The 60’s

The airport was built in the ’40’s as a military facility to train pilots and send them off to World War 2. Hugh Bergeron made a jump in July 1962 from a Piper Cub that had to be flown to 2,000 feet with Hugh hanging his legs out of the door because it was so small. The Peninsula Skydivers was born. I am still trying to get some photos from the early 60’s. Above is a shot from the Richmond Times Dispatch on Friday, August 16, 1968 reporting the winning efforts of Peninsula Skydiving club members at a Style and Accuracy meet at Lakewood, NJ. There were many top Style and Accuracy competitors from the early days of the Peninsula Skydivers, including Hugh Bergeron, Tommy Bryant, Walter Nott, Mike Schultz from Pelican Land, Stan Hicks, Bob Holler from Pelican Land, who’s brother Jerry was President of Peninsula at one time, and others.

winning smiles

On January 14, 1969 Peninsula Club member Walter Nott attempted to break the record for the number of jumps made in a 24 hour period. Alas the FAA saw an article about the attempt in the Richmond Times Dispatch the day before. They stopped the attempt because the club members packing for Walter were not  Riggers. He had made 47 jumps at the time the record was stopped.  The paper had the photo below:

Thwarted

The greatest story from the ’60’s is about Tommy Bryant’s night jump into the Washington Burgess pool:

This story won a contest for the greatest jump story for the first 20 years of the Peninsula Skydivers which was told during a reunion at West Point on July 18, 1987. These are the words of Tommy Bryant, D-1606:

I watched Paul Keith Thacker fall to his death under a double entanglement on his father’s birthday in 1973 after going through an identical situation a month earlier in which my reserve should have entangled but it didn’t.

 

I was on the telemeters as Dale Gaffney impacted half way down the runway as he got line stretch on his reserve-paralyzing him from the waist down for life. I remember that a few years earlier, I had landed in the same spot after getting line stretch maybe 30 feet higher.

I watched as Steve Kopelove and Curtis Davis fell, canopies entangled, 100 feet to the ground out near the pit. Steve’s back was broken and Curtis’ leg was shattered.

 

I was pulled through the the side of an airplane, almost tearing the tail assembly off and although I couldn’t see my altimeter because it was covered with my blood, I managed to land in soft sand, under half a parachute. Becoming the first person to survive that type of accident, which occured at Fort Bragg, N.C. Sicily DZ in 1970.

 

I prefer not to dwell on these types of jump stories. Skydiving is a dangerous, dirty, nasty business filled with inherent risks but somebody has got to do it. Doing ot with style-pardon the pun- is what makes the difference, at least for me. Possibly a story involving myself and the colorful characters I have met jumping over the years would be a better choice.

 

One evening after drinking way too much at a Suffolk meet, I ate a live frog with Donn Simms(founder of the Virginia Paracute Council). The next morning I caught a bus back to Richmond because I was too sick to continue in the meet.

I watched as last jumper out on a 10 way practice in 1975, Steve Kopelove’s accidental main deployment at 10.500 feet, his immediate cutaway of an entangled main, his skydive to his position in the 10 way formation, and his reserve deployment after the completed formation-simply AMAZING!

Maybe I should tell of a phantom jump.

 

I have a 17,200 foot(C-182) phantom jump into Roanoke Rapids, NC Stan Hicks was the pilot. One jumper got hypoxia and couldn’t jump. Walter Nott and I did jump. Walter crashed into a Harley Davidson shop a mile away with a busted steering line.

 

I have a night phantom jump into a banquet at Mount Joy, PA under a 500 foot overcast ceiling. Stan Hicks was the pilot. Club president and winner of the meetJay Harsh and area safety officer Bob Hillard were banned from their DZ for 2 months for this one, and Stan and I were asked to leave town as we were incorrigible influences on their leaders.

 

I have another unauthorized night phantom jump into the Kings Dominion end of season party at 1 A.M. with Hank Henry. The pilot was Jerry Holler. The FAA was on the scene, baffled as we escaped in the confusion.

 

I have a phantom jump into Lou Getz’s gold wing party on July 3, 1971 at Pottsburg, PA. Fred Yelinik was the pilot. I landed on stage with the band.

 

After considering all those tales, the one most satisfying to me follows:

 

This jump story goes back 20 years, I had just turned 26.  It was the week end of the spring CASPA meet at West Point, VA in 1967. Over 125 of the best skydivers on the east coast showed up for the meet(over 3 times the size of our own VPC) to do Style and Accuracy. There were famous skydivers everywhere you looked. The Golden Nights were there with Ray Duffy-1965  National Overall Champion, Mick Howard, Tom Benion, etc. The Charlotte, NC skydivers: Jimmy Davis, Joe Faulk, Stoney Burk, etc.The Pelicans(Ridgely, MD) were there in force: Bob Holler-the winner of 3 $1000 money meets in 1 year(Las Vegas, Stone Mountain, GA and Lake Placid, NY). The first three meets that I attended in which he finished, he won them all with dead centers. He was my hero and still is. Mike Schultz, who taught me to do style and who I patterned myself after, was also there. Johnny Crews, Karen Roach-National Champion, Martha Huddleston-National Champion, Billy Gifford, Clayton Schoepple-National and World Absolute Champion, and on and on. At the banquet on Saturday night, things got a little rowdy as the beer flowed. Jimmy Davis mooned all from atop a Coke machine. It was a great party when I heard a group talking about how small the pool was at the Washington Burgess. After a few beers I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I said “it’s plenty big and that I would make a jump into it”. Everyone laughed,   “Sure, sure” they said. I slipped away, finding Walter Nott and Jimmy Davis, off the top of the Coke machine. I asked Jimmy who would fly us over the motel and he said he could talk one of those crazy Pelican’s into it. He did.

 

A large crowd of Pelicans was on their way to the motel anyway, as none of them wanted to miss Bill Ottley on the Johnny Carson Show. He was a Pelican I hadn’t met yet, but would watch on National TV later that evening. Ottley stole the show as Carson left his other guests in the wings.

 

I went up to Johnny Crews, gave him my altimeter, and told him to make sure the meet photographer was there. He laughed for the first time, it broke the tension, since Walter Nott, Buddy Allen and I had casually walked into a room full of Pelican wives and girlfriends the night before with only a smile and our jump boots on. Fortunately, all of the concerned men were out getting beer.

 

Johnny announced that Tom Bryant was going to attempt a jump into the swimming pool at the motel in 15 minutes, followed by Bill Ottley on the Johnny Carson Show. Someone yelled out that he hasn’t got a set large enough. One of the Pelican females yelled back, “Yes he does, I saw ’em last night!”

 

The jump is recorded history-on a round canopy with less than 200 jumps. I went on to win the Intermediate Division, beating my arch rival Stan Hicks. It was one of the few times that I ever beat him. It was my first trophy of over 100. That week end 20 years ago, I became aware that skydiving was everything, with my first trophy in hand, a successful phantom pool jump recorded on film, the viewing of Johnny Carson with extended coverage of Bill  Ottley explaining skydiving. I was in heaven-how could it get any better?

Little did I know it was just the beginning, that over 4,000 more parachute jumps awaited me. Including a trip on the US Team, and most importantly my wife,(who was a Pelican briefly) and family and happiness beyond my wildest dreams. Thank you Peninsula Skydivers past and present. You are “The Point” and that was the point-carry on…………………

 

And Tommy…we have been. But we do our pool jumps from the edge these days!

TommyPool_sm2