops with jump experience, and brought the club’s infantry members to Division Headquarters to act as a long range recon platoon.
As the sport developed, the club participated in competition all over the European Command.
Some club members that left the service in 1960 - 61 continued jumping in civilian life, and helped spread the fledgling sport throughout the United States.
The Taro Leaf, Vol 63(2) Spring 2009, pg. 40.