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

Book of Firsts

 We humans are prone to celebrate and commemorate a great many firsts in our lives. First off, we define ourselves by the date we entered the world from our mother’s womb. This is only the beginning. After that we have our first teeth;  first words;  first baby steps;  and our first day of school. Add to that any number of firsts: our first kiss;  first car; first true love; and who can ever  forget the birth of his or her first child? As a paratrooper I will always remember my first jump, every one of my “First” Sergeants, and I will always remember my first and only time in combat–it forever changed my life. As a result, the first anniversary of surviving the wounds I sustained in combat was just as important as any birthday I have ever celebrated. The date October 27th, 1983 is forever burned in my memory and not a one passes that I do not give thanks for having lived to see a new one! Now I can add the date May 24th, 2010, to my Book of Firsts.

Today I took the first steps in nearly 26 and 1/2 years! Before that I had the delicious  pleasure of buying my first pair of shoes in 26 and 1/2 years as well. I cannot tell you the giddiness that accompanies setting  a course toward the shoe isle at Academy Sports and ACTUALLY having a bona fide reason to be there other than to wait on one of my family members to pick out their latest pair of shoes!!! Talk about a (RE)defining moment in a life!!! There I was, caught up in the moment actually taking great care again to pick out a pair of shoes that defines me! (Mental checklist: something rugged, practical, lightweight. A manly man shoe if it exists. Thank you very much please!) Here I am sporting a pair of Reebok DMX Voyage Walking Shoes Size 8–this is two and a half to three sizes smaller than I used to wear all those years back but a convincing argument was made that a smaller shoe weighs a lot less and any weight saved when walking with artificial legs is a GOOD thing!!

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! A manly man shoe suitable to carry the author aloft on his new mission to once again walk upright!

Shortly after docking the aforementioned manly manifesting, leather clad, mobile transport enhancing footwear to my computer enhanced robotic legs I am ready to get started on this business on being upright, vertical, and in motion! They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I know that whoever made up this maxim knew damn well what he or she was saying. The moment that I first laid eyes on my new Otto Bock C-Legs I saw a beautiful functional work of art!

Here I, Hardcore Harry, begin again learning the art of walking upright. No more will I define myself by my reclined state! I feel just like a pioneer setting out into the vast unknown wilderness, not knowing what future awaits me but I know I will engage that future fearlessly and with the utmost resolve. I am a US Army Airborne Paratrooper. Surrender is not in my creed!

Happiness Defined Airborne Style: Determination in Action!

HOOAHHH!!!

Hardcore Harry