Ben H. Swett
Colonel, USAF (retired)
I was a navigator in C-123 aircraft and Civic Action Coordinator for
315th Tactical Airlift Wing at Phan Rang, Republic of Vietnam, in 1970
Wed 13 May - Fly 3.9 (6 sorties). Drop troops at Cam Ranh Bay, 114 VN in 10 passes, all good. One 44-man drop and 2 HALO. VN jumpmaster & open release.
As the graduation jump for one class, the Vietnamese jumpmaster said he wanted to drop all 44 troops on one pass. I didn't like that idea and said I wasn't sure I could put them all in the drop zone, but he insisted: "Yes, yes, go out quick, both doors."
I did some computations. With 22 out each door at 1 second intervals, the string of troops would be about 1600 yards long. The drop zone was about 1800 yards long, with salt water at the near end and a rock quarry at the far end. I would have to aim just inside the near end, close to the water, and hope they didn't hesitate going out the door. I told the jumpmaster to have his ground team near both ends of the drop zone, in case some of the troops got hurt, and he said, "Hokay! I already told them!"
Everything went as usual while we approached the drop zone. The troops stood up and faced aft and hooked their static lines to the overhead wires on time, but when I called the ten-second warning, the airplane started bouncing up and down. I glanced over my shoulder and saw the troops were running in place, each with one hand sliding his static line along the overhead wire and the other pushing on the back of the man ahead of him. When I called "Green light!" they went out both doors like two strings of dominoes. The pilot had to crank in more than a little nose-down trim to hold the aircraft level as their weight rapidly shifted aft and out of the aircraft.
When I looked back to see if they were all gone, one of the troops was lying flat on the ramp in the back end of the aircraft. Our loadmaster came up on the interphone and said, "Jeeze! Major, you should have seen that!" I asked what happened, and he said, "I'll tell you when we get on the ground."
The pilot took a turn around the drop zone so I could see where the troops landed. They were all in the drop zone, but the ones on the approach end were very close to the water. If they hadn't steered their parachutes, they might have got wet.
After we landed, the loadmaster told me what happened. The jumpmaster was standing near the door, facing the troops as they ran toward him and helping them turn the corner to go out the door. As one of the troops got to him, instead of helping him out the door, he jerked him off his feet and threw him down on the floor. I asked why, and the loadmaster said, "That troop didn't lock the quick release on his parachute harness. He must have bumped into the man ahead of him, because his harness was coming off. Super Zip saw it and pulled him out of line and down on the floor."
"Super Zip? "
"That's what we call him. He's the best jumpmaster I ever saw. And he must have lifted a lot of weights to build himself up like that. No neck, just muscle from his ears to his shoulders. When we point him out to the new guys we say, for Super Zip, parachutes are optional."
I looked around. The troop who had not jumped was standing off to one side, alone, head down, completely dejected. Super Zip went and got him, led him to where the next class was waiting, picked up a parachute harness and carefully put it on him. Then he slowly and rather dramatically reached out and LOCKED the quick release. And then he did something I have seen Italian people do -- he reached up, took hold of the troop's cheek and shook it slightly. I saw the look in that man's eyes as he watched Super Zip walk away -- it said, very clearly, "There goes God."