Makers of Dreams:The 33rd Jump

Too often, it seems, it is the dreams we dream in youth that become the unfulfilled regrets we bear later on in life. I had always dreamed of being a paratrooper and I was blessed, even for a brief time to wear the mantle of awesome responsibility that comes from such a calling. The writer, George Orwell, perfectly summed it up in this quote:

People sleep peaceably in their beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

And though, looking back I was just a kid at the time, I was a paratrooper and I was there when I was needed.

Long before I wore the silver wings of the airborne, I dreamed them into existence in my youth. Moreover, as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division I have been doubly blessed in my life to meet the heroes I read of in the books of my youth. Men like the incomparable General Matthew Ridgway, the one-time commander of the 82nd Airborne; the quiet yet unassuming First Sergeant, Leonard Funk—winner of the Medal of Honor; and the ever humble Chaplain George Woods—when I met him while recuperating in the hospital at Fort Sam Houston in 1983, he told me first hand of the gruesome spectacle of the massacre of the troopers who jumped into to the town square at St. Mere Eglise France on the night of June 6th, 1944. These and more did I meet.

What does one say when one of one’s most treasured dreams are about to come true? In my case at the tandem jump this last Saturday at Skydive Spaceland in Houston, nothing. I had to take in all of the the moment and promised I would save the eloquence for later. This is not to say that I did not think big thoughts—of those, I can assure you there were plenty. What I simply needed was to put some space between these affairs of the earth and spend a few brief moments soaring the heavens.

There have been times during these twenty-seven years since Operation Urgent Fury that I have been the recipient of pity. Although, at no time did a solicit it nor will I ever, it comes. It comes sometimes in the most unusual and unexpected places. The accompanying pathos over the physical loss I find very hard to endure because to me the most heartrending loss was what could not be seen. The loss of my limbs I could endure with steadfast resolution. Not being able to jump again hurt most of all my wounds.

Somewhere above the clouds on the way down it all becomes clear to me. Here I have assembled before me on this most perfect of days was a cast of characters most noble and treasured above all. These were the makers of dream. In another time and place the muses would have compelled the poets to dream such men into existence. There was Joe Sansone before me, ostensibly the CEO of TMC Orthopedics and founder of Limbs of Love. What do you say to a man who offers hope where none have ever existed? All I could offer was a most joyous smile a most heartfelt thank you and my hand in friendship and vow to live up to the trust you have placed in me.

Jean-Luc Nash was there with me that October day in Grenada twenty seven years ago when it all went horribly wrong. Timothy Andruss was there too with Jean-Luc. Their bravery and their quick actions gave me a chance at survival. These two men were the real heroes that day—they know I know this, though it is doubtful you will ever hear them own up to their incredible exploits. These two and many others whose names I will never know made the dream possible. We are brothers bound by the sacred bonds of battle.

Don Mooney, Jean-Luc’s West Point classmate and best friend was there too. Don, I owe you more than I can ever repay for your advocacy on my behalf. You I consider a facilitator of the dream. Congratulations on your sixth jump my friend, I know it has been a longer time coming than my last. Relish it always!

What can be said about the incomparable world record parachutist Jay Stokes? You sir are an honored knight of the sky and and a treasure to the airborne brotherhood. I consider it an honor to have served the same battalion that you once served. My only regret is that we had not met sooner. Your professionalism and attention to detail are a tremendous credit to you and your profession. Thank you my newfound friend for granting me this most sacred and treasured wish.

To my loving wife, Ginny and children: Sebastian, Chloe, and Lucienne; who know all my best stories by heart I owe the finest of what I am to you. You too have borne my dreams and are always there to make sure I live up to them. Lucie, my hope is one day you will understand the importance of us taking your  teddy bear on the jump with us. Not many little girls  can say their bear jumped from 14,000 feet!

One other was present that most perfect day. I carry his memory in my heart each and every moment. Sergeant Sean Luketina was there. He was there and he was remembered well and fondly. He is a spiritual light. Somewhere between heaven and earth you will find him. Those of us who lived that day twenty seven years ago cannot forget this brave trooper of the Signal Corps. I keep a framed picture of him. Sean is talking on a radio and if on one day somewhere amongst clouds and the sky, if you listen closely you will hear the message he is broadcasting.

Hardcore Harry

The Story of Us

 

Go tell the Spartans,
Passerby,
That here, obedient to their laws,
We lie.

Simonides, Epitaph for the Spartans who fell at Thermopylae
Greek poet (556 BC – 468 BC)

Greetings from the Center for the Intrepid!

I have not posted on this blog since late July—not because I had nothing of importance to say. In fact, what I wanted to say had even more importance than just about anything I had written previously. Too often one can get caught up in the retelling of events and the lens of recall gets focused solely on the individual deeds and accomplishments. The real problem lies with one fundamental fact: war is not an individual sport. It took coming here to the Center for the Intrepid to remind me of this fundamental maxim.

In addition to my daily schedule of physical therapy, I have of been re-reading Steven Pressfield’s stunning book, Gates of Fire. The book is about the Battle of Thermopylae and the defense and sacrifice of the 300 Spartans under the command of King Leonidas. The story seems to me to be a fitting metaphor for the men and women who have been sent here to the Center for the Intrepid and I would grant that a solid core of those here assembled are every bit the equal of any of those 300 Spartans of ancient Greece. That is not to say that there is not a smattering of miscreants and schmoes here; but, that these are a most rare species and it is not duty nor my calling to tell tales. I look at it this way, those assembled here are but a microcosm of the Armed Forces of these United States and only a fool him or herself would assume that true perfection exists there or here because it just is not so.

What we do have here is a stunning collection of individuals some of whom who’s stories may never be told. However, that does not mean that their courage and their sacrifice and what is lost are any less poignant or compelling. One cannot stay here long without becoming painfully aware of the heavy burden of war’s doom being paid by the men and women of our armed forces—that is if one has a soul. It fills me with a yearning and sorrowful ache some days to know and see first hand the cost being borne with such resolute courage and conviction by these assembled here. I vowed early on in my stay that my first obligation was for me to discard the “me” “myself” and “I” and tell the story of “us.”

There is a deep and abiding secret that lies in the heart of every warrior and it comprises the glue that binds this brotherhood of valor together. Fundamental truths are revealed in the fulcrum of battle: All we have is this and each other. Now if I may borrow a speech toward the end of the book Gates of Fire to highlight this point. Pressfield writes most eloquently:

When a warrior fights not for himself, but for his brothers, when his most passionately sought goal is neither glory nor his own life’s preservation, but to spend his substance for them, his comrades, not to abandon them, not to prove unworthy of them, then his heart truly has achieved contempt for death, and with that he transcends himself and his actions touch the sublime. This is why the warrior cannot speak of battle save to his brothers who have been there with him. The truth is too holy, too sacred for words.”

Hardcore Harry